Horowhenua Chronicle

Plan ahead for spring flowers

Now’s the time to plant flowering bulbs, writes

- Gareth Carter For more gardening informatio­n, visit: www.springvale­gardencent­re.co.nz. Gareth Carter


Our cooler nights and early mornings let us feel that the change of season is upon us. Autumn is the time for planting spring flowering bulbs. Planting bulbs is thinking ahead, looking at the pictures on the packets and imagining how they would look in your garden. More and more bulbs are arriving in the garden centre during March.

Daffodils, jonquils, anemones, freesias, ranunculus, crocus, Dutch iris and others can all be planted straight away.

Here are some favourites:

Freesias are one of the darlings of the spring garden, prized as much for fragrance as for cut flowers. Freesias are available in a range of colours, as well as double or single-flowered types. The cultivated species are from South Africa and are suitable for planting in clumps in the foreground of borders and in gardens around the house so their delightful fragrance can be appreciate­d. Freesias also do well in pots on the patio, either on their own or overplante­d with pansies, violas or polyanthus.

Freesias grow well in the garden for many years without lifting and dividing. They prefer well-drained light fertile soil in a warm sunny position. Mix bulb fertiliser into the soil when planting; this will promote good growth and strong and plentiful flowers. If planting freesias in pots, use a specialist mix such as Tui Bulb Potting Mix, which has bulb fertiliser already formulated into the blend.

There are also new-season ranunculus and anemones. They are excellent for borders, garden edges, pots and tubs, and are great to grow as a cut flower.

Ranunculus corms resemble a claw which must be planted downwards three to four centimetre­s deep in a sunny, welldraine­d position. Their blooms come in reds, rose, golds, lemon, yellow and white doubles on strong 30-50cm stems. They are very effective planted in bold clumps 6-8cm apart, as ribbon borders in pots or as cut flowers.

Anemone corms will display brilliant single or double flowers in full colour during mid-winter to late spring. Plant 3-4cm deep and 10-15cm apart, making sure the flat part of the corm is uppermost, in a sunny or partly shaded position. They’re best in a cool spot if you’re planting now. They look great when planted between roses.

Anemones and ranunculus can be difficult to germinate. Here are some tips which will dramatical­ly increase your success rates: they should be chilled for five to six weeks in the fridge (not the freezer), then soaked in fresh running water for 10-12 hours prior to planting.

Bluebells, or scilla in Latin, come in white and pink flowering varieties, as well as the well-known blue. These bulbs prefer a semishaded spot, so are ideal under deciduous trees, where they can be left to naturalise.

Dutch irises flower in the late spring/ early summer just after the last daffodils and tulips have finished. Dutch irises grow from bulbs rather than rhizomatou­s roots, as many other iris types do. Irises grow best in a full-sun position.

Iris reticulata is a smaller-growing form of iris than the Dutch iris. They flower earlier — usually around the same time as snowdrops but before tulips, so generally in late August and early September. With their smaller growth habit, they are particular­ly well suited to pots.

Gladioli nanus, known commonly as ‘painted ladies’, put on a great show, with tall arching stems reaching 60-80cm tall and several 5-6cm exotic-looking blooms per stem.

Daffodils come in a large array of forms and colours. The jonquil types start flowering in late autumn/early winter, with other varieties flowering through late winter and into spring. They are the most popular spring-flowering bulb by far. Their suitabilit­y for gardens large and small, as well as their success when growing in pots, all make them so worthwhile.

Hyacinths are revered for their fragrant spikes of starry flowers.

Hyacinth bulbs are best kept somewhere cool and dry and benefit from being put in the fridge to be chilled for planting in May.

The fridge? Why this peculiar custom? To answer this question, it helps to look at the areas from which these bulbs originate and appreciate the cold winter temperatur­es of these areas. They come from the cold mountainou­s regions of southern Europe.

Placing hyacinth bulbs in the fridge replicates the cold winter temperatur­es they experience in their native habitat and helps them to perform better in our warmer, temperate climate.

Hyacinths also give better results if the plants are gradually introduced to more heat and light once they have started to grow. This is easy to understand because spring starts slowly in their cold native habitat.

Often it is easier for us in Whanganui to grow hyacinths in pots filled with a bulbgrowin­g potting mix than in the garden. Refrigerat­e the bulbs first, then, after planting, cover the pot with another of similar size to exclude the light. Next, put it in a cool shaded spot (preferably sinking the base down into the soil).

After the hyacinth shoot has emerged, take off the cover and gradually move the pot into more light.

The more slowly the hyacinth is exposed to increased heat and light, the better it will perform.

If the flowers emerge from down near the base, or the leaves and stems are floppy, it usually means the hyacinth growth has developed too quickly.

Hyacinth cultivars are ideal for pot cultivatio­n and can be moved around the garden or brought indoors as a cheerful signal of the coming of spring.

Tulips also like to be chilled. I’ll tell you more about tulips when they come into stores in April.

Now is the time to choose your spring flowering bulbs for spring — get in while there is a good selection.

Planting bulbs is thinking ahead, looking at the pictures on the packets and imagining how they would look in your garden.

is the general manager of Springvale Garden Centre.

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Autumn is the time to plant spring bulbs.

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