When to plant your bulbs

We supply the bulbs as quickly as we can at the right time of year to plant them. By following the colour indicators on the website Basket and Checkout page or the ‘sections’ of our catalogue, you will see when to expect them. Most bulbs are really quite resilient and it is not usually necessary to rush out and plant them the moment they arrive but sooner rather than later is preferable!. Where we supply bulbs and plants ’damp packed’ (with the root ball or bulbs bagged in a plastic bag with damp coir compost) this is an indication that the contents need special and speedier attention and should not be allowed to dry out. For the bulbs supplied in paper bags it is more important that the soil conditions are as good as they can be where the bulbs are to be planted than it is to plant them very quickly, though do see the FAQ on storing bulbs if you are not going to get around to this work for a while.

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How to plant your bulbs

We provide brief guidelines with all our bulbs and these come as part of the individualised order packing process. The label attached to the pack will suggest a planting depth and spacing between bulbs as well as where to plant them. The catalogue and website also describe the bulb as it appears in flower – providing a guide to its height when it first flowers and (if important) a spread. It will also provide some background on the conditions in which these plants grow best.

There are some well-known guidelines. If you measure the bulb from root to top and multiply that by 3 or 4 that will suggest a good depth of soil to replace over the bulb. Some suggest that this is the depth of the hole, others the depth of soil over the bulb so it is a bit rough and ready but indicates that most bulbs are happy planted more deeply that one might expect. There are some exceptions – Nerines and Lilium candidum, and plants that like a summer baking do not want to be planted too deep as the soil temperatures are much more stable at some depth and will not warm up much in summer.

If you are planting larger numbers of the same bulb over an extended area do try and avoid regimenting by not planting in straight lines. One method is to ‘throw’ the bulbs down (this only works with the bigger ones) and then plant them where they fall, this randomises the pattern somewhat. Do vary both the density to give a more natural result, plant a few closer together and then some more further away. If you have several varieties to plant in such a way (say 3 forms of Daffodil) I would suggest that you do not plant them as a mixture. Take a look at the area and taking account their height at flowering, colour and time of flowering, plant each as a distinct group (which may overlap in some areas on the edges), this tends to work better than the same jumble everywhere.

Whilst they are expensive to buy, a bulb planter can save some backache and blisters if you have a big area to cover. For smaller bulbs and smaller numbers a long straight trowel (often called Asparagus trowels) is useful, though a spade is easier on the wrists.

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Planting snowdrops in the green

All snowdrops prefer cool, moist conditions in the spring and a surprisingly dry summer dormancy in the shade. Aim to provide a spot for them in good angled Spring sunshine where the rain can reach them when you plant them but also somewhere that will be more shaded in summer and where the soil will be drier due to the umbrella effect of the leaves above shedding the rain away and the roots of the trees and shrubs drawing away most of the remaining moisture. Dig a deep but narrow planting hole probably 4-6" deep (an asparagus trowel is a great implement for the job) loosening the soil at depth and introduce your snowdrop into this at a depth slightly greater than it was previously planted (where the stem turns green!) Firm in and water the soil remembering to label the spot. If planting more than one of the same variety, plant the next about 4" away ideally. They will clump up in time.

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Planting dormant snowdrops

Do not delay the planting of dormant snowdrop bulbs, the sooner they are planted once you have received them from us the better. If planting them directly into the ground consider their position and aim to provide a spot for them in good angled Spring sunshine where the rain can reach them when they are in growth but also somewhere that will be more shaded in summer and where the soil will be drier due to the umbrella effect of the leaves above shedding the rain away and the roots of the trees and shrubs drawing away most of the remaining moisture. We recommend using the smallest size of aquatic mesh pots so containment and identification will be made easier, this being filled with an improved soil based potting medium and a little extra sharp sand around each bulb. Label carefully and water very sparingly until the autumn. If planting in pots these should be plunged to keep the roots safe from extremes of heat and cold. If growing under glass give plenty of ventilation at all times and preferably move the pots outside to a shady spot after flowering to prolong the growing season.

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Forcing bulbs or delaying flowering

Some bulbs are treated to flower early. Prepared hyacinths or Paperwhite Narcissi are two that can be planted early to flower at Christmas. Other bulbs can be ‘forced’ to flower earlier or later than their normal flowering time through cultural interventions.

Hyacinths for Christmas need early September planting using ‘prepared’ bulbs (which have been cold treated to break their dormancy). Use gloves if you might be allergic to the skins of Hyacinths. Plant them with their noses just out of the compost in suitable bowls or pots, water and put in as dark and as cool a situation as you can (9 ⁰C is the ideal) for them to form roots and to anchor themselves in the compost. When the noses are about 1” through the soil bring into the light in cool conditions in order for them to go green and then bring into more light and gradually increase the temperature. Watering should only be done by plunging the pot into water and allowing the compost to absorb what it needs, top watering (especially in draught free places results in brown tips). You will probably have to stake the heavy blooms.

Paperwhite narcissi take approximately 8-10 weeks to flower from planting. They need cool (but not frosty) growing conditions to root out but in as much light as possible as their tendency is to get too tall. Other bulbs can be ‘forced’ to flower somewhat earlier than usual if planted in containers where they can be moved around. If brought into warmer conditions to achieve this you need to be aware that they will also grow taller more quickly as well as develop their flowers earlier, to compensate for this one needs to ensure that they receive as much light as possible otherwise they will become ‘drawn’ – suggesting unnaturally weak and pale stems that are overlong.

Delaying flowering can sometimes be achieved by the opposite effect. Cooling the soil (by burying pots in the ground), by planting in the shade so that the soil in which they grow does not warm up early, or by planting the bulbs very late can all help a bit. Again increasing the light levels without increasing the temperature at the same time is a challenge. In the end nature will tend to revert to ‘normal’ and it is difficult to alter flowering by very much, even with cold stores.

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Storing and caring for your bulbs

Please unpack your box as soon as you can and check the bags against the Invoice – we don’t often make mistakes but it helps to be able to sort any ‘problems’ immediately.

The bulbs contained in paper bags are usually ‘dry’ and just need to be stored in a dry airy place (one that is not affected by mice). It need not be dark, but would not want to be in direct sunlight. Hopefully they will not be stored for too long before you get around to planting the bulbs?

Those packed in coir and in plastic bags need to be dealt with more quickly. They are safe as they are, but should not be allowed to dry out and if in leaf on arrival need to be in at least half light in order not to turn yellow. If the weather conditions are not good or the ground not ready for them these plants might be better potted up and put outside to await transfer into their final positions.

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