Gardening

with DERYN THORPE

BULBS

fields
An aerial shot shows a colourful field of flower bulbs in Lisse, on April 24, 2011. Tourists travelling in mobile homes can be seen parked on the side of the field.
(Photo Robin Utrecht/AFP/Getty Images)

Fields of nodding yellow daffodils and pots brimming with elegant tulips are picture perfect images that gardeners associate with the start of spring.

Bulbs provide a romantic ambience to any garden or courtyard and while they look pretty uninspiring each one is a guarantee of spring colour.

You’ve missed the opportunity this year but bulbs make the perfect Easter gift too as each little parcel upholds the Easter message as they are all a promise of new life.

Bulbs grow well in southern and eastern Australia, the tablelands around Cairns, hills west of Brisbane and the SW corner of WA. Plant now in cool climates (April) but wait for cool soil in mid May in hot areas.

Don’t forget to place tulips, crocus and hyacinths in the vegetable crisper in the fridge (egg cartons make good containers) for four to six weeks before planting.

Online mail order companies will provide glorious colour catalogues or support your local nursery which will also have a range for sale.

Conditions

All bulbs need well-drained soil with a generous supply of humus. Complete fertiliser high in phosphorus and potash must be worked in well in advance and not allowed to touch the bulb.

Alternatively enrich the soil with lots of organic matter and add blood and bone when flower buds appear. If you are only planting a few bulbs in a container it is easiest to buy a small bag of bulb growing mix.

Plant bulbs at least twice their height deep — slightly deeper in sandy soil and warm areas. Space them two-bulb widths apart for a natural clumped effect.

Put bulbs into the soil with the pointy end up, except ranunculus and anemones which should be planted with the pointy end down

Tulips should be lifted every year when their leaves die after flowering, however, in warm climates it’s best to treat them like an annual as they are unlike to flower for a second time. Other bulbs are more heat tolerant and can be left to naturalise.

After the flowers finish feed with liquid fertiliser and water regularly until the foliage dies down as it helps supply the bulbs with stored food for next year’s flowers.

Winter flowering

If you are impatient for flowers plant some jonquils which will flower in mid winter and have stems with multiple scented flowers in shades of white to yellow. They are good in pots and perform well in hot climates.

Bulbs for naturalising

The most reliable for naturalising are bulbs from other warm climates: Freesia, Ixia, harlequin flower (Sparaxis), species gladioli, Babiana, queen fabiola (Brodiaea), Spanish bluebell, soldier boys (Lachenalia), spring star flowers (Ipheion) and snowflakes.

All have weed potential so don’t plant them near bushland.

Best show

Few bulbs are more prolific than inexpensive ranunculus and anemone which last well in the vase. In good soil ranunculus may bloom again the following season.

Bulbs for Pots

Most bulbs look good in pots but my favourites are early flowering varieties like hyacinths and tulips. Once flowering pots can be moved inside to a bright location or positioned on the patio.

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