Spring bulbs

Bulbs are fairly easy to grow, but get them in the ground in au­tumn for their spring show.

NZ Gardener - 365 Days of Flowers - - The Spring Garden -

Bulb heavy­weights in­clude daf­fodils, freesias, tulips, hy­acinths, blue­bells, and Dutch and Louisiana irises, but don’t for­get these shade­lov­ing beau­ties: dog’s tooth vi­o­lets (ery­thro­nium), grape hy­acinths (mus­cari), snowflakes (leu­co­jum) and ipheion.


Louisiana irises are mar­ginal plants that like to pad­dle at the rim of a pond or stream, but they'll grow well in a gar­den bed if given ad­e­quate water. The range of colours is the broad­est of any iris groups, and in­cludes many pat­terns and blends as well as solid colours.


The snake's head frit­il­lary ( Fri­t­il­laria me­lea­gris) bears nod­ding, che­quered bells that vary from dark ma­roon to pure white. They're pricey to be­gin with, but when planted in mod­er­ately rich, moist soil that's well drained, they'll hap­pily mul­ti­ply. They grow well in pots too.


Blue­bells are well suited to the meadow look, but the wood­land style con­di­tions they need to thrive re­quires you to have de­cid­u­ous trees widely spaced be­cause the bulbs need light to bloom. Span­ish blue­bells are more com­mon in New Zealand than true English blue­bells.


Most bulbs can be suc­cess­fully grown in pots – planted above are white frit­il­lar­ias, white grape hy­acinths and ra­nun­cu­lus – but they must be kept in a cool place be­fore plant­ing for best re­sults.

For tulips to do well in a con­tainer, you should chill the bulbs in the fridge for at least eight weeks be­fore plant­ing out in May. An in­suf­fi­cient cold pe­riod re­sults in ei­ther no flower or flow­ers on short stems. Keep pots in a cool, shady spot for sev­eral months to al­low for good root de­vel­op­ment. Water should be kept to a min­i­mum too – just enough to keep the soil moist. Bring into strong light and then di­rect sun when the first shoots ap­pear and water more fre­quently. In warmer ar­eas, water reg­u­larly when flow­er­ing or the plants will shut down. Wa­ter­ing keeps the roots work­ing hard and also keeps the soil cooler, al­low­ing a longer growth pe­riod and bet­ter bulbs.

If you've forced your blooms in­doors, plant­ing them out in the gar­den can be a bit hit or miss. Un­like bulbs planted in the ground, forced blooms have been through a pretty ex­haust­ing process. Bulbs like cro­cuses and daf­fodils which eas­ily nat­u­ralise have a good chance of re­bloom­ing the fol­low­ing year if planted out once they've fin­ished flow­er­ing (just don't cut the leaves off). Feed and water them, then wait un­til the leaves die down. Tulips are un­likely to re­bloom. Hy­acinths may, but they'll prob­a­bly have smaller, less ro­bust blooms.


The stems of tulips con­tinue to grow in water, and the flow­ers bend to­wards the light. Hence tulips tend to flop once you get them in­doors. If you can be both­ered, you can straighten the stems by wrap­ping them in wet pa­per and stand­ing them up­right with a light di­rectly above. Or you can try prick­ing the top of the stem, just be­low the head, with a pin. The hole al­lows air to es­cape, which ex­pe­dites the water flow to make the stems more turgid.


Chamomile, thyme and Cor­si­can mint ( Men­tha re­quienii) all work well as ground­cov­ers, with chamomile and thyme mak­ing ex­cel­lent lawn sub­sti­tutes. Both re­quire a sunny spot with freedrain­ing soil, al­though chamomile will tol­er­ate light shade. Clay soils will work, so long as you im­prove the drainage first. Grit, sand or pumice and or­ganic mat­ter should be dug in to a depth of at least 15cm be­fore plant­ing. Thyme is drought­tol­er­ant and pro­duces masses of pur­ple, pink or white flow­ers in spring or sum­mer, de­pend­ing on the va­ri­ety. Plant a sin­gle va­ri­ety en masse or a se­lec­tion of dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties to pro­duce a patch­work ef­fect. Or plant thyme in be­tween pavers.

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