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Planning ahead for early flowering bulbs

Early crocus
Early crocus

You know spring has arrived when the daffodils and tulips are in their full glory and dazzling displays of bold colour raise the spirits.

However it is the smaller bulbs like snowdrops and aconites that come out in late winter, telling us spring is just around the corner, that really get us excited.

We are usually still in the grips of winter and not really expecting to see flowers in the garden, but if these bulbs have been planted close by a window overlooking the garden it is a sight to behold.
In recent times the mild winters have distorted the normal flowering pattern of many of these bulbs, so now I am seeing snowdrops in full flower in December and although we will still get some snow, these early flowers seem unharmed.

A very late cold snap with snow can come in May and tall tulips can suffer as the weight of accumulated snow bends them over.

Anemone blanda

Now is a good time to purchase bulbs for autumn planting, but give a lot of thought where to put them.

Some bulbs, like snowdrops and aconites, are quite happy with dappled shade underneath deciduous trees and shrubs, but crocus need a sunny position to open up the flowers.

Snowdrops and aconites that have formed large, established clumps are best divided while still in full growth immediately after flowering in early March.

Both of these will form ever-increasing drifts as they grow readily from self-sown seeds. They can also be purchased as dormant bulbs in the autumn.

Snowdrops in early January

Grape hyacinths (Muscari) and bluebells can be very attractive as the drifts steadily expand naturally, but take care as they can both reach nuisance levels as they try to take over the garden.

Enjoy the sea of blue while in flower, but once they have filled their allocated space remove all seed heads after flowering.

Anemone blanda and Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snows) will also create a sea of blue as they grow into a drift, but they are not invasive and grow happily together with other plants and bulbs.

Iris reticulata flowers a bit later and needs a sunny position with well drained soil and if it dries out in summer so much the better.

Iris reticulata in early February

They only grow just over a foot tall so are perfect for the rock garden, and the flowers are also blue to violet purple with a yellow strip in the centre.

They have narrow upright leaves which have a short life so they are easy to fit in with other low-growing plants.

Crocus is one of the last of the dwarf bulbs to flower  but when mass-planted it makes a massive impact.

The named hybrid varieties have huge flowers of white (Joan of Arc), yellow (Yellow Mammoth), purple violet (Flower Record), and my favourite is the white and violet striped (Pickwick). They make such an impact to welcome in the spring that numerous local authorities have been mass planting them in prominent places for years.

They are perfect in borders, lawns, roadside verges, tubs and hanging baskets planted with low-growing pansies and polyanthus.

However they need the sun to fully open up the flowers.

They can naturalise to some degree from self-sown seedlings, but I can never wait on this to expand my drifts so every autumn I buy in a few more bulbs.

Aconites in full bloom

Those bulbs used in tubs and baskets can be replanted in the garden after flowering.

Crocus species are slightly smaller but flower a week or so earlier than the large flowered hybrids. They all have a delicate beauty that is hard to match when the drifts expand to give an impact.

Some species such as Blue Pearl, Cream Beauty and Snow Bunting are on my essential list, but many others are well worth a place. Ladykiller, Lilac Beauty, Ruby Giant and Whitewell Purple are all worth finding a place for.

Wee jobs to do this week

Net protection of sprouts

 As autumn weather turns cooler watch out for pigeons on cabbage, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts, so keep them protected with nets.

Also inspect them for snails and caterpillars and remove as found. Scatter some slug pellets around as slugs and snails are still very active.

Check for mealy aphids on the growing points and under young leaves.

Rub them off on a small scale, but if the infestation is serious there are plenty chemicals available to use as a spray.

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