Autumn is the perfect time to plant colour from bulbs  – Paraic’s top 12 tips to remember.

Paraic Horkans

Prepare Well: Kill off weeds by applying a dressing of Weedfree 360 weed treatment and incorporate lots of Growise compost or other organic matter when planting bulbs. On heavy soils, dig in horticultural grit. Bulbs grown in pots need good drainage so put plenty of crocks in the bottom and use well-drained compost. For my pots I use two parts Growise Multipurpose with added Slow Release Fertiliser with one part horticultural grit. Specialised bulb composts are expensive and only necessary in pots with poor drainage.

Time It Right: Autumn is the best time to plant colour from bulbs. We stock a wide selection of top quality winter and spring flowering bulbs . October is the best time for planting daffodil bulbs and November for tulip bulbs.

Big, Fat and Firm: When buying bulbs, reject any that are soft or showing signs of mould. Small bulbs may not flower in their first year. Pick heavy large bulbs for bigger blooms.

Dig Deep: Bulbs should be planted in holes three to four times as deep as the bulb itself. So for example, a 1 inch crocus bulb needs to be planted in a hole 3-4 inch deep hole.

Fritillary Finesse: Clumps of Fritillaria Meleagris Imperialis or F. persica look magnificent but can be difficult to achieve. On heavy soils the bulbs often rot during their first year. Placing the bulbs in the ground on their side will prevent water entering at the top and reduce the likelihood of them rotting.

Which Way Up: If you are not sure, plant the bulb on its side – its stem will find its own way up.

Force Later: The traditional time to start forcing Hyacinths  into flower is the first or second week of October so they flower in time for Christmas. But there is always a surfeit of goodies at Christmas so consider forcing bulbs for the lean weeks of January and February instead. Hyacinths will flower 10-12 weeks from potting if kept in a cool, dark room (or under a cardboard box) until they have shoots about 2 inches tall. ‘Paper White’ Narcissi flower 8-10 weeks from potting and don’t need to be kept in the dark.

Bulbs For Shade: Not all bulbs need full sun. As well as woodland bulbs such as Snowdrops, Lily of the Valley, the dog’s tooth violet (Erythronium Dens-Canis)and the wood anemone (Anemone Nemorosa), many Mediterranean bulbs grow well in shade. Scilla Peruviana has blue flowers the size of tennis balls and soon forms large colonies in cool, shady situations. Their relatives, the Squills – Scilla Siberica and S.Bifolia are aggressive plants that seed themselves everywhere, but the pools of blue they form are irresistible on dull spring days. The star-shaped flowers of Ipheion Uniflorum create a similar effect but are less invasive.

If you have rich soil with plenty of added leaf mould you will be able to grow the sumptuous black flowers of Fritillaria Camschatcensis. The most majestic bulb for the dappled shade provided by deciduous trees is F. Imperialis.

A friend has masses of the deep orange form growing against a red-brick wall underneath a fig tree. It’s a glorious sight.Paraic Horkan

Plot With Pots: Fill large plastic pots with your favourite bulbs and just before they are about to flower, use them to plug holes in the border. Plastic pots can also be slipped inside more elegant terracotta ones and whipped out when the bulbs are over. Store the pots behind a shed to allow the foliage to die down. Keep them weed-free, top-dress with a layer of compost in the autumn and bring them out again the following year.

Allium photo

Mark The Spot: Plant labels can look ugly but are indispensable for marking the position of bulbs whose foliage has died back. A discrete wooden label will prevent the frustration caused by plunging a fork into a border and spearing a clump of your favourite Alliums.

Hedge Dwellers: The dry conditions at the base of hedges make ideal growing conditions for many bulbs. Tulips, and particularly species tulips, will be very happy on the south-facing side of a hedge and can be left undisturbed for years. A few bulbs of Tulip Whittallii planted at the base of my beech hedge have now formed large colonies. The bronze-orange flowers coincide with the first acid-green shoots of the beech.

On the shady side of the hedge, encourage carpets of Snowdrops, Lily of the Valley, Bluebells  Anemone Blanda or the mauve and lavender flowers of Chionodoxa Forbesii, a prolific self-seeder.

Damp Lovers: Most bulbs need a period of dry conditions, but some only thrive in moist soils. In the wild, Camassias grow in rich, moist meadows and need similar conditions in the garden. Leucojums also flower better in moist soils. The Snakeshead Fritillary, F. Meleagris, only flourishes when grown in a damp soil.

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