Spring Flowering Bulbs

The key to getting spring-flowering bulbs to flower successfully, and to re- appear and flower again,  is planting at the correct depth, (see table on correct planting depths for spring bulbs) and an absence of too many mice or squirrels. Unfortunately, squirrels can smell the bulbs and often dig them up. If this is a problem where you are, sink some chicken wire over the bulbs to fight off the squirrels.   Although failure of spring bulbs to flower is often caused by being planted too shallow,  many tulips do not come again a second year and are best treated as annuals.

Besides planting the popular favourites  such as Narcissus (daffodil) and Tulipa (tulip)  there are many more spring-flowering bulbs to choose from including Crocus, Hyacinth, Galanthus (snowdrop) Cyclamen, Fritillaria, Iris, Muscari and Scilla. There are some images below. 

When buying spring bulbs, select those which are of a good size and firm, as if you were picking onions. 

 September is the time for planting most spring bulbs, although Hyacinth and Tulips should be left until October or even November.  There are so many spring bulbs to choose from, checkout the Pinterest pages for ideas and inspiration Tulips and also Pinterest Spring bulbs. 

What about Daffodils?

In 2013-2014 the RHS undertook a Daffodil trial  which is always a good starting point to check out good varieties to grow. The RHS award is best for "garden worthiness" which is being a good plant, flowering well, standing up to the rain and conditions.

Those daffodils recommended with the RHS garden merit award include: Narcissus 'Hungarian Rhapsody' beautiful pink and white; N 'Queen Beastrix' strong yellow; N. 'BreezandTristar' a split corona daffodil and in the trial each stem had up to five flowers which resulted in 124 flowering stems from 10 bulbs which sounds like good value.

Scented award winning Daffodils include 'Bridal Crown' a lovely pale colour with a strong sweet scent; N. 'Hoopoe' yellow with scented flowers; 'Actaea' white and scented and 'My Story'. I have a strong preference for scented Daffodils and grow both Bridal Crown and Actaea which are lovely.

If you are planting a display of spring bulbs,  it's worth bearing in mind the varying flowering times. For example; for both Daffodils and Tulips they each have a range of flowering times including early, mid-season and late. If you want certain combinations, say pink tulips with blue forget- me- nots, you will need a late flowering Tulip. If you want a combination of say red/orange tulip with Daffodil you will need to check the exact type to ensure they will flower together. 

Bulbs can also provide successive colour because of their long range of flowering from the first snowdrops in January to the last Tulip in May.  

A quick rule of thumb is to plant all bulbs three times the depth of the type of bulb. This means shallower for smaller bulbs, deeper for large bulbs. For example, a snowdrop, as a tiny bulb will be planted quite shallow;  a large tulip planting will be deeper around 15cms. An ordinary trowel will do the job, but if there are a lot of bulbs to be planted I find a long handled planter very useful. With each new hole dug, the plug comes out to fill the last hole and provided the soil is not too wet and claggy it works well. All Spring flowering bulbs grow well in containers when they can be planted in layers when precise depth is less important provided the bulbs are not planted too shallow.. 

Detailed advice and images on how to plant spring bulbs

  Of all the spring bulbs, snowdrops can sometimes be tricky to get started, How to plant and grow snowdrops.

Caring for spring bulbs FAQ

 Should I dead head bulbs?

Dead heading bulbs after flowering, that is removing the spent flower heads only, directs the plant's energies back into the bulb to make next year's bulb. It is a good idea to dead head daffodils but not all spring bulbs, see below. Remove only the flower head and no more.

Can I remove the old foliage after flowering?

The spent foliage on daffodils can look messy, but it should not be removed, or knotted, as the foliage is needed to make a good bulb for the following year. The RHS recommend 6 weeks between flowering and foliage removal for daffodils and other spring bulbs. Other bulbs such as Fritillaria meleagris (snake's head fritillary) and Galanthus (snowdrop) which will self seed are best not dead headed to allow the seeds to form and be distributed.

Should I feed spring-flowering bulbs?

Yes, but not when they are in flower; earlier when the shoots first appear. If growing bulbs in containers include slow release fertiliser in the potting medium.

Why didn't my bulbs flower?

 This happens sometimes, and it's disappointing not to get the spring show you were expecting. This can occur for several reasons  check out why bulbs don't flower

Planting snowdrops 'in the green'

Some bulbs can be more difficult to establish, such as snowdrops, Galanthus and an easier (although more expensive method) is to plant them 'in the green' which means to buy and plant snowdrops in flower, or just after flowering. If planting in the green, Snowdrops should be purchased and transplanted as quickly as possible, watered well and if they show signs of distress such as wilting, remove some foliage. Planting this way can be as good an alternative to buying bulbs in the Autumn. More information about planting and growing Snowdrops.

Scented Narcissus are amongst the loveliest of  fragrant spring bulbs.

Scented Narcissus are amongst the loveliest of fragrant spring bulbs. 

Fritillaria meleagris, the Snake's Head Fritallaria looks beautiful naturalised in grass and will grow in damp conditions.

Dog tooth violet

Erythronium this is E. den canis known as dog tooth violet very delicate and pretty lovely on a grassy bank.

Hyacinth

Hyacinths a long lasting and highly scented flowering bulb. They will return the following year and the only maintenance is a little staking to support the flower heads.

Snow drop

Snowdrops Latin name Galanthus is the earliest of the spring bulbs. They make a lovely display but need some attention to get snowdrops growing.

Bluebell in natural setting

Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta is the English bluebell and look at their best planted on mass in a woodland setting. One word of warning is that they can be invasive and plant with care.

Updated 11.10.2019