One of the tricks to becoming a successful gardener is thinking ahead. As well as keeping up with seasonal tasks, gardeners need to think about what must be done now, to have plants in bloom and in good health in the seasons ahead.
Autumn is an important time to think ahead to spring, particularly when it comes to bulbs. To enjoy daffodils, jonquils, tulips, freesia, anemones, ranunculus and other late winter- and spring-flowering in the garden, the bulbs are planted in autumn usually between April and early May.
Bulbs are fairly fool proof. Inside every bulb is a nascent plant complete with roots, leaves and flowers. The bulb just needs the right growing conditions to perform. Bulbs can be planted in garden beds, in clumps in the lawn for a natural look or in pots where they combine well with annuals and perennials.
Annuals such as pansies and poppies can be used to fill the planting space while the bulbs are growing. Late-spring and summer-flowering perennials can be used to fill the space after bulbs have finished their show.
Wherever you choose for them to grow, they must be planted at the right depth in the soil and put in the right way up. The right planting depth is crucial to keep the bulb cool. But it must not be planted too deeply or the shoot can fail to reach the surface before it runs out of energy. Bulb packs state the best planting depth (and this is the depth to the top of the bulb) but a handy rule of thumb is to plant bulbs at a depth equal to twice their width.
The other critical ‘condition’ for successful planting is to put the bulb into the ground or container the right way up; that is, facing up with roots down. With most bulbs this is easy to determine as they go in pointy side up.
A word about anemones and ranunculus
As with every rule, there are exceptions. In the case of bulbs the exceptions are anemones and ranunculus, two of the cheapest and most cheerful spring-flowering bulbs to grow.
Anemone and ranunculus have small, oddly shaped bulbs that are a little tricky to manage. Technically the small bulb on these plants is called a corm. Anemone corms look like chocolate drops. They are planted pointy side down as the point is the root, not the growing tip. If you are in any doubt, plant the corm sideways. Ranunculus plants grow from claw-shaped corms. The claws are the roots and these go down into the soil.
After planting, mulch the soil or potting mix with a light layer of organic mulch. Water occasionally, especially if conditions are very dry. As the bulb shoots appear, increase watering and regularly check the bulbs for pests such as aphids, snails or slugs. Squash any that are found. If snails or slugs are a problem (and they can be plentiful in cool wet conditions) apply an animal-safe iron-based snail bait.
After flowering, bulbs store energy for next year’s growth. Provide extra nourishment at this time by spreading well-rotted manure or applying a bulb fertiliser or a liquid feed. Deadhead the bulbs as the flowers finish so energy isn’t wasted on developing unwanted seeds. Leave the bulb foliage to die down naturally before clearing it away in late spring or early summer.
Most bulbs can be left in the soil to multiply and regrow each year. Where soils are poorly drained or become very hot, cold-loving bulbs such as daffodils and tulips can be lifted and stored over summer, chilled in the crisper section of the fridge for six weeks in autumn and then replanted.