Buried Treasures ... Growing Great Winter and Spring Flowering Bulbs

Buried Treasures ... Growing Great Winter and Spring Flowering Bulbs

Winter and Spring flowering bulbs pop their cheery heads up just at the right time …. generally at the end of a cold winter, when you've nearly had enough sitting by the fire with a cuppa, and are ready to spend more time out doors.  In many ways they are heralding the change in seasons.  Bulbs bring with them colour, joy, and a whole lot of easy care gardening, and are one of the best ways to introduce seasonality into the home garden.

You might be wondering why, as our Autumn weather cools, we are talking about spring and winter flowering bulbs now.  The answer of course, is that now is the time to get busy and plant them.    Winter bulbs are super easy to grow provided they are planted when the soil is cool; they are fertilised when flowering, and stored in a cool dry place when they are lifted.    Here are a few tips I garnered at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show from the talented team at Drewitts Bulbs, put together with some of our own growing experiences here in SA – we hope they will help you get the most out of your bulbs this winter.

Bulb size matters …. The size of the bulb influences the size of the flowers.  The bigger the bulb, the better the flower. 

  • Anenome, ranuculus and freesia are the exception to the bulb size rule … in their case, bulb size doesn’t matter. 
    • And, if you have old anemone, ranuculus and freesia bulbs that don’t look their best, soak them in solution of Seasol which is mixed at 1/3rd the normal rate (soak them overnight prior to planting.) 

Fertiliser Woes:  Spring flowering bulbs do not appreciate manure based fertilisers (Dynamic Lifter, Rapid Raiser etc) …. Use a complete fertiliser mix, a specially formulated bulb mix or if can’t find either of those, a tomato fertiliser will suffice.   (Lilliums on the other hand can’t get enough manure based fertilisers, doing best with regular applications of manure fertilisers during their summer growing season). 

  • It’s important that you fertilise your bulbs when the flowers have finished, but before the foliage has browned and died off for the season. 

Storage Know-how:  If you do lift your bulbs, store them over summer in cool, dry conditions (not in the fridge) prior to planting out, and definitely not in the freezer as one customer told me she did recently ? ... and if you are wondering, her bulbs didn't grow.

Going Potty:  Bulbs will grow in a pot, but will do better planted in the ground (this is because the soil temperature of the pot is warmer than that in the ground  …. Winter bulbs like cool roots). If you do grow bulbs in a pot use a quality potting mix, and feed and water well.  As the season warms up try and shade the pot from the hot sun.

Darling Daffs:  Daffodils should be planted about 10cm apart and at double the depth of the bulb (if the bulb is 5cm long then you should have 5cm of soil covering the tip of the bulb).    You can leave daffodils in the same spot for about 5 years, at which time you will find their flowering will have reduced and they will benefit from being ‘lifted and divided’ them.

  • If you do need to lift bulbs they are best stored in a dark, airy location –an old orange bag is perfect – pop them in the bag and hang them in the shed over summer. 

Totally Tulips:  Tulips are best planted when the soil temperature is 14 degrees. 

When to plant:  Here in Adelaide I like to get my bulbs in before Anzac Day, or shortly after.   

While it’s not best practice, if you forgot to lift and move bulbs over summer, then you will find that they are remarkably hardy, and, with a fair amount of success, can be lifted, leaves and all, when they first pop up in winter …. At least you will be able to find them!