a guide to planting summer bulbs

Planting bulbs in your garden can be one of the easiest ways to inject a bit of floral colour. Here are the answers to some of your common or garden bulb-related questions…

What Actually is a ‘Bulb’?

what is a bulb?In botany, the term ‘bulb’ refers to any underground plant storage device. This covers true bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers. Examples of true bulbs are daffodil bulbs and garlic bulbs which are characterized by fleshy layers enveloping a plant shoot at the core. Corms are similar, but are solid and lack the true bulb’s layers – the crocus being a common example.

Rhizomes are knobbly garden bulbs which often breach the surface of the soil. Iris and our favourite plant, the hop, all grow from rhizomes. Tubers are swollen fleshy underground stems that produce buds on their surface. Not to be confused with the cumbersome, noisy wind instrument made of brass. Examples are cyclamen and tuberous begonias.

How do I go About Planting Bulbs?

Generally speaking, bulbs need to be planted around 2-3 times the depth of the bulb. For example, for a bulb measuring 5cm (2in) high, dig a hole 10-15cm (4-6in) deep and sit the bulb in the bottom. 

Place the summer flowering bulb in the hole with its ‘nose’, or shoot, facing upwards. Space them at least twice the bulb’s own width apart.

Replace the soil and gently firm down with the back of a hand rake. Avoid treading on the soil as this can damage the bulb. If the ground is moist or the bulbs are autumn-planted, watering is not critical. Otherwise, water straight after planting.

Are There Any Specialist Bulb Planting Tools?

Funny you should mention it, but yes there are. Bulb planters tend to come in one of four guises and will help with achieving uniform plant spacing and accurate depth.

short handled bulb planterShort-handled Bulb Planter Tool

The standard, short- handled bulb planter is simple enough to use: just push it into the soil, give it a twist and it will create a nice, bulb-sized hole. The downside is that its inherent short handled-ness means you will have to do a fair bit of bending down/clambering around on your knees to plant your bulbs.

Long-handled Bulb Planter Tool

Very similar to the short-handled planter but – yes, you’ve guessed it – these ones have longer, spade-sized handles meaning you don’t have to do so much bending. They also have footbars so you can apply maximum force with your boot if you need to plant bulbs into hard ground.

Spring-loaded Bulb Planter Tool

These planters have a spring-loaded release mechanism that drops soil back into the hole when you squeeze the planter handle. It can be quite tiresome on your hand muscles using one of these to plant large swathes of bulbs but, on the plus side, they are good for developing strength for opening jars of pickles, etc.

Drill Augers

Attach one of these to your cordless drill and you can plant bags of bulbs in super-quick time. The auger will bore a hole in the ground with a couple of squeezes on your drill trigger and come in a variety of diameters. This type of planting aid is also a good choice when planting into heavy soil. 

Obviously, you can also just use your trusty old trowel, but if you have a lot of bulbs to plant, a planter tool is a brilliant option.

bulb planting guideDo I Need to do Any Aftercare?

Garden bulbs can be preyed upon by squirrels (who seem to have a particular penchant for crocus and tulip bulbs) so it might be worth covering your bulb patch with chicken wire if you live in a particularly squirrel-infested area.

What Bulbs Should I Plant? And When?

Generally speaking, spring-flowering bulbs should be planted in late summer or autumn, with summer-flowering bulbs planted in early to mid-spring.

Here are three fab summer flowering bulb favourites to test out your newly acquired planting skills…

Dahlia ‘Little Robert’

A handsome, ‘pom-pom’ style dahlia with a tightly packed flush of magenta flowers.

Bearded Iris ‘Victoria Falls’

A soft blue bloomer for cool summer colours. Plant bearded iris rhizomes from June to October for flowers the following year.

Gladiolus ‘Velvet Eyes’

A deep purple bloom with a dark red throat. Great for creating blousy flower borders and for planting into patio-dwelling pots.

What are your favourite summer-flowering bulbs? Let us know in the comments.

Two Thirsty Gardeners bio
STIHL & Two Thirsty GardenersThe Two Thirsty Gardeners, Rich and Nick, are bloggers who love gardening, eating and drinking in equal measure! They love to share tales from their allotment including their experiments turning the spoils of their crops into alcohol, both the good and the bad! To find out more about Rich and Nick, click here.