Gardens Galore

How to plant and care
for your flower bulbs



Daffodils bloom in Cape Town in the spring.

Flowering bulbs are unique plants. They spend most of their time lying dormant underground resting and waiting for nature to trigger the germination process of the bulb.

Every year at almost the same time your bulbs will spring to life as if by magic. Suddenly all the bulbs left in the ground from the previous year that you have forgotten about will make their appearance and before you know it your garden will be a splash of colour. Unfortunately the flowers last only for a short while and then die leaving the leafy portion of the plant to turn brown and die a short while later. Many gardeners are impatient as they want to use the bed for their annuals and then cut away the foliage on their bulbs. That's a big mistake and I'll tell you why later.

When setting up your flower beds you need to decide if you want a large splash of colour concentrated in one area or little bits of colour spread around your garden. In nature bulbs tend to grow together in large groupings giving masses of colour when they bloom. That's the ideal way to plant your bulbs. A visit to the Western Cape's west coast in early spring will convince you that grouping is the way to go.


Wild Afrikanders

Great! I have convinced you now so get out there and plant your bulbs. Following nature's way will have people walking past in the street stopping to admire your colourful garden when the bulbs come into bloom.

Planning a garden is a long term process so you should start planning your bulb garden in early spring. Once you have decided where you would like your bulbs to be planted it is time to start preparing the bed for your autumn planting.

Start by raising the level of the new bed by adding a mixture of well composted cow manure and a good rich topsoil to the area you have selected for your new bed. It is best to do this while you are still in the mood for gardening as when autumn arrives and the weather starts changing you might not have the urge to garden. Once you have prepared the bed it is not necessary to leave it empty for the whole summer season. You can plant annuals in the bed and have a nice display of flowers for the summer months.

When autumn starts approaching and the annuals start dying down pull them out and place your bulbs in the ground following the instructions as to depth and distance they should be planted from each other on the packaging your bulbs came in.

In some parts of the world there are animals that eat bulbs so in those cases it might be necessary to protect them. There are two ways to do this, the first being to wrap the bulb in steel wool with an opening to allow the bulb to shoot. The second way to protect your bulbs is to cover them with a bit of wire mesh fencing.

Caring for your bulbs is the theme of this article so you should look into caring for them at all times.

So what do you do to protect your bulbs when they are in full bloom? As you don't want your bulb to produce seed its a good idea to cut off dead and dying flowers. This will stop seed production and strenghten the bulb as it is now able to store the energy it would have used in producing seed in the bulb.

To further enhance the energy in your bulb and ensure a good display of flowers in the following year it is necessary to allow the foliage on the plants to die back naturally before removing it. The reason is to allow photosynthesis to take place. Photosynthesis is a food making process used by plants and if there are no leaves the food made in the leaves cannot be transported back to the bulbs.

Bulbs are very expensive so its a good idea to let them store as much as food as possible once the flowering has stopped. By doing this you won't need to purchase more in coming years. Once the leaves are completely dead you can remove them.

During the period that the foliage is dying down you can plant your annuals again. Any ugly dead leaves will soon be coverd over bt the leaves of the annuals. If there is the odd bit of dead foliage causing problems for you just snip it off.

So there you have it. Planting bulbs is a painless process with great rewards when they flower.

Happy gardening.

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Planting and bulb care

Page updated 29.8.2017

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