Planting bulbs at different times will extend the flowering season in your garden, writes Peter Dowdall.
As the earliest of the spring flowering bulbs are beginning to emerge from the soil, don’t despair when you see packets of bulbs laying unplanted and untouched on the floor of your shed or shelf in the kitchen.
Purchased with the best of intentions during last autumn, it is a bit late for planting but nothing ventured, then in this case, surely nothing gained.
Plant them now, provided the bulbs are firm to the touch. If they are in any way soft or showing signs of rot then discard them for you will only be adding fungal infections to the soil or pots in which you are planting.
Snowdrops, if they have been left in the packet until now, will most likely have dried out and will probably not be worth planting but others, like crocus and narcissus, will be sprouting in the packet, begging to be planted out. Once introduced to the soil they will come on in no time at all and though your flowers may appear later than normal, they should still produce plenty of blooms.
Then there are some bulbs, in particular tulips, which will perform better if planting them is left until late December/January.
Alliums too, can be left until now and even later. The well organised among us will have started the bulb planting last August and continued through the autumn right through this month and into February. Planting in this way, will lengthen the flowering period on the other side.
Using different varieties will certainly prolong the flowering period but so too, staggering the planting of the same varieties.
In other words, planting some of the same variety of bulb such as a daffodil over a number of weeks in the autumn will lead to them flowering over a longer period of time in the spring.
The earliest of the bulbs are in flower already and by March, the season will be in full swing with daffodils galore, followed by tulips and bluebells and once these come to an end, by mid-May, alliums planted during January will steal centre stage bringing their beautifully, perfect globe shaped blooms atop erect slender stems into your garden and ensuring that the colourful bulb display continues well into the summer.
So, you see, leaving your bulbs until now wasn’t a mistake at all, it was an inspired move to extend the flowering season in your garden.
Alliums need careful positioning to get the best effect. What I mean they need to be planted among other plants in the garden.
Where a planting of tulips or daffodils can be stunning all on their own, I feel alliums need to have an understorey. One of the main reasons for that is because their foliage, which starts off lovely and fresh as it breaks through the soil will start to wither and die before too long and if you’re not used to growing them, you may think that they are dying off due to some illness or infection.
That’s not the case, it’s natural for them to do this as the flower buds emerge. The visual effect of this can take from the beauty of the bloom, particularly if they are planted in isolation so get out there with the scissors to remove untidy brown leaves.
By planting them among other plants, a lot of this foliage is left unseen and you only get to see and enjoy the flower, standing proud above what is planted beneath.
Plant them in and around some clipped Buxus balls for a fabulous effect as the shape of the Buxus and the spherical flower of the allium compliment each other perfectly.
I plant mine, allium ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Ambassador’ with the white tulip ‘Purissima’.
The tulips are just fading when the alliums come into their own so I get to enjoy the colour combination for a short while before the alliums are all alone and it means that all I have to do during April and May is sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labour in December and January.
And while I find that I do have to replace or at least add to the tulips each year, the alliums go from strength to strength each season, needing to be divided every few years. Plant them along with the tulips in full sun with a good layer of horticultural grit beneath to ensure that moisture doesn’t collect around the base of the bulb and the roots grow nice and deep.
All this happens before I even think about the summer flowering bulbs proper, such as gladiolus, begonia, lilium etc which will all need to be planted as soon as February starts and will provide colour on into the autumn once more.
If you were growing hyacinths indoors for blooming over Christmas then they have most likely finished flowering by now and the flower stem and foliage will be dying back. Don’t throw them out as they will be perfect to plant outdoors for flowering in future years.
The bulbs will have been prepared before you purchased them this year for blooming in December, they will have gone through a process of cold stratification to trick the bulbs into thinking that spring is coming sooner than it is.
The bulb won’t flower next December, so store it somewhere dry and cool when all the greenery has withered and plant out in theautumn for flowering in spring 2020.