How to plant

What type of bulbs are there?

There are two primary categories of bulbs:

  • The spring flowering varieties (planted from August until December) i.e. – Daffodils, Tulips, Crocus, Hyacinths, Bluebells, Snowdrops and many more.
  • The summer flowering varieties (planted from February until May) i.e. Dahlias, Begonias, Gladiolus, Crocosmia, Lilies and many more.


When is the best time to plant bulbs?

Bulbs are usually sold dry. Dry bulbs should be planted as soon as possible after purchase. Daffodils should be planted in late August, September or October and Tulips between September, October and early November.


Some bulbs, such as dwarf Iris and Cyclamen, are often sold in pots. Pot-grown plants can be planted at any time of the year provided the ground is not waterlogged or frozen.


Others bulbs, such as Snowdrops, are often sold after flowering in the green. Summer flowering bulbs and bulbs in the green should be planted mid to late spring.


Specially prepared bulbs of Hyacinths and Daffodils for early flowering indoors should be planted in late summer or early winter and kept in a cool, frost free place for a minimum period of 10 weeks.


Where is the best place to plant bulbs?

Bulbs provide a great variety of different colours, sizes and shapes of flowers and can be used in practically every garden situation, except deep shade.


The tall grandeur and symmetry of hybrid Tulips make them ideal for formal bedding schemes, either planted on their own, or mixed with other spring flowering bedding plants.

The informality of Daffodils with their nodding heads and bright primary colours are excellent for naturalising in grass and also for enlivening dull corners of the garden.


As bulbs provide intense colour with little effort, they are often used for filling up gaps in more permanent plantings such as herbaceous and shrub borders.


Dwarf Daffodils, Crocus and other bulbs with tiny flowers are suitable subjects for rock gardens or for growing in containers and window boxes. Some bulbs, such as Hyacinths and Daffodils, can be forced into flower early and can be cultivated indoors.


How do I plant bulbs?


Preparation:  If you plan to plant in a bed, loosen the soil where you’ll be planting the bulbs, use a hand trowel to remove a clump of soil, pop the bulbs in and cover over. Make sure you have spacing between the bulbs to allow for division as the years go by, usually 2 to 3 times the width of the bulbs.


If planting under grass, cut the sod, slide a spade underneath and turn it over. Pop the bulbs in – mindful of the spacings, put the sod back over and pad it down gently with your foot.


Water logging: Most bulbs hate water logging for any lengthy period, therefore try and avoid such areas unless the bulbs are suited to it,


Tools: Bulbs can be planted with a trowel or with a specialised bulb planter.


Planting Depth & Spacing: As a guide, the planting depth of soil over the bulb, for most bulbs, is two to three times the height of the bulb itself. A small bulb only 1″ high, should go down 2-3″ deep. Tuberous Begonias should be planted shallowly with the top of the tuber just below the soil surface.


Planting distance between bulbs can vary greatly, but two to three times the width of the bulb would be satisfactory in most cases.


Positioning of bulb: Bulbs should be inserted in the hole with the pointed end facing upwards and tubers should have any buds or eyes facing upwards. After covering with soil, the surface should be firmed and watered. Where bulbs are being naturalised in grass, the sward should be cut as short as possible and the bulbs scattered by hand over the selected area. The bulbs should be planted where they fall but not closer than one bulb width apart.


Labelling: Label your planting so that when the bulbs flower you will know what they are, and that when they go dormant you will remember not to dig them up as you garden over them.


What is bulb layering?

Layering is the perfect way to maximise the flowering potential of a small garden, by planting different varieties of bulbs at different levels within a small pot or area in the garden.


What layers of bulbs work best together?

There are basically four main “layers” of bulbs that work particularly well for this method of planting: Lilium (including Asiatic, Trumpets and Orientals), Narcissi and Allium, Tulips, Muscari, Scilla, Iris reticulata, and Crocus (the smallest, earliest blooming bulbs).

Any layer can be left out and the scheme still works quite well. Larger areas can also be planted using this method of layering bulb types. Within a layer you can vary the bulbs, putting 2-3 Asiatic lilies with a couple of Oriental ones, thus extending the final blooming time. Early and late blooming tulips also work well this way. It is recommended that you choose one type of early bloomer and one late one, rather than mixing too many variations.


How do I layer bulbs?

Use a pot at least 12 to 14 inches deep and about 16 to 18 inches wide (5 Litre pot). This can, of course, vary according to the space you are trying to fill.

Use any potting medium – tub and basket compost, multipurpose, john Innes, etc. (this is an annual display due to the planting density)

At the bottom, place an inch or two of chippings for drainage, then layer over this with an inch of compost.


Add your bulbs – just some important rules:

  • Last flowering first in the pot i.e. Alliums or Lilies go in a deeper layer than Tulips, Tulips in a deeper layer than Daffodils, etc.
  • Make sure the bulb is facing the right way – base plate (usually identified by the dried ‘hair’ or roots) should be down.
  • Always leave the noses of the bulbs sticking out of the compost (don’t completely cover them) before you start the next layer.
  • Don’t put the next layer of bulbs on top of the previous bulbs (hence leaving the noses a little bit proud of the surface).
  • Put some winter bedding over the final layer to dress up your pot. Not too much as it will crowd the pot as the first flowers start to appear.