HOW TO GROW BULBS

Even modest beginners feel that they know all about spring-flowering bulbs. Daffodils, Tulips, Crocuses and Snowdrops are planted in a hole which is two or three times deeper than the width of the bulb. This is an autumn task, and after replacing the soil there is nothing more to do until the floral display is over. When the foliage on the Tulips has died down they are lifted and stored for autumn planting – the remainder are left in the ground unless the bed is wanted for other plants.

This child’s guide to bulb growing is quite satisfactory as far as it goes, but it leaves out many important points. For instance, some of the Species Tulips should not be lifted every year and there are delicate Daffodils, such as the Tazetta group, which should not be left outdoors in winter. The reason why successful bulb planting is so easy is that very little can go wrong provided the soil is not waterlogged. The purchased Daffodil or Tulip bulb, if healthy and sufficiently large, will have its flowering quality already determined, and the skill of the gardener can have little effect. What happens in future years, however, does depend on you. With proper care and cultivation these bulbs will improve and multiply over the years – with poor handling the stock will quite rapidly deteriorate.

So there are some lessons to be learnt. Make sure that the site is well drained and fairly rich in humus. Bone Meal is the best fertilizer, and fresh manure should never be used. If the ground tends to be damp, Daffodils will do better than Tulips. The choice is up to you, but do buy good-sized bulbs – there is no point in planting tiny daughter bulbs unless you are prepared to grow them on for a couple of years before obtaining satisfactory flowers. Wherever possible try to naturalise hardy bulbs by planting them in clumps or drifts around trees or on grassy banks where they can be left to grow undisturbed. Scatter the bulbs over the ground and plant them where they fall -in this way the spacings will provide a natural look.

When flowering is over, the leaves must be allowed to remain on the plant. This is the stage when food is produced for next year’s bulbs -feeding them with a liquid fertilizer is recommended and never knot the foliage of Daffodils to hasten ripening. If the bed has to be cleared before the foliage has died down, then remove the plants and transfer them to a shallow trench elsewhere in the garden.

So far only the popular spring-flowering bulbs have been mentioned, and apart from summer-flowering Gladioli many gardeners look no further than the denizens of spring. This is a pity, for there are so many other varieties within the vast range of bulbous plants. This section of the world of flowering plants includes all the types which produce fleshy underground organs and which are sold in this dormant state as planting material. Included here are the true bulbs, corms, tubers and some rhizomes. A true bulb consists of fleshy or scale-like leaves or leaf bases arising from a basal plate. Some, such as Lilies, have no outer cover but most others have an outer cover or tunic – examples are Fritillarias, Hyacinths, Grape Hyacinths, Daffodils, Tulips and Bluebells. Within the bulb lies the embryo shoot and flower, and that separates it from the corms -another large group of bulbous plants. A corm is a flattened and thickened stem base, and as the original one becomes exhausted during growth a new one is produced above it. There are a number of attractive corm-producing plants, such as Crocuses and Gladioli.

Tubers are swollen roots or stems. You can tell that it is not a true bulb because there are no overlapping scales or leaves, and you can see it is not a corm because there is no papery coat on the outside. The catalogues contain several examples – Dahlias, Winter Aconites, Tuberous Begonias, Spring-flowering Anemplants are Turban Buttercups. The final group of bulbous plants contains the rhizomes – fleshy stems which creep below or on the surface. You will find one popular representative (Lily of the Valley) in this section – most other rhizomes are sold as growing plants.

One final point – don’t regard bulbous plants as seeds which can be stored for months on end before planting. A few of the popular ones can be kept in a cool shed for a little while after purchase, but as a general rule this group should be planted as soon as possible after you get them, just like bedding plants.

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