When the winter blues start to hit in dark and dreary November I reach for my spade and think of spring. This may sound weird but it’s the best time to plant tulip bulbs and although they don’t look like much right now, pop them in a pot or in the ground and you’ll be rewarded with a blaze of colour next April and May. Buy your bulbs from specialists like Peter Nyssen, who offers a great choice and is very good value for money, or just go along to your local garden centre or DIY store.
Tulips are really easy to grow if you have light, sandy soil and a sunny area, where they will flower well. If your soil is sticky and difficult to dig, either work in lots of horticultural grit before planting or plant your bulbs in containers.
The bulbs like to be tucked in about 20cm (8in) beneath the soil surface, and the flowers look best in bold groups. So, if you’re planting them in the garden, start by digging a large, deep hole. Then simply space the bulbs, pointed end facing up, about 5cm (2in) apart at the bottom of the hole. Carefully replace the soil, and firm it with your hands to remove any air pockets.
I then like to add another layer of colour with a few wallflowers, which combine brilliantly with tulips to produce a dazzling display and also have a deliciously sweet scent. You can buy bare-rooted wallflowers in packs or plants growing in pots. The bare-rooted types are cheaper but need to be soaked for a few hours before planting. It doesn’t matter if you plant the wallflowers directly above the bulbs, as the tulip shoots will find a space between them as they push through the soil next spring.
Pots are just as easy to plant up. Select large containers and plant the bulbs at the same depth as in the soil in multipurpose compost mixed with some horticultural grit. For a little winter colour, add a frill of evergreens, such as lavender or thyme, and violas around the edge of the pot. Place your containers on “pot feet”or on a layer of pebbles so that water drains through easily because if there’s one thing tulips hate it’s waterlogged soil.
I’ve also spotted some great promotions on ACHICA this week for plant pots and stands from Garden Trading (above) that would be perfect for a spring bulb display. Try mixing a few different flower bulbs, such as daffodils, alliums, grape hyacinths, and tulips. Although books recommend planting the other bulbs a bit earlier in autumn, I rarely get round to it until November and they seem to flower just as well come spring. Check the bulb packs or catalogues for specific planting depths...
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Zia Allaway, Garden Expert
View all posts by Zia Allaway, Garden Expert