Wednesday 12 December 2018

Time to lift and separate spring bulbs

Need to move your spring bulbs? Now is the time, writes Gerry Daly

Moving bulbs in spring while their foliage is still in full growth is known as moving bulbs ‘in the green’.
Moving bulbs in spring while their foliage is still in full growth is known as moving bulbs ‘in the green’.


There are various reasons why you might want to move spring flower bulbs, such as snowdrops, crocuses or daffodils, or any other spring-flowering bulb. They might be in the wrong place, or ineffectively used, or too shaded, or crowded. Or you might simply wish to move the bulbs to take up a bigger area of ground.

There are two periods of the year when bulbs can be lifted and moved, namely just after flowering in spring and when they are dormant in summer or early autumn.

Moving the bulbs during the late summer period is less disruptive for the bulbs because they are completely dormant for summer. However, it is difficult to find bulbs when their foliage has withered and may have been completely removed.

Moving bulbs in spring while their foliage is still in full growth is known as moving bulbs 'in the green'. It causes some disruption because the bulbs lose part of their root system and the leaves wither back somewhat more quickly, but the disruption and damage caused is surprisingly minor.

So much so, that flower bulb growers often sell snowdrops in the green, posting them to customers.

To move spring bulbs, wait until flowering is more or less finished, but ideally while there are still enough flowers to be able to identify different bulb varieties. This is important if you are trying to separate mixed colours that don't look well together. Or these can be marked with yarn of different coded colours, and then the fading of flowers is not as critical.

Simply lift the bulb clumps, pulling them apart or loosening out the clump with a hand-fork. Handfuls of bulbs, or even individual bulbs, can be separated and re-planted. This should be done on the same day if possible.

There is no need to take great trouble about re-planting. This can be very simply done by digging out some soil with a spade, to a depth of 10cm for small bulbs, 15cm or so for larger ones, or for bigger clumps.

Allow the foliage to fall to one side of the hole and re-fill the holes with the soil removed, without even taking it off the spade if you like, or even more simply, just move the spade blade forward and slip the clump of bulbs down the back of the spade. This is quickest when done with a second pair of hands - one person works the spade and a helper feeds the bulb clumps down the slot made at the back of the spade. In all cases, lightly step on the lifted soil to firm it back around the bulbs, and just allow the foliage to flop over.

Don't be concerned about the planting depth for these bulbs, because they will find their own depth using their specialised contractile roots. These roots prevent each year's new bulbs being pushed out of the ground. Even bulbs left showing at the surface will be pulled back down after a couple of years.

If there is time, or no rain falls for a few days, each newly planted clump should get a splash of water from a hose or watering can to settle them in.

Some reasons for moving bulbs are for better decorative effect, such as a more prominent place or a bigger show of flowers, or to separate unsuitable mixed varieties. There is an unfortunate tendency to plant daffodils in straight lines, and in rings around trees. Lifting, division of clumps and re-planting in more natural swathes of bulbs can be hugely worthwhile.

Apart from decorative reasons for re-siting bulbs, often bulbs are becoming progressively shaded out by trees and shrubs growing out too far over them. Most spring bulbs can take a degree of shade because they start into growth before the deciduous tree canopy is in leaf, but heavy shade will slowly kill spring bulbs.


FiIND SOMETHING SPECIAL: If you're looking for a rare plant, the type not usually found in a plant nursery, visit the Rare and Special Plant Fair at Airfield Estate, Dundrum, Dublin 14 on April 15, organised by the Irish Specialist Nursery Association you will pick up some real garden wonders.

DON'T OVERLOOK: If forsythia was not as easy to grow as it is, but a rare and difficult plant, it would probably be more greatly valued. What a show it produces every year in March and April, even this year of the chilly wet spring. It grows in any soil and it is easily raised from slips, which is why it was such a traditional cottage garden favourite.

JOIN A WORK OF ART: Our roadsides are made all the brighter by the show of montbretia or Crocosmia x that is typically seen in summer and early autumn. Now, Crocosmia x is part of an art project, 'The Plurality of Existence', initiated and developed in collaboration with asylum seekers. The project will culminate in a number of site works scheduled for September 2018 in Dublin. If you have a spare patch of montbretia in your garden, contact

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