Spring-flowering bulbs are easy instant growing packages that can be planted now in gardens or pots. Here are some inspiring ideas on how to use bulbs in your garden to make the most of their colour, perfume and mass appeal. Get planting!
Autumn is the time to plant bulbs for colour later in the year. There are many ways to enjoy bulbs in your garden. For a wild look, mass-plant bulbs in lawn areas or scatter them under trees. Good choices include freesias and narcissus of all types. For success, choose a position that’s sunny throughout winter and early spring, such as among deciduous trees.
For a pretty cottage garden effect, select easy-to-grow bulbs such as anemones or ranunculus, and team them with late-winter- and spring-flowering annuals such as Iceland poppies, alyssum, pansies or violas. Add contrast and splashes of colour with the occasional clump of Dutch iris, tulips or daffodils. If space is tight in your garden, or you lack the sunny spots that spring-flowering bulbs enjoy, you can grow bulbs in pots.
Select an attractive container, with drainage holes in its base, and fill the pot with a good-quality potting mix. Bulbs planted in pots can be grown more closely together than the recommended spacing. Grow just one type of bulb per pot, such as hyacinth or tulips, or overplant the bulbs with annuals, such as pansies, to extend the flowering period.
To ensure success with bulbs, always follow the instructions on the packet, plant in autumn and select a sunny, well-drained spot. In warm or humid climates treat bulbs as annuals, replanting them each year.
1 Prepare well Remove weeds and incorporate lots of compost or other organic matter when planting bulbs. Bulbs grown in pots need good drainage so put plenty of small rocks in the bottom and use a well-drained compost. Specialised bulb composts are expensive and only necessary in pots with poor drainage.
2 Time it right Garden centres sell bulbs for autumn planting from February to May.
3 Big, fat and firm When buying bulbs, reject any that are soft or showing signs of mould. Small bulbs may not flower in their first year.
4 Dig deep Bulbs should be planted in holes three to four times as deep as the bulb itself. So, for example, a 1in crocus bulb needs to be planted in a hole 3-4in deep.
5 Which way up? If you are not sure, plant the bulb on its side: its stem will find its own way up.
6 Bulbs for shade Not all bulbs need full sun. As well as woodland bulbs such as Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa), many Mediterranean bulbs grow well in shade. Scilla peruviana has blue flowers the size of tennis balls and soon forms large colonies in cool, shady situations.
7 Plot with pots Fill large plastic pots with your favourite bulbs and, just before they are about to flower, use them to fill holes in the border planting. Plastic pots can also be slipped inside more elegant terracotta ones and whipped out when the bulbs are over. Store the pots behind a shed to allow the foliage to die down, keep them weed-free, top-dress with a layer of compost in the autumn, and bring them out again the following year.
8 Mark the spot Plant labels can look ugly but are indispensable for marking the position of bulbs whose foliage has died back. A discreet wooden label will prevent the frustration caused by plunging a fork into a border and spearing a clump of your favourite alliums.
9 Viola partners Wallflowers or forget-me-nots are the traditional partners for tulips. In pots and window boxes use violas instead – they will start flowering long before the tulips and provide a wide range of colour combinations. The Sorbet series is robust and floriferous.
10 More please For sheer flower-power, bulbs are the cheapest plants available, so don’t stint on the quantities you plant. Even in small gardens, massed plantings of a limited number of varieties is always most effective. In pots, allow for a dozen tulips per 12in container.
11 Lift and repeat Left in the ground, tulips degenerate each year until they die; lifted, stored and replanted the following November they re-flower well. After flowering, remove the seed head and wait for the foliage to yellow and die back, then lift the bulbs, clean off any soil and store in boxes or net bags in a cool, dry place.
12 Limit your layers Plant pots and windowboxes with no more than two layers of bulbs to prevent the unsightly spectacle of later-flowering plants appearing through the dying foliage of earlier ones.
Some of the beautiful tulips in Zurich