Harbingers of spring, bulbs transform sleeping gardens into oceans of color as the seasons turn. Starting with the first brave snowdrops that peek through the soil in winter, and closing with a spectacular display of tulips and alliums at the end of spring, bulbs provide a long period of interest. Plant them in autumn—leave tulips until late in the season—and they will flower the following year.
When to start: Mid-autumn.
At its best: Early to late spring.
Time to complete: 30 minutes for planting.
You will need: Fork, spade, horticultural grit, bulb planter or trowel, chicken wire, selection of spring bulbs
Prepare to plant
All bulbs need well-drained soil, so if you have heavy clay, either dig in plenty of grit before you start, or grow them in pots. You can either plant bulbs individually, using a bulb planter or trowel, or dig a wide hole and plant them en masse, which is an easier method, and more naturalistic.
Dig a hole
Dig to a depth of about 2–4 times the height of your bulbs. Place the bulbs in the hole with the pointed growing tip facing upward. Discard any that are moldy or soft.
Fill in the hole with soil, taking care not to damage the growing tips, and firm it down with your fingers. Cover with chicken wire to prevent animals from digging up the bulbs; remove it when the first shoots appear.
Tips: Planting snowdrops
Snowdrops have tiny bulbs that dehydrate quickly, and often fail to flower if planted in autumn. Instead, buy pot-grown bulbs in leaf in the spring and plant them so that the pale bases of the stems are just below the soil surface. If you already have large clumps of snowdrops, lift and divide them in spring, after flowering.
For bulbs to succeed, you need to plant them at the right depth, usually two to four times the height of the bulb. Plant too shallowly, and they may not flower; too deep, and they might not grow at all.
- Tulips prefer to be planted deeply, four times their own depth; a 2 in. (5 cm) bulb is planted 8 in. (20 cm) deep.
- Daffodils are planted three times their own depth; a 2 in. (5 cm) bulb is planted 6 in. (15 cm) deep.
- Plant grape hyacinths (Muscari) at three times their depth; a ¾ in. (2 cm) bulb is planted at a depth of 2 ½ in. (6 cm).
- Alliums are also planted at three times their depth; a 1 ¼ in. (3 cm) bulb should be planted 3 ½ in. (9 cm) deep.