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Colour with Bulbs

Spring flowering bulbs really are a miracle of nature- they bring our gardens to life from January or February onwards – a time of year that most of us would agree needs some cheering up – require very little care, and come back to delight us year after year!

So if you want some ideas about use spring flowering bulbs in your garden, read on……

Planting in containers

To create a container with bulbs that will provide successive spring flowers, you need to plant in layers.

The general rule of thumb is that bulbs should be planted to about 3 times the depth of the bulb so select your bulbs for their bulb size, flowering height and flowering dates.  All reputable bulb growers will provide these details on the packaging.

In the diagram below, a variety of narcissus has been planted on the bottom layer (because it is the biggest bulb, the tallest flower and the last to flower), dwarf tulips are in the middle layer and crocus (the smallest bulb, shortest flower and the last to flower).  It really is that easy to ensure consistent colour from late January/early February right through to April!

Remember to use a quality bulb planting compost, use some croc or gravel in the bottom of the pot for drainage, and because the pot will be outside over winter, it’s best to lift it off the ground with pot feet to minimise frost damage.

Extend the flowering period 
by adding winter pansies on the top layer, and you can have colour from autumn right through to spring!

After flowering, remove the pansies but continue to water and feed the container allowing the bulb leaves to grow until they die back naturally. The food produced by the leaves during this post-flowering period is what allows the bulb to form all it’s leaves and flowers ready to grow again the following year.

If you want to re-use the bulbs again, put the pot to one side for the summer and start again in the autumn.  Whilst the bulbs are dormant (after their leaves have died back) it is not advisable to water them as this will cause rot.  After 2 or 3 flowering seasons, the bulbs will have outgrown the pot, and you’ll need to transplant them into a bigger pot, or plant into the garden.

Planting bulbs in borders

When planning bulbs for the borders, we generally suggest that – as with most plants – for aesthetic reasons you place the taller flowers at the back and the shorter ones to the front.  However, this might vary when the flowering season is factored in.  Of course, the strong spring gales we get in Scotland are also important to consider, particularly for taller flowering bulbs which will need sheltered spots!

Bulbs generally prefer free draining soil and its also a good idea to put a good quality planting compost at the base of the planting hole.  As a rule of thumb, plant your bulbs to about 3 times the depth of the bulb – this is especially important when planting in the ground as the depth gives the bulb ‘anchorage’ against the elements.

After flowering, allow the bulb leaves to grow until they die back naturally, since the food produced by the leaves in the post-flowering period allows the bulb to prepare for growing again the following year.

Mark the spot.  I’ve learned this the hard way – the leaves die off naturally, I remove them – and promptly forget where the bulbs are!

Planting bulbs in grass

The sight of drifts of crocus in grass is a sure sign that spring is on it’s way! And it’s so easy to do – once the bulbs are planted, they will come up year after year, and with the right conditions, many bulbs will multiply naturally.

Planting crocus in grass is very straightforward – for a natural look, simply scatter them and plant them where they land.  If the sward is very dense, you may wish to lift off a layer of turf, lay the crocus onto the soil, loosen up the soil on the underside of the turf and then replace it.  Otherwise, simply use a trowel to ease a gap in the turf, place the bulb into the soil at about 3 times the depth of the bulb, remove the trowel and firm the turf back down.
After flowering, allow the leaves to die back naturally before cutting the grass to enable the bulbs to ‘re-charge their batteries’ for next year.

Planting daffodils in grass requires slightly more planning than the crocus because they generally flower later in the season.  And if you want the bulbs to flower again next year you need to let the leaves die back naturally which means that mowing your grass may have to be delayed!  Since daffodil bulbs tend to be larger than crocus, they will require a larger and deeper planting hole, so the bulb planting tool which takes out a core of soil is a great help here.  Simply take out a core of soil, place the bulb at the bottom of the hole, and replace the turf.
And as with all bulbs, if you want them to come again next year you will need allow the leaves to die back naturally to enable them to ‘re-charge their batteries’.

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