Bulbs in beds & borders

Spring bulbs come in such a range of colours, shapes and sizes that you can find something suitable for almost any spot. Although they look fantastic in flower, their foliage will leave a tatty legacy which should not be removed for six weeks after flowering. With careful planning you can pair bulbs with planting partners that will disguise the fading foliage.

Strappy-leaved daffodils, for example, will melt from view if planted amongst other plants with similar foliage, such as ornamental grasses. Or you can try drawing the eye from the foliage by planting bulbs at the foot of a colourful flowering shrub that blooms just after the bulb flowers’ fade.

Another trick is to plant bulbs among quick-growing, but late-emerging plants, such as acanthus, hostas and peonies that will hide the tatty bulb foliage under a rush of fresh new growth. Deciduous ferns are excellent for this style of deception too.

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As a rule of thumb, plant in holes about three times as deep as the
bulb is high and space the bulbs a couple of inches apart.

Bulbs in containers

Many dwarf bulbs make excellent additions to containers and window boxes, providing instant impact just where it’s most effective. Since most bulbs bloom for relatively short periods, it makes sense to combine two, three or more bulbs that flower at different times to achieve a succession of colour and interest.

Since different size bulbs will be planted at different depths, you can really cram in lots of bulbs into relatively small containers. For example, in a window box you could start with a layer of dwarf narcissi planted 12cm deep, with a layer of dwarf iris planted above them and a layer of crocus on top. In a larger and deeper patio container you can add further layers of larger daffodils and tulips underneath to have flowering bulbs in bloom throughout the spring.

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Naturalising bulbs

Grass is one of the best planting partners for bulbs because the bulbs’ foliage will be completely camouflaged as it dies down. The drawback of growing bulbs in grass is that you cannot cut the grass for six weeks after the bulbs have flowered (chop off the foliage earlier and next year's flowering will be adversely affected).

So if you want to start mowing by the end of May you will have to choose early-flowering bulbs, such as snowdrops and early crocus that will finish flowering by mid-April.

However, if you are prepared to leave the grass rough until the middle of June, you could also plant dwarf narcissi. Most people think of naturalised bulbs in grass, but you can also scatter them at the base of hedges, amongst shrubs and under the canopy of deciduous trees.

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Tools for the job