Now that summer is definitely behind us, we can enjoy the gentle decay of perennials and autumnal tree colours. We are much less concerned with tidiness at this time of year than in the past, ensuring plenty of shelter and food for the garden wildlife as well as providing protection for the soil over winter.
There is, however, still plenty to be getting on with in the garden. One of the loveliest jobs at this time of year is planting as many bulbs as possible. There’s is nothing more encouraging than seeing new growth poking through the soil; crocus opening up in late winter sunshine for newly emerging queen bumblebees; dwarf narcissi in all their many shapes and colours; bold, bright and blousy tulip combinations.
Now is the perfect time to plant most bulbs. Tulips are better delayed until November and even December as the cold temperatures reduce the risk of tulip blight, but all others will be happy to get into the ground while it is still quite warm and before frosts. There are so many possibilities with bulbs, definitely something for everyone: from indoor pots to naturalising in lawns; outdoor containers and window boxes; borders and under trees.
By following a few simple rules you will get the most out of your bulbs and can look forward to cheery spring colour.
When planting, a good guide is to plant to a depth 3 times the size of the bulb, so larger daffodils will be deeper than tiny crocus, for example. One of the main causes of daffodils coming up with leafy growth but no flowers is planting too shallow.
Bulbs should be planted with the pointy end upwards, more obvious in some than others but the blunt end may have remnants of the roots as a guide.
All bulbs like a free draining soil so if your garden soil is quite heavy then fill the bottom of the planting hole with some gritty compost. We used some of last year’s leaf mould mixed with some grit, or you could use some old compost from this year’s pots.
If your garden becomes quite waterlogged over winter you might be better to plant your bulbs in pots and place them in gaps in the garden next spring.
Ideally bulbs in pots should be planted at the same depth as in the ground but this will depend on your pot size, and the most important thing is to have about 4cm of compost below the bulbs. A bulb ‘lasagne’ is a great way to layer up different bulb varieties in the same pot to give you many weeks of flowers. Begin with the largest bulbs at the bottom eg tulips, cover with a layer of compost, then add another layer of a different bulb eg narcissi, and finish with some wee crocus or iris. You could add some evergreen herbs and ferns to give your container some winter interest before the bulbs appear in the spring.
This year we are planting gaps in borders with crocus, allium and narcissi; filling containers and pots with tulips and muscari; lining the nook path with fritillary and experimenting with camassia, narcissi and alliums in the lawn.
To achieve a naturalistic feel to bulbs in your lawn it is best to scatter them on the ground and plant them where they fall. We have done this along the strip of lawn we leave unmown throughout the summer months. Fingers crossed the squirrels don’t get them!