As some of you may remember we added daffodils and tulips to our range two years ago. I got very excited about this and was guilty of making off with handfuls of bulbs every time I left the warehouse. I planted them in Autumn and had forgotten about them by Spring until succulent new shoots started popping up all over the place. It's like being a forgetful pirate without the risk. You can bury your treasure, not bother drawing a map, and find all your jewels again in the Spring!
Spring Planted Bulbs
Many of you will have noticed it is no longer Autumn so clearly planting tulips and daffodils are no longer an option. The great news is there are a whole range of Spring planted bulbs like dahlias and lilies that are planted from March onwards (earlier if started in pots) and give the same favourable ratio of work to reward as the Autumn planted ones.
Apart from how easy they are to grow, there are a number of other advantages to Spring planted flower bulbs.They are tall, showy plants with long stems and rich colours so make excellent cut flowers.They are ideal for pots and container growing so a great choice for around the housThey have a relatively long and late flowering window so add vibrant colour to a late Summer garden when others are fading.
Just to be accurate, dahlias and lilies don't grow from true bulbs they are actually corms or tubers. The main difference is bulbs (tulips, daffodils and onions) are fleshy and have different layers while corms and tubers are solid all the way through like a potato. The method for planting is more or less the same for dahlias and lilies except lilies go in a bit deeper.
Starting Off Early
You can adjust the flowering time of Spring planted bulbs by starting them off in pots in early March or planting them directly in the ground in late April or May when all risk of frost has passed. Plants started early will flower 4-6 weeks before those planted outside.The other advantage of starting plants in pots is protection from frost and slugs. Lilies aren't so bad but new dahlia shoots are very prone to frost and slug damage so require some tedious looking after. Potted plants, on the other hand, can be kept indoors and planted out at a decent size in warmer weather. The larger plants will be able to handle a few slug attacks whereas a newly emerging shoot will not.
To start plants in pots use a general purpose compost in an 8 inch diameter pot. Keep the compost moist and place in a bright porch or sun room. If placing in a greenhouse or polytunnel cover with fleece if a hard frost is forecast.
Dahlias are highly productive plants so will need good soil and full sun to produce top quality blooms. They will also need good drainage so if you have a heavy clay soil dig a hole a little deeper than normal and add a layer of grit before planting. If very wet use raised beds or large pots instead.
For all varieties make a hole 15 to 20cm deep and place the tubers in it with the growing buds (eyes) facing upwards. More compact varieties can be spaced 60cm apart while taller varieties should be given 90cm.
After 2-3 weeks add a light dressing of blood, fish and bone meal. Unless your soil is absolutely fabulous feed every 2 weeks or so with a liquid feed, tomato feed will do the trick.
Planting dahlias in pots
Dahlias can be grown successfully in pots and make an excellent patio plant provided the pot is big enough and you keep your plants well fed.
As regards pots, the bigger the better but aim for a diameter of at least 30-40cm. You can use a good multipurpose compost and mix in a handful of blood, fish and bone for good measure. Bear in mind the plants are getting all their nutrients from a relatively small volume of compost so regular liquid feeding every two weeks is even more relevant for pots.
Remember many dahlia varieties are tall plants with heavy blooms so supporting potted specimens is important as they have no companions to lean on. A couple of lengths of bamboo with soft ties will help keep them upright, the cane rings I have included at the bottom of the page are good for large clumps.
To increase flowering pinch out the growing tips back to a pair of leaves when the plant is about 40cm high. The plant will become more bushy and will flower more freely.
If you want larger flowers for cut flowers you can remove entire flowering stems to leave between 3 and 5 only. Removing smaller buds below the primary bud will also divert energy to the main flower with the same effect.
As we've said Dahlias are frost tender and attractive to slugs so in most cases it is advisable to lift the tubers in Autumn and store in a frost free place over Winter. They can be kept in pots of compost if you are feeling especially kind but do just as well 'naked' in boxes or crates.
The procedure for planting lilies is more or less the same as above except lilies are not as frost tender and don't light up a slug's taste buds like dahlias do.
Lilies grow best with their head in full sun but their roots cool and shaded so plant the tubers deep, up to 3 times the height of the bulb and mulch in hot Summers. For lilies planted out growing a ground cover plant around them helps keep roots cool, for potted lilies choose good, deep pots.
Lilies are also very tall plants with multiple blooms on each stem so staking is advised for those planted in beds and essential for those in pots.
Remove any blooms that begin to fade which prevents the plants from producing seed and dying back. For lilies planted permanently in beds it is a good idea to continue feeding for 4 weeks after flowering to build up the bulbs for next year.
There is no need to lift tubers in Autumn but it is advisable to apply a protective mulch to delay ground frost. Once plants become established you can divide tubers just before growth begins in Spring and plant elsewhere in the garden. Choose from our selection of bulbs with the link below: