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Growing Spring Bulbs

Spring flowering bulbs have enormous value as the early flush of colour lights up a garden after winter.  They are very easy to plant and almost look after themselves and of course, late March to early May are ideal times to plant spring flowering bulbs in WA.

Bulbs make an impressive display as natural drifts of colour underneath deciduous trees, scattered amongst the lawn or in bold colour groups throughout garden beds.  They can be mass planted or mixed with annuals, perennials and amongst herbaceous borders to bring interest throughout the change of seasons.

PLANTING SPRING BULBS
Bulbs really aren’t fussy at all.  To plant, dig the soil to loosen any lumps and remove weeds.  Apply a good amount of compost and a specific bulb fertiliser and plant each bulb at least twice as deep as the bulb is high.

When purchasing bulbs, only choose those that are healthy, firm and plump.  Avoid any that are soft, diseased or feel light in the hand.

Although it doesn’t do any harm to other bulbs, tulips are the only ones that actually require six weeks in the crisper of the fridge.  Just ensure that they are labeled carefully and that others in the family don’t assume that they are edible.

Plant bulbs with the pointy end up as the roots grow out of the rounded base.  The only exceptions are anemones and ranunculus which should be planted with the claws facing down.  It’s a good idea to mark the position of newly planted bulbs so that they won’t unknowingly be dug up or disturbed.

Use a specialty bulb or general fertiliser to feed existing clumps of bulbs in autumn and water in well.  Since bulbs store nutrients ready for next season so it is also important to give another feed just after flowering.

GROWING IN POTS
Growing bulbs in pots allows the wonderful colour to be brought inside for a few days at a time or moved around the garden.  The colour combinations that can be created with bulbs are endless and can be extended by mixing two different varieties of bulbs or even seedlings with contrasting flowers.

The number of bulbs that can be grown in pots will vary depending on the variety and the size of the pot.  The main thing to remember is that the bulbs must not touch each other and shouldn’t be placed right on the outer edge of the pot as this might cause them to become too hot and not flower.

Bulbs grown in a pot one year should be planted in the ground the next year as most won’t flower in consecutive years in pots.

Although there are specific bulb potting mixes, bulbs will grow very well in a premium potting mix which is open and free draining.  In a shallow pot, bulbs should be planted about a centimetre below the surface but where deeper troughs are used, the bulbs can be planted at the same depth as they would in the garden.

Once potted, place the bulbs in a cool position until the leaves have grown to about 10 centimetres.  At this stage the pot can be put into a sunny spot that is sheltered from the wind.  Keep the soil damp but not overwatered as this may cause the bulbs to rot.

Once the bulbs have finished flowering and the leaves begin to die down stop watering and place the pot in a cool place to die down.  Once dry, remove the bulbs and store as you would those from the garden.

NATURALISING BULBS
Naturalised bulbs create lovely, natural looking drifts of colour through lawns, under deciduous trees, along the drive or a winding path.  Daffodils are the traditional favourites for naturalising but bluebells, grape hyacinths, freesias, jonquils, snowflakes, ixias, Dutch iris and bearded iris work just as well.

Choose a free draining site where the urge to mow can be resisted whilst the foliage is dying off.  A wild part of the garden or lawn would be ideal.

To plant a natural looking display that is not too contrived, place all the bulbs into a bucket and throw them in the general direction of where they should end up.  Where the bulbs land, this is where they should be planted.

Use a bulb planter or hand trowel to dig the holes for the bulbs.  Place a little fertiliser in the bottom, cover this with a thin layer of soil, place the bulb on top of that and back fill.  Add another sprinkle of fertiliser on the top and water in well.

Only water naturalised bulbs whilst actively growing and allow them to dry out whilst dormant.  In most cases, natural rainfall will take care of this so often reticulation is not needed at all.

Finally, stop mowing the area as soon as the bulbs begin to sprout and do not mow again until late spring when the foliage has totally died off.  It is very important that the leaves are allowed to collect energy before they are removed so that the bulbs produce an abundance of flowers the following year.

HYACINTHS IN VASES
Try growing a hyacinth in a bulb vase. Simply fill the vase to just below the “waist” and put the bulb in the top so that it doesn’t touch the water.  Place the vase in a dark spot such as a cupboard where the bulb will send down roots and then produce shoots in a couple of months.  Then, take it out of the dark place and put it out on display in light and it will burst into flower and fill the room with beautiful fragrance.

DIGGING & STORING SPRING BULBS
Daffodils and most other bulbs may be left undisturbed to multiply for at least three years.  At this point they become overcrowded and fewer flowers are produced.  At this point, they should be lifted, stored and replanted next autumn.

Allow the foliage to die down before lifting.  Use a fork to loosen the soil under the bulbs and gently lift them by the stems.  Allow them to dry in a shady place for a few weeks.  After shaking off the excess dirt, remove the flower stalks and store the bulbs in a dry, airy place ready for replanting next autumn.

BULBS FOR CONTAINERS:
Babianas, brodaieas, crocus, shorter growing daffodils, colchicum, hyacinths, tulips, freesias, dwarf ranunculus, lachenalias.

BULBS FOR ROCKERIES:
Miniature daffodils, rock tulips, hyacinths, freesias, colchicum, grape hyacinths, crocus, lachenalia, star flowers, sterbergias, blue bells, babiana, nerines, Dutch iris.

BULBS FOR LIGHT SHADE:
Daffodils, cyclamens, wood hyacinths, grape hyacinths, crocus, fritillaria, bluebells, anemondes, lachenalias, tulips, Cuban lilies, alstromeria, ranunculi, showdrops

BULBS FOR SUNNY SPOTS:
Anemones, freesias, alliums, hyacinths, brodiaea, ranunculi, Dutch iris, daffodils, lachenalias, ixias, sparaxis, tulips, snowdrops, nerines.

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