Bulbs are one of nature’s best tricks: they are little time bombs, packed with all that’s needed for a glorious explosion of flowers. All you need do is plant them and wait for the rest to happen automatically.
To be pedantic for a moment, some bulbs are technically corms (crocus, for instance), and some are tubers (dahlias), but since they’re all to be found in the same section at the garden center, let’s not quibble. The best time for bulbs is the spring, with daffodils and tulips as the stars. However, the show goes on year-round, from winter snowdrops to exotic summer lilies, so make the most on these easy-to-grow plants.
Bulbs are undemanding plants, and very long-lived, but you can help them be their beautiful best by following a few ground rules:
First, pick out firm, plump bulbs, the bigger the better(more flower power). Reject any that is soft, mildewed, or sprouting. It’s also important to check the packet to see that they have been commercially grown, rather than collected from the wild.
Then plant them as soon as possible, bulbs deteriorate easily if being kept hanging around, especially in a warm room. The only bulb you should delay in planting is the tulip; they’re available from August, but it’s best to keep them in cool, dry conditions and plant in October. This stops them from coming up too early in spring and being harmed by any late hard frosts.
Planting at the correct depth is vital for success with bulbs, so check the recommended depth on the packet and stick to it. If you don’t, the bulb will repay you by failing to flower. As a rule of thumb, if you’ve no packet information to guide you, bulbs should be planted at three times their own depth. Thus a 2 in/5cm bulb will need a 6 in/1 5cm deep hole. Make sure you plant them with their “noses” (the pointy end) facing up, but most will cope if you get it wrong.
In the garden, especially in hard ground, bulb planting can be a bit of a chore, but hang in there. You can use a trowel to make individual holes, but in soft ground, or after rain, a special bulb planter (which lifts out a plug of soil to the required depth) will be a help. Alternatively, you can dig out the whole area, setting the bulbs in at twice their own width apart.
If your soil is heavy or liable to become soggy, add a 1/2 in/13mm layer of coarse sand to the planting hole. This helps drainage and prevents bulbs from rotting.
Once the bulbs are in, fill in with soil, then mark the spot with a short stake or large label. You may think you’ll remember where you have planted everything, but you won’t.