Planting spring flowering bulbs
The nurseries and garden centres up and down the country are now all well stocked with Spring flowering bulbs, those bulbous harbingers of spring which promise lengthening spring days to come.
In fact bulbs have been in the garden centres since the end of August but this is really too early to even be considering planting them in our Irish gardens which are still in their flowery summer pomp then. But with October’s dawn things are a little more ragged looking and the thought of pulling up bedding plants is much more agreeable and the thought of spring bulb planting much more realistic.
The main problem, or more of a nuisance really, with bulbs is that after they flower you have to leave the foliage intact to the bulb until it at least yellows before cutting back. This is to allow the bulb time to restore engery for next years flowering.
Luckily bulbs are ephemeral meaning they have a short life cycle but it can still be six to eight weeks after the flowers have gone before the foliage can be removed. With early flowering small bulbs like snowdrops, crocus and some early dwarf daffodils this is not too much of an issue because they leaf and therefore die off early but also because their foliage is small to and is therefore not overly conspicuous . Other larger later bulbs like big daffodils, tulips and bluebells have much bigger foliage that can persist well into June and become a frightful mess and block up planting areas you have earmarked for summer bedding.
There are a few ways to deal with this. Firstly you might consider growing bulbs in pots and containers that can be either left on patios or when in flower positioned in flower beds amongst other permanent plants. The beauty with both ways is that once the bulbs are past flowering the pots can be moved and placed somewhere less obtrusive and the foliage be left to wither in its own time. These bulbs can then either be lifted, stored and repotted the following October or left in the pots for next year. I wouldn’t recommend any more than two years in a pot without lifting and refreshing the compost though.
Another option is to treat your bulbs like annuals and lift and discard them once the flowers have gone replanting a fresh the next year. This is a little profligate but might be a good option for a very small garden. A variation on this option is to lift the bulbs immediately after flowering and pot up or replant elsewhere in the garden, possibly the edge of a vegetable plot. These bulbs can then be lifted and stored for replanting the following year after their foliage has withered. This method may have an impact on the flowering ability in the subsequent year but is a viable option. Tulips are generally lifted annually anyway after the foliage is spent.
Tying up the bulb foliage into bundles has been one method of solving the untidy foliage problem for years. This involves basically bunching the leaves together bending them over into a bob and securing them with elastic bands or tying string. By doing this you are limiting the amount leaf exposed to the sun and therefore limiting the amount of storage fuel the plant can produce for next years flowers. Its an option and quite popular but be aware that it may impact next years flowers.
Planting your bulbs in a site amongst other plants that will help hide or disguise the untidy foliage is another option. Early flowering herbaceous plants like Dicentra and or grasses foliaged flowers like Hemerocallis are good options. Planting in grass is also worth consideration with some bulbs. Daffodils, crocus, snowdrops, bluebells and Camassia are all suitable. While you still have to allow the foliage to go through its life cycle it can be less noticable in long grass. Once the bulb foliage is spent and the grass cut back it will green up again at that time of year within a couple of weeks. Alternatively plant where you can leave the long grass as a nature reserve and cut back in September.