Defining Bulbs – Blooming Bulbs
Forms of Blooming Bulbs
‘Bulb’ is a blanket term covering all bulb-like flower organs: true bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes (a few are even known as cloves) sold in a dormant condition. They differ in structure, shape and size, as well as in flowering time, but their function is identical: to tide the plant over its resting period, whether this be in times of winter cold or summer drought.
The bulbous-type plants have a number of categories. Most of them, particularly the spring-flowering bubls, bear some resemblance to onions and they are easily recognizable. But the non-expert would have great difficulty in determining the difference between aand a or rhizome.
Briefly, a corm is the swollen underground stem of a plant with a basal plate from which the roots grow. The tuber is also a swollen underground stem, but rounder and more swollen, and lacking the scales that make up bulbs and corms. There is a further subdivision, into stem tubers, which have eyes from which the new stem comes (the potato is the best known example), and root tubers, which have no eyes and only a bud at the apex –tubers are perhaps the best known of these types. Rhizomes are similar to tubers but more horizontal in shape and with a tendency to sprout new shoots some distance from the parent plant. The bearded iris is a typical example.
All types have common factors: food storage, quick growth under suitable conditions, and the same life-cycle in that during growth and flowering the following year’s plant is being formed in miniature. This pattern means that they not only perpetuate the species by reproducing themselves, they usually also produce at least one extra as well. This – or more frequently these – may be smaller and not yet ready for flowering, but will reach the requisite size and strength in a year or two. The flowering thus goes on year after year from the time of purchase, which makes them very good value for money!
Preparation and Care of Blooming Bulbs
Gardening with blooming bulbs requires a minimum of effort. Although many should be lifted, dried, cleaned and stored, equally there are many that can be left in the ground year after year, and they will go on increasing in numbers. No other group of plants has such a built-in success guarantee, and so bulbs are invaluable to beginners and to newly formed gardens. Provided they are of flowering size when bought they are virtually certain to bloom the first year after planting. The type of growing medium used is not very important, though some have their preferences for lime or acid soils. It is, however, advisable to enrich theif possible before they are planted. Animal manure, if you can get it, is by far the best, but never let raw manure make direct contact with the. Bulb -leave a layer of soil in between. Then a sprinkling of general fertilizer every autumn or spring, lightly raked in, will keep the nutrient ‘topped up’.
Choosing Blooming Bulbs
You will naturally want the best blooming bulbs you can get. If you are buying in person and not by mail order, try to select the bulbs yourself, but do be sure not to bruise them.
A bulb in good condition will feel firm and plump, and quite heavy for its size, and there should be no scars. The tunic – the brownish covering – should be intact. Some peeling is not serious, but reject any that have lost a lot of this skin. It is their protection against the depredations of mice and soil-borne infection.
Except for narcissi (which of course include) bulbs are graded according to their circumference. Normally, the biggest are the best, but it is not always necessary to insist on the top size. The biggest hyacinths will be the best for indoor cultivation, but for ordinary outdoor planting second or bedding size will be adequate. The only other point to bear in mind is that double-nose narcissi will produce better blooms than the round single-nose types.
Do not delay planting. Although they may be dormant, bulbs are nevertheless alive and root activity is going on all the time. They are always released for sale at the appropriate time, but if you do have to wait for a week or two, or are planting for succession, store them in a cool dry place and open the bags for ventilation.
For outdoor bedding displays, daffodils and hyacinths should be planted from September onwards, 12-15cm (5-6in) deep and approximately the same distance apart, though they can be closer for a concentrated display or in containers. Tulips should have approximately the same spacing, but the timing is slightly different: they can go in during October and until the frosts. Because tulips are more susceptible than the others to soil-borne diseases avoid, if you can, replanting them in the same spot at less than three-year intervals.
The smaller spring blooming bulbs – snowdrops, crocuses, grape hyacinths – can be planted between September and December, slightly less deep and slightly closer together, say 8cm (3in) apart. All bulbs should be planted with the pointed end up.
See video on: How to Plant Spring-Blooming Bulbs
Although most are planted individually, a mass-production technique can be adopted where you are planting in large numbers. Remove the top soil down to planting depth, fork over and loosen what is beneath, set your bulbs in place and replace the top soil, firming in. A little sand beneath the bulbs will help.
Whichever planting technique you adopt, remember that there must not be any air space below the bulb, so the soil must be in close contact all round. Unless it has been raining and the soil is already damp enough, it will be helpful to give the bed a good watering when the job is finished, as the bulbs will need plenty of moisture, without being, to get them started.