Deputy Editor Graham Wood lets us in on his secret to growing bulbs during the icy months… and it’s a lot easier than you might think. You just need the right organic mix, timing, flower food and you’re all set.
In the pots on my balcony, the green tips of the bulbs I planted (just in time) are already peeping through. Even though it’s still freezing cold outside, they are a welcome reminder that spring isn’t that long off! Coincidentally, a few days ago, the people from Hadeco Bulbs sent me some well-timed tips for bulbs. Perhaps you will also find these handy during the winter months. Enjoy!
What to Feed Your Bulbs Every plant in your garden requires the right amount of nourishment to ensure they flourish and your bulbs are no different. We have previously explored planting and watering, but this post is all about how to feed your bulbs to encourage a garden full of beautiful blooms year on year. Many gardeners know the importance of incorporating generous quantities of compost into the soil, as it is organic matter (humus) that makes the soil fertile. The presence of organic matter enables nutrients, air, moisture and plant roots to move freely through the soil. Furthermore, the process of this organic matter being broken down by bacteria and fungi produces minerals and carbon dioxide, which is vital nutrition for your bulbs.
Whether you lift them or keep them in the ground, mixing compost into your bulbs’ soil is essential if you wish to keep them for subsequent seasons. Bulbs need to have sufficient food to flower and complementing composting with additional bulb food will help them bloom the following year. Feeding is particularly important after flowering, as it is at this stage that bulbs start storing nutrition in preparation for their dormant period.
After flowering and before dormancy, an embryo bloom will form in many bulbs and if they are not sufficiently fed this embryo bloom will not flower. There is a great range of fertilisers to choose from, which are usually graded by the proportion of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (N:P:K) they contain.
These are the main elements needed by plants. The nitrogen in fertiliser promotes vegetative growth, but only a small amount is used because excess nitrogen will promote leaf growth rather then the growth of the bulb itself. Phosphorus is the element that assists root formation and potassium (potash) is important for stem and flower growth. It is for this reason that potassium will make up the largest proportion of bulb food. For example, Hadeco’s bulb food has a ratio of 3:9:17. There are other highly beneficial additives that can be used to nourish your bulbs. B
onemeal is excellent early on in the season as it is high in phosphorous but low in nitrogen and will aid your bulbs’ early development. During the growing season a balanced fertiliser, in which N:P:K are used in similar proportions, is acceptable. Magnesium also assists growth during the growing season, which can be found in seaweed-based fertilisers along with potassium. This type of fertiliser should only be used occasionally and not near to dormancy, as the nitrogen it contains will promote leaf growth when foliage should actually be reducing.
The end of flowering time and the onset of dormancy is a crucial time for your bulbs. If they are not adequately fed they may not flower the following year.
Feeding is only one aspect. It is important to care for the foliage, so regular spraying against bugs and disease may be necessary. Lastly, we must not forget about water!
Remember the Three F’s: water your bulbs for forty minutes, every four days with a sprinkler and don’t forget.