Tuesday 20 March 2018

Buried treasure coming to light

Frittilaria Snakeshead
Frittilaria Snakeshead

Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

I have written before about how certain times in the gardening calender are very much landmark moments. The first flush of roses, first early potatoes of the season, the start of the Japanese cherries blooming are examples.

Spring bulbs flowering, especially the early varieties, is right up there with the highest of highlights and is always particularly welcome as it brings vibrant mass colour that we have not seen since winters icy cloak was laid across our gardens.

These bulbs have been hidden beneath the soil, a buried treasure, may be planted years ago or just last autumn. Either way they are now emerging to bejewel our parks and gardens and are as beautiful to behold as any lost hoard.

Over the course of the next three months more blooms will take the place of those out now and bring us right up to summer. At the moment, in fact from early February depending on how the season is, we can enjoy crocus, snowdrops, winter aconites, Anemone blanda, the delicate Iris reticulata and many early daffodils like February Gold, Rijnveld's Early Sensation and the charming dwarf narcissus Tete-a-Tete.

Following these will be more daffodils in April including the heavy hitting yellow giants like Dutch Master, Gigantic Star, Golden Harvest and the incredibly dully named Standard Value. Who thought that a sales pitch. If yellow is not doing it for you there are lovely varieties of white daffodils like Mount Hood and Stainless flowering at the same time.

Combine those with double daffs like Golden Ducat and Calgary along with Pink Charm and Red Devon to extend the colour range and your daffodils should be in their pomp around mid spring. Tulips will start to join in with the daffodils in this mid spring extravaganza with early varieties of most flower shapes available. As late spring comes around I think bulbs, or their flowers at least, get a little more sophisticated. Frittilaria Crown Imperials never fail to impress and Frittilaria Snakeshead varieties are even more special. Bluebells are a national favourite and we can shiver in the memory of the forgotten February snowdrops by the larger now flowering summer snowflake or Leucojum.

Tulips are everywhere at this stage and even the daffodil is still going and has save its best until last in my opinion with the Pheasant Eye varieties at their fragrant best come May. Hard to believe that these beautiful flowers were all buried in the sodden winter earth just a few short months ago.

You are enjoying your bulb flowers this year but how to keep them flowering well for next year. Firstly around mid February you can spread some general fertiliser like Growmore around the areas you have bulbs planted. About twenty five grams per square metre will do. If the bulbs are in grass areas then there is really no point attempting to feed as the grass will take the nutrients from the bulbs and rocket up creating more competition for the bulbs. Try putting a little bone meal under bulbs when you are planting in grass and leave it at that.

Next is deadheading which can be done as soon as the flowers have died off. Cut back the flower stalk to a few centimetres above ground leaving all the foliage intact. Don't pull the stems as this can open a plug in the bulb which can hold water and cause them to rot. Cutting off the flower heads stops the bulb from setting seed, which will take valuable energy that is better used making flowers for next year.

Leave the foliage until it is well withered and passed yellowing this is usually around six weeks after flowering. You can then cut it back to the ground.

If you want to lift and divide or move your bulbs when they are dormant is the best time. Having said that you can move bulbs at any stage even if in flower if you have to. It needs to be done gently and carefully. Even if you are dividing you can tease the bulbs apart and shake soil off their roots.

The key is to replant them to the same depth as they were lifted from. Water well afterwards. You may lose your flowers for the next year while the bulbs re-establish. It is recommended that tulips be lifted every year to keep them flowering well and as over time they disappear. This seems like too much trouble and a bulb nursery owner gave me the tip to plant them deeper than is suggested. So instead of say planting at 100mm depth go to 160mm. I don't know for sure if it works but it's worth a try as lifting annually is, as far as I am concerned, not an option.

Sligo Champion