I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with bulbs. I find the planting of them a chore. The digging of a seemingly endless number of holes on my not-so-perfect soil which leaves me with a sore wrist for days. Then there’s the inevitable but unwanted dissection of bulbs already underground in my quest for new planting holes, followed by the backache from hours spent hunched over the soil. How can you have a garden though and not have spring bulbs? March, April and May without the zest of daffodils and the vibrancy of tulips, the delicacy of crocuses and the delicious scent of hyacinths – it would be a garden bereft of spring joy. And this is why, every year, I still succumb to a spot of bulb planting.
November is the month for planting tulips. All my other bulbs are in their winter homes by now but tulips are best left until the weather gets a bit colder before they are planted. Originating from Turkey and the Middle East their ideal growing conditions are baking hot summers and cold, dry winters. Not the typical conditions most of us experience in Britain which might go to explain the variety of problems which accompany these bulbs. Whether it’s fungal diseases such as tulip fire or slugs and rodents eating the bulbs, tulips aren’t always the easiest of bulbs to grow. Planting a little later than other bulbs, in November or even into December, is one way of combatting the fungal diseases at least.
Another way to ease the strain of bulb planting is to dispense with putting them in the ground and to fill pots with them instead. Filling pots with friable compost and planting bulbs into this is much easier than spending hours digging holes. Safely tucked into pots tulips suffer much less from attacks by slugs and, as the compost is sterile, problems with fungal diseases aren’t as much of a problem. Planting into pots at this time of year is easier too if the weather has been wet or there has been a frost. If you live somewhere very wet you can keep your tulip pots somewhere sheltered – under the greenhouse staging is ideal – to avoid waterlogging and come spring you can position the pots where you want shots of colour. You can layer tulips with other bulbs in pots to get a succession of flowers, although the foliage of the earlier flowering bulbs can look a bit scruffy. I prefer to stick to one variety or a few different varieties which flower at the same time for a more dramatic look.
Once they have finished flowering you can either dispose of the bulbs on the compost heap, or allow the foliage to die down, feed the bulbs with seaweed fertiliser and then store the pots somewhere out of the way. Somewhere sunny would be ideal to replicate the bake they get in their native home, then you should get a second flush of flowers the following year. Another option is to lift the bulbs. Allow the foliage to wither, let the bulbs dry and then store until autumn when you can replant.
My favourite tulips: ‘Angelique’, ‘Ballerina’, ‘Verona’, ‘Abu Hassan’, ‘Apricot Beauty’