HOW TO PLANT BULBS
For most bulbs, any ordinary garden soil will do, provided that it drains well and is loosened to a depth of at least 20 cm: the length of the
blade of an ordinary spade.
Very sandy soil can be improved by digging in peat or clayey soil to give it more body.
Very clayey soil will benefit for the addition of sand to improve drainage and texture.
The ideal garden loam consists of about equal parts sand, clay and organic matter. Most flower bulbs
prefer loam that is higher in sand content than in clay content.
Old, well-decomposed manure, compost or leaf mould incorporated into the soil
before planting will benefit all bulbs. Do not use fresh manure as this will
burn the roots. Never mix fresh foliage or grass cuttings into the soil as their
decomposition robs the soil of essential nitrogen. The best soil is light and
airy, allowing good drainage and enabling air to move freely through it. Organic
matter incorporated into soil acts as a sponge, holding more moisture in sandy
soil and improving drainage in clay soil, and so making nutrients for all your
plants more readily available.
It is essential to plant bulbs only at the correct time of year. The bulb packets provide planting dates. Earlier planting will generally not
result in earlier flowering. By all means buy your bulbs as soon as they become available, but plant them only in the correct month.
Winter- and spring flowering bulbs should be planted in autumn when the soil is no longer hot. Cool soil plus water trigger them to start
sprouting. They need the cool winter to grow in. These bulbs cannot be kept out of the soil and planted in spring. They are dormant in
summer when it is warm.
Summer bulbs should be planted only once winter is past and the soil has warmed up in late spring.
With all the smaller varieties at least 20 bulbs should be grouped together. Of the larger bulbs at least 10 together are needed to create
the best effect. Very large bulbs such as dahlias or amaryllis may be planted singly. Plant all bulbs with the pointed side up, except anemones,
of which the pointed end should go downwards if there is a pointed end. Plant ranunculi with the "fingers" of the claws pointing downwards.
Remember that winter and spring- flowering bulbs prefer cool soil. So, don't plant these next to a hot driveway or north facing wall or in a tub or pot in
full sun. Tulips, hyacinths, Dutch irises and daffodils, in particular, will not do well in such locations.
Bulbs in pots or containers may be planted closer together and shallower than in the garden. In fact, they may be planted touching each other and sitting
virtually aboveground. This will not harm their flowering ability, as long as they are kept well- watered.
A recommended planting method:
1. Remove the soil to a depth of 20 cm. The soil thus removed should be placed on a sheet of plastic, where it can be conveniently broken down
and mixed with sand, compost or other organic material as required.
2. replace half the fine, broken- down soil. Plant your bulbs on this bottom layer.
3. Refill the bed with the remaining soil.
4. Rake over and overplant with annuals of your choice.
Compost and Mulching
Mulching keeps the soil at a more constant temperature and helps to retain moisture. Flower bulbs therefore thrive under a mulch.
The mulch need not be deep: anywhere from 1 cm to 3 cm will do. Use any of the following: dry veld grass, peat, dry leaves,
composted tree bark, old compost. The best mulch of all is old compost, as this is also a food source for your bulbs. (See: Making compost).
Mulching discourages weed growth by suffocating young emerging weeds.
Do not use fresh grass clippings, sawdust or wood shaving as these will rob the soil of needed nitrogen once they start decomposing.
It is vital to remember that the roots under bulbs must transport water to the foliage and flower heads. It is therefore useless to water a
little every day. All you will achieve is to wet the top few centimetres of the soil, but the roots will remain dry. Soak the soil to a
depth of about 15 cm every for to five days, or whenever the subsoil gets dry. Never let the soil dry out completely. This will in many
cases result in abortion of flowers.
The germination process starts immediately after the bulb has been exposed to water and is then irreversible. Consequently if watering is neglected,
even for a week, between the time of planting and the time of flowering, results will be less than desired.
Rain is mostly not sufficient to substitute for watering. With well drained soil it is very difficult to over- water flower bulbs.
It is best to water flowering plants, including all bulbs, in the morning rather than the evening. Morning watering gives the foliage a chance
to dry off before nightfall. This reduces the risk of mildew, slug attacks and fusarium disease.
If you have an insufficient water supply you can still grow bulbs successfully. Plant them in pots and containers, or shape the soil
surface above them into a shallow, flat bottomed crater to direct the water to the bulbs. Keep the soil continually moist at root level from
planting time onwards. More bulbs fail to bloom satisfactorily because of under-watering than for any other reason.