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Boost your patio bulbs for spring


f your summer pots are looking straggly and tired, bite the bullet, bin the summer bedding and make a head start by filling your containers with spring bulbs. Bulbs often do better in containers

than in the ground, as you can control drainage better and plant them in gritty compost which gives them more chance of success.

Ideally, daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths should ideally be planted by the end of September, although they can be planted later, so if you haven’t planted yours yet, there’s still time.

Tulips should be planted in late October or November, as they need a drop in temperature to root well. Planting in lower temperatures may also reduce the chances of them getting a fungal disease called tulip blight (Botrytis tulipae), which can rot the bulbs or cause lesions on the leaves.

Don't be fooled into thinking that spring bulbs in pots should all be of the dwarf variety. While there's few prettier sights than a mass of deep blue muscari filling a small traditional terracotta pot, you souldn’t be afraid of planting big, bold bulbs en masse in bigger pots. Provided they are in a fairly sheltered spot away from strong winds, they should give you a stunning display.

Crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis) look impressive planted in groups of three in large metal containers in a contemporary setting, alongside trimmed box and other architectural plants, while narcissi with stout stems, such as N. 'Bridal Crown', will provide long-lasting blooms and won't topple over in cooler situations.

I love the strong form of the Darwin tulips, which can reach 50- 60cm in height and bloom from mid to late spring. They are how you would expect a tulip to look, with no frills or blousy flowers. A surefire winner is Tulipa 'Queen Of Night', with its strong stems carrying silky purple-black flowers. I prefer to plant it as a single variety, without any plant partners, and place it against a white wall to show off its deep, rich colour to its best.

Many gardeners opt for layering bulbs for a continuous display throughout spring. This is done by planting a variety of bulbs at different depths in the pot. For instance, in a large container insert

30 Life Begins

larger bulbs such as tulips, covering them in compost, then add another layer of medium-sized bulbs such as dwarf narcissi and cover these, then finally add small bulbs such as crocuses or snowdrops and top them with a final layer of compost.

The bulbs nearer the top will flower first, then as they die down they will be replaced by the medium bulbs, which will in turn be replaced by the larger bulbs later in the season. Recipes might include Scilla siberica on the top layer, Narcissus 'Tete a Tete' in the middle layer and Tulipa 'Golden Apeldoorn' on the bottom layer, but there are many other possibilities.

When planting bulbs, place crocks in the bottom of the pot, add 15-20cm of multi-purpose compost with added John Innes or bulb fibre and begin your layering, nestling late-flowering bulbs into the surface of the compost and adding compost just to cover the bulbs or leave the tips showing.

If you leave pots outside in the winter, don't let them become sodden. Stand the pots on feet to allow the moisture to drain through. However, don't let the pots dry out either or it will lead to stunted growth and flowers that are likely to wilt quickly. It's a good bet to put the pots by the house in winter, moving them to expose them to the elements from February onwards, so they don't dry out. Once the bulbs are in flower, water them every other day.

Although it seems a long way off Spring will be upon us before we know it so make sure your Spring is extra colourful and uplifting in your garden by thinking ahead now.

“Planting spring bulbs now will give you a lovely showing of spring flowers next year”

PA Photo/Thinkstockphotos

PA Photo/Thinkstockphotos

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