Author Topic: How To Grow Spring Flowering Bulbs  (Read 1937 times)

Kev Jones

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How To Grow Spring Flowering Bulbs
« on: October 02, 2014, 10:04:48 pm »

Spring Bulbs are generally quite simple and easy to grow because most have similar requirements so once you understand the basics you can grow nearly any spring flowering bulb with ease.

   For best results plant spring bulbs in autumn.

   Most bulbs are planted twice as deep as the bulb is high and the same distance apart. In most cases, the pointed end of the bulb should be upwards.  (If in doubt, plant the bulb on its side).

   Most spring bulbs require a moisture retentive, well-drained soil. If your soil is soggy you can raise the beds to improve drainage or plant in pots.

   Most bulbs require full sun to light shade. Generally heavier shade produces taller (and softer) stems. In warmer climates, most bulbs tolerate greater levels of shade.

   Spring flowering bulbs in the garden will not usually require watering providing they are planted in moisture retentive soil. Bulbs planted in containers (hanging baskets, tubs, window boxes, etc.) should be kept moist but not wet.

   Top dress all spring flowering bulbs in autumn with a bulb or general fertiliser. Many bulbs perform better if a second dressing is applied straight after flowering.  Spread the fertiliser over the top of the soil and water in.

   Remove dead heads and allow foliage to die back naturally.
   During this period the leaves are acting like solar panels, generating food which is stored in the bulb for generating next year's flower so it is very important that the leaves are not removed prematurely or tied into knots.

   Allow the foliage to die down before lifting (or for at least 6 weeks after flowering). Firstly loosen the soil with a fork and gently pull up the bulbs by their stems.
   Allow the bulbs to dry somewhere cool (but not in full sun). Once dry, clean off excess dirt and remove old flowering stalks.
   Store the bulbs somewhere cool (less than 25C), dry and airy until replanting in autumn.

   This is one of the most popular questions when it comes to bulb care.
   There are many bulbs which can successfully be left in the ground from year to year     without any detrimental impact on their floral performance.
   Some bulbs however, especially tulips and hyacinths, are best lifted each year.

Question #1: Why haven't my daffodils flowered?
Answer: When bulbs, especially daffodils, produce foliage but no flowers they are often referred to as 'blind'.  There are several possible reasons:-

Planting depth - A general rule of thumb for bulbs is to have twice the height of bulb soil on top.  A bulb that stands 2.5cm tall (1 inch) should therefore have 5cm (2 inches) of soil on top.  This should ensure that during dry summers the bulb has sufficient moisture to keep the embryo bud growing.

Foliage was removed too early -  It is essential that the foliage is left to die down naturally as this will feed the bulb and help ensure a flowering size bulb for next year.  Because foliage can look untidy as it dies down it is often removed too early or tied into neat knots.  It is important for bulb growth that this is not done.

Life cycle Daffodils in particular have a large flowering bulb, known as a mother bulb, which produce offsets, daughter bulbs.  These offsets are not of a flowering size but will produce foliage and flower once they reach maturity.  To aid this process it is important that the bulbs are fed with a low nitrogen fertilizer 10-14 days after flowering and twice more at 14 day intervals.

Overcrowding - Part of the life cycle as mentioned will produce lots of offsets and if these have insufficient room and nutrients to reach flowering size the bulbs will produce foliage but no flowers.

Question #2: How deep/far apart should I plant my bulbs?
Answer:  Most bulbs benefit from planting so that the depth of the soil over the bulb is twice the height of the bulb i.e.: a bulb that stands 2.5cm tall (1 inch) needs 5cm (2inches) of soil on top, so the hole needs to be at least 7.5cm (3 inches) deep.  There are of course exceptions to the rule but these are few and far apart.

Planting distance will depend on use but in the border I would plant so that the space between is equivalent to the circumference of the bulb.  If planting in containers I would halve this.

Question #3: Should I feed my bulbs?
Answer: Bulbs are no different to anything else planted in the garden so they need nutrients.  However too much nitrogen will encourage lush growth and make them susceptible to disease so a low nitrogen fertilizer with plenty of phosphate and potash is the ideal.

Question #4:  What is meant by the term naturalizing?
Answer:  This is the term used when bulbs are planted in grass/borders/woodland and left to do their own thing.  Planting is usually informal and very often the bulbs will self-seed and spread.  If planted in grass/lawn it is essential to leave the foliage on the bulbs for at least 6
weeks after flowering to ensure that the bulbs renew themselves.
Question #5:  How late can I plant spring flowering bulbs?
Answer:  Bulbs are plants and the best place for them is in the ground but very often they are planted after bedding plants have faded so time of planting will vary from year to year.  Try to plant your bulbs while the soil is still warm and not too wet. , I have planted spring bulbs well into December, with excellent results.  Later planting will still give a show but you may find that the flowers are a bit shorter than normal.

Question #6:  What are the best garden conditions for bulbs?
Answer: Most bulbs like moisture retentive well drained soil and generally like a neutral pH of 6.0-6.5.  Bulbs do not like to be water logged but at the same time they do not like to be excessively dry.

Question #7:  My container planted bulbs have not flowered well this year.  What went wrong?
Answer:  Generally speaking we think of bulbs as frost hardy but when planted in containers the frost not only penetrates from the top but also sides and this can affect flowering.  During periods of prolonged severe frost it is important to either put the containers in a shed/glasshouse or to wrap the outside of the pot with insulation.

Question #8:  Should I dead-head my spring bulbs?
Answer:  Commercial growers do not dead-head their daffodils as it is an expensive job with no appreciable return, however for gardeners it is not a long job and certainly makes things look tidy.  For tulips it is important to remove the petals once they have started to fall.  Old petals falling into the plant and onto the soil will encourage the spores of 'tulip fire' which will infect the soil in subsequent years, so they should be removed.

Question #9:  Every time I buy daffodils they flower the first year but then I only get leaves the following year.  What am I doing wrong?
Answer:  Providing you are doing everything correct as regards planting depth etc. there is a strong possibility that the soil pH is too low.  Daffodils do not like acidic soil.  They will flower alright the first year because the flower has already formed when you buy the bulb but the acidic soil will inhibit root growth and flower development for subsequent years