Despite the dark evenings and drizzly, cold weather, autumn is the best time for planting bulbs. And nothing lifts the spirits after a long winter than the sight of the first spring flowers. A bit of colour bursting forth in your garden just as the frosts start to fade is a fantastic way to welcome the new gardening season.
But to get the optimum effect, it’s important to plant bulbs while the soil is still warm – now. Doing so will help them develop a small root system before it gets really cold, which allows them to flower earlier than other plants.
Bulbs are energy powerhouses that bloom year after year. They store the energy like a battery over winter then erupt into flower in spring. They are foolproof plants – hardly anything can go wrong with them.
Plant them too deep, too shallow or even sideways and they will almost certainly still flower come spring. They are also a great investment. If cared for, they will spread and give you more plants and flowers every year.
Bulbs are versatile. They work hard in borders to fill gaps around flowers and shrubs. They grow up through lawns – they look stunning around the base of trees – and are excellent in containers indoors or outdoors. They really are some of the easiest garden plants to grow.
So get them in the ground now and let nature get on with it over winter.
Simple rules for planting
Planting bulbs in autumn isn’t that tricky. But they will flower better if you give them the right conditions. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil – the only thing bulbs can’t stand is excess water as it makes them rot.
Most like to be planted two to three times as deep as they are tall. Once you have dug your hole, line the base with a layer of grit or sand. Then plant the bulb using the light bulb technique – push and twist it into the soil as if you’re sticking a bayonet bulb into your light fitting.
If you simply place the bulb in the hole without any pressure, you could leave a gap where rainwater will collect and start to rot away at it. Make sure you plant the bulb the right way up.
If in doubt, plant sideways. It will still work that way.
Space the bulbs about two widths apart for optimum spread to give their foliage space. If you have trouble with squirrels digging them up as a snack, grate a little soap over the bulb to deter them. Then fill in with soil and water in.
Everyone has heard of the big four spring flowering bulbs – tulips, crocus, daffodils and hyacinths. For the greatest impact, plant them in groups of the same colour and variety. At least six bulbs give a stunning show. You can also arrange them by height. Plant tall tulips at the back, daffodils in the middle and crocuses at the front. Crocuses and daffodils are especially popular under the lawn. Simply dig up your turf in autumn, plant the bulbs and
lay the grass back down. They will push up in spring for a burst of colour. Snowdrops are perfect for shady spots under trees, while muscari look especially elegant in containers.
My top eight bulbs for planting in autumn are:
7. Colchium bulbocodium
It’s called the lasagne effect but, don’t worry, there’s no cooking involved. It is actually one of the most popular ways of planting bulbs in containers – placing them in layers. Start with a layer of gritty compost at the bottom of the tub, then add a layer of daffodil bulbs, spaced slightly further apart than usual.
Cover those with another couple of inches of compost – so that you can just see the bulb tips – then add tulip bulbs on top in the spaces between the daffodil bulbs. Add more compost as before, and then plant crocus or muscari bulbs on top.
Cover with a thicker layer of compost and water in. All three varieties will push up together in the spring to give a dense, seriously striking display. The end result looks absolutely brilliant and will make an amazing patio centrepiece.
So there’s how to plant spring into your garden this autumn. Get planting bulbs for a spectacular show next year.