Tag Archives: bulbs

Plant spring bulbs in pots now to lift your spirits in 2017

First published by Rattan Direct on 7 September 2016.

Planting your choice of bulbs now, in your choice of outdoor pots, will give you hours of pleasure as winter slowly turns into spring.

And, as Christine Skelmersdale of Broadleigh Gardens says:

It needs no special skills and is virtually fool proof.

Prepare now – even though it feels like spring is months away!

Spring bulbs are so encouraging and cheerful at a cold time of year. In those bleak early days of 2017 you’ll be pleased and impressed you planted your very own bulbs in your very own outdoor pots. They’ll grow quietly over the winter and be ready to poke their green shoots up in the first few weeks.

As my co-blogger, Sarah, has already remarked about containers and pots:

Winter colour is such a welcome boost on rainy grey days that I always wish I had done more to create a bright spot to enjoy as I come home or look out of the window.

Most bulbs can be planted now, in September and October, but not tulips and hyacinths. Wait until November to plant these.

How to choose?

I choose what I like!

  • Scented flowers near doors and seating areas, and on the patio – they lift the spirit.
  • Bulbs that bees like. I like bees and I want to help them find early nectar when there isn’t much about. Seeing them going about their business, collecting pollen on quite cold days, is very therapeutic.
  • Flowers in colours that I love.

Which bulbs are good in pots and containers?

Oh, the choice!

I do love irises and for flowers in January it has to be Iris reticulata. That’s a sweet little iris, 10-15 cm (4-6”) high. Blue, cream, yellow or pink. Bees love them too.

Iris reticulata. Bulbs
Iris reticulata
By Rasbak, GNU Free Documentation Licence

In February and March small daffodils (Narcissi) always look good. You’ll have seen bright yellow ones (perhaps the Tête-à-Tête variety) on sale in the shops, selling you a bit of spring. But there are other colours too, ranging all the way through pale cream to white. ‘Minnow’ has an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society and smells heavenly. The little creamy flowers, five on a stem, have lovely yellow centres.

Tête à Tête daffodil with the heather Erica carnea in the background. Bulbs
Tête à Tête daffodil with the heather Erica carnea in the background
© Mawis and shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Muscari, grape hyacinths, smell wonderful (bees love them) and are very amenable to being grown in containers. They’re a good bulb for children to plant.

Colourful daffodils and grape hyacinths on a Cornish hedge beside the Gannel, Cornwall. Spring bulbs
Colourful daffodils and grape hyacinths on a Cornish hedge beside the Gannel, Cornwall. © Rod Allday, licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

Or you could choose:

  • the shining yellow of winter aconite
  • the starry blue, white or lavender jolt of chionodoxa (glory of the snow)
  • scilla (squills) with two to five nodding blue flowers on a purplish stem
  • erythronium (dog’s tooth violet) with several nodding creamy-white, yellow or pink flowers on the stem.

And crocuses, of course!

Crocus chrysanthus 'Prins Claus' © Ghislain118 www.fleurs-des-montagnes.net Bulbs
Crocus chrysanthus ‘Prins Claus’
© Ghislain118 http://www.fleurs-des-montagnes.net
Shared under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

And later, tulips – we’ll come back to them in a few weeks, along with how to layer bulbs in a pot.

How do I plant spring bulbs?

Tips for success from the Royal Horticultural Society and a few points of my own.

  • Choose a pot that’s big enough for the bulbs and the plant they will grow into. Tall daffodils are going to be forever falling over if they’re in a small pot and they’ll look silly too.
  • Like all winter containers, bulbs don’t like being waterlogged. Put some pebbles or old bits of pot over the pot’s drainage hole, put it on feet or bricks and make sure it’s out of the worst of the rain.
  • For just one spring’s display, use a mixture of three parts multi-purpose compost and one part grit. For longer term displays, use three parts John Innes No 2 compost mixed with one part grit. You don’t have to use bulb fibre.
  • Plant at three times the bulb’s depth and one bulb width apart. And, technical term, pointy end up.
  • After planting, water well to settle the soil gently around the bulbs.
  • (For indoor plants) Put the pots in a cool garage (max 10°C) or other well ventilated, dark place. Bring out when the shoots are about 10cm/4” tall and move the containers to a cool bright position indoors (approximately 16°C).

Enjoy! You’ll be so pleased you did this!

Order spring bulbs now! (I know it feels a bit early)

First published by Rattan Direct on 31 July 2016.

Spring bulbs on my mind

It seems a long way in the future but this is the time to order spring bulbs for planting in the autumn. I’d like my new bulbs to do two things:

  • provide early nectar for insects after their long hibernation
  • answer the question of what on earth I’m going to do about my small, shady and challenging front flowerbed.

Spring bulbs for nectar

Nectar is essential food after insects’ long hibernation. And insects are essential for our gardens and for agriculture. How can we help out in our choice of spring bulbs?

Snowdrops do provide very early nectar for bees but are best planted ‘in the green’ (just after flowering) in January and February rather than as dry bulbs in the autumn. Winter aconites are the same.

I love the strong blue flowers of grape hyacinths and insects love the nectar in the bell/cone shaped flowers. They were in my garden when I moved in and I certainly don’t have the problems of long, messy leaves that Alys Fowler mentions. Perhaps this is because they’re in the poor, stony ground near the hedge. The wind blows straight through here so, except on still days, I usually miss their lovely fragrance. I’ll plant more to create that wonderful blue haze. It would echo the wonderful blue haze of the (English) bluebells – also loved by pollinators – in the fertile soil under the hedge on the other side of the garden. Oh, and grape hyacinths are great for pots too.

Colourful daffodils and grape hyacinths on a Cornish hedge beside the Gannel, Cornwall. Spring bulbs
Colourful daffodils and grape hyacinths on a Cornish hedge beside the Gannel, Cornwall. © Rod Allday, licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

A crocus is a crocus is a crocus, isn’t it? No, there are different types although they’re all variations on a theme of saffron yellow, blue/purple and white. They’re all loved by insects and look at their best in large numbers, naturalised in lawns or rockeries. They like a sunny rather than a shady spot.

A bold crocus near Woolhampton, West Berkshire. Spring bulbs
A bold crocus near Woolhampton, West Berkshire. © Pam Brophy and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

Spring bulbs for the challenging flowerbed

This front flowerbed faces north-west, it’s by the hedge with next door (which protects it from the prevailing wind) and it’s a bit dark. Quite a few plants I’ve tried here have disappeared, one way or another.

In the spring, though, bulbs flower beautifully. Snowdrops are well established and perfectly happy. I’ve had daffodils here but the leaves tend to look a mess afterwards.

One answer to the messy leaves problem is to combine bulbs with perennials as ground cover: as the bulbs are dying down the perennials are growing up. Their foliage can be a lovely complement to new bulbs coming on. Some people use hostas or daylilies but that’s obviously no go for me, living in a slug zone. Perhaps I could use lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis, which does well here but is, as Helen Yemm calls it, an ‘old cottage garden thug’. Or perhaps I could use the even more invasive periwinkle which also does well for me. Neither of these are at all bothered by the slug and snail contingent. I’m also wondering about Siberian bugloss, Brunnera macrophylla. It looks great with tulips and also comes in a variegated form which might brighten up the gloom.

Variegated Siberian bugloss by Wouter Hagens. Spring bulbs
Variegated Siberian bugloss by Wouter Hagens. Worldwide public domain


[Of course, there’s no foliage problem worth speaking about if the bulbs are in pots. After the flowers are over, just tuck the pots away somewhere sunny.]

So what about the bulbs for my small bed? I still have very successful snowdrops around the edges of this tiny bed. I might add a few purple crocuses (despite what I said about being best in a sunny spot), and some of those pale white/yellow narcissi. I haven’t decided about tulips yet: something to think about on a sunny afternoon in a garden chair. Join me in looking for and ordering bulbs to suit what we want to do in our gardens and which suit their conditions.



Gardening tips: buy bargain plants and make your bulbs last

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 22 June 2016.

Bargain plants and making bulbs last from one year to the next can reduce the cost of gardening.

Top tip: bargain plants

Garden fetes, plant tables at school fairs and pop up plant stalls outside people’s homes offer a great opportunity to buy locally grown, tried and tested plants. Bargain plants! These may be rooted cuttings, established plants or leftover seedlings and young plants grown in local gardens. Prices are usually competitive, funds may go to good causes and – just as important – these plants are growing near you and are likely to thrive in your garden.

Bargain plants are plants that thrive in yoru garden
Look out for pop up plant stalls near you – they are likely to sell plants that will like your garden, and often at good prices. Sarah Buchanan, Somerset.

Other year-round sources of bargain plants include garden centres that offer plants just past their best at reduced prices, and I have many of these ‘casualty corner’ plants thriving in my garden. But beware the dried up, tired and feeble looking plant whose roots are bursting out of the pot and which, frankly, does not look as if it will live. It won’t be a bargain if it dies soon after you plant it at home. But shrubs and perennial plants that are just past their peak are a great bargain, and it is often a better time to plant them rather than when they are about to burst into flower or fruit.

Top tip: make bulbs last from one year to the next

Flowering bulbs are planted while they are dormant and grow underground to give us fantastic flowers as varied as allium, crocosmia, daffodil, gladioli and hyacinth. Look after your bulbs as they grow and they will reward you with flowers from one year to the next.

Water and feed

Make sure the soil around bulbs in pots doesn’t dry out when the bulbs are showing leaves and flowers, and for at least six weeks after they flower. The soil should feel moist, not wet, to the touch.

Apply a general-purpose fertiliser, such as Growmore (35g per square metre/1 oz per square yard), to bulbs in your borders during late February to encourage bulbs to flower well in the following season. In pots, apply a liquid high-potassium feed, such as tomato fertiliser, from early spring until six weeks after flowering ends.

Deadheading and cutting back leaves

Cut back dead flowers to the base of the flower stalk. Six weeks or more after flowering is over, cut back leaves that are yellow, brown and straw-like. It’s an old, bad, habit to tie or knot the leaves after the flowers are over. The leaves feed the bulbs for more flowers next year – give them the best chance to stun you with their flowers.

Bargain plants
Wait for the leaves of bulbs to die back before removing them. Sarah Buchanan

Lifting and storing bulbs

There is a lot of debate about this. If you want, or need, to lift and store bulbs, only do it once the leaves have died down. Then, use a small fork to ease the bulbs out of the soil, taking care not to damage them. Clean the bulbs, trim back roots with secateurs and remove outer loose, flaking layers. Only keep good sized, healthy bulbs (looking like ones you might buy) because damaged or diseased bulbs will get worse in storage and affect others. Dry the bulbs in an open tray in a shed or garage for at least 24 hours before storing them in labelled paper (not plastic) bags, cardboard boxes or nets in a dry, cool place.

The RHS advice is to ‘lift and store bulbs where this is practical’ and to leave in place bulbs in grass, borders or containers where they are underneath, and coming up through, shrubs or perennials. But read on about tulips – the special case in bulb circles.

Tulip bulbs need special care

Most bedding type tulips won’t flower year on year unless they are lifted, dried and re-planted. Follow the advice for other bulbs until they their leaves have turned yellow (about six weeks after flowering). If you have to move them sooner, put the bulbs and foliage loosely in trays until the leaves become yellow and straw-like. Clean the soil off the bulbs and discard any that may be diseased or damaged. Make sure the bulbs are completely dry before storing in trays or nets in a warm, dark well-ventilated place 18-20°C (65-68°F) before replanting in the autumn. Even after all this, another year of flowering is not guaranteed so plant the old bulbs in the less important beds, borders and containers in your garden and the new bulbs in the most conspicuous areas.

Within the tulip family, dwarf species (such as Tulipa kaufmanniana, T. fosteriana, T. greigii and their hybrids) often flower year on year without lifting,  and only need to be lifted to divide when overcrowded. And in warm soils, where the bulbs can be baked in summer, some species may flower from year to year and possibly multiply.

Bargain plants
Many tulip bulbs need to be lifted and stored if they are to flower year on year. Image by Rosendahl, in the public domain.