Caring For Spring Bulbs

Spring flowering bulbs add some much needed colour and interest in the garden when many other plants are yet to emerge or flower.

There is a wide range to choose from and with careful choices you can have bulbs in flower from January to May.

The bulb contains all the sugars the plant needs to survive though dormancy and send up shoots in spring, so choose large firm bulbs that have plenty of reserves. They will start to send out roots through autumn in preparation for emergence in spring.

Feeding and watering

Feed bulbs with a slow-release general fertiliser as soon as the shoots appear as many bulbs start to form next year’s bulbs before they even flower, then add a high –potash liquid feed (e.g. tomato fertiliser) every two weeks.

Bulbs naturalised in the lawn cannot be given feed.

The soil should be moist. Do not let them dry out, especially those in pots or very light sandy soil.

Deadheading and cutting back

Some bulbs will naturalise by setting seed e.g. Fritillaria meleagris, snowdrops, English Bluebell so do not deadhead these, but other bulbs that will not come true to seed such as large daffodils should be deadheaded to ensure that sugars in the plant go into the roots not into the flower for seed-production. Just cut or snap off the old flowerhead, leaving the stem and foliage to die down naturally for around 6 weeks or whenever it turns brown. This is important as the leaves are still using the sun’s energy to make sugars for the plant for next year. Do not knot the foliage as this prevents the sugars getting back into the bulb.

Bulbs that do not flower

Most bulbs will re-flower in subsequent years but the bulb needs to get to and maintain a suitable size each year to enable them to do this. Many Tulips do not re-flower as they need a Mediterranean summer to achieve this.

If the bulbs have not re-flowered it could be due to one of the following reasons:

  • The bulbs have been planted too shallowly. They should be 3 to 4 times the depth of the bulb.
  • The bulbs are in deep shade (although some such as Snowdrops prefer some shade.)
  • The bulbs are overcrowded, in which case they can be lifted, split and the larger bulbs replanted.

Foliage and flower problems

Foliage problems can be caused by infections of the foliage or of the bulb itself. Some of the more common problems are slugs and snails which can attack emerging buds, and shred the leaves, Lily beetle which eats the foliage of Fritillaria, and Tulip fire which causes brown spots then grey fungus on the plant. Wet and windy weather can also damage delicate flowers such as Crocus, and very short stems can be caused by late planting or a mild winter.

If you missed buying and planting them in the autumn, you can always find some in pots in your local garden centre, and except for Tulips, most can be planted out and with the correct care as above, will re-flower for you for years to come.

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