Les’s Patch: How to get the most from bulbs

Les Foden.
Les Foden.

To get the best value from garden bulbs they should be divided, in order to multiply, every other year.

Many varieties will double in number each time they are divided. The best time to dig up, divide and replant spring bulbs is while they are well beyond flowering but still in the green, which is June or early July, before the stems have withered and died back.

You need to water well both before lifting and afterwards after replanting to minimise the shock, keeping the bulbs out of the ground for the shortest possible time in between.

To move bulbs to another site where they can’t immediately be transplanted, dig them up carefully with plenty of root attached, but keep them in moist peat with the leaves free and water in well as soon as they are replanted.

Tulips need to be in a sunny spot with good drainage. It’s best when planting any bulbs to put some sand in the bottom of the hole to prevent rot before they have made roots.

Ideally tulips should be planted in October or November, but you could get away with later planting up to Christmas.

When lifting bulbs led them dry out in a well ventilated place, laying them on newspaper or hanging in bunches, and restart between August and October.

Best sites for crocuses are round tree bases or other shady spots below hedge and shrubs.

Snowdrops and lily-of-the-valley make a very attractive display.

A nightmare for tulip lovers is an outbreak of tulip fire. This distorts and stunts the flowers which develop yellowish, streaky spots on the foliage.

Prevent this calamity by religiously collecting up tulip petals or snapping off spent flowers and cutting off and destroying yellow leaves.

Some types of tulip, the large Darwin hybrids such as apeldoorn, will keep growing vigorously for up to five years without lifting, providing the soil is of good quality, well drained and the bulbs are planted quite deeply.

A good tip is to water them after they have flowered using phostrogen foliar feed to nourish the bulbs in preparation for another healthy burst the following season.

As soon as gladioli leaves start to yellow lift the corms with a fork and cut off the leaves about half an inch from the corms.

Place the corms in trays in a warm place for seven to 10 days to dry, then clean up removing the old, shrivelled corms and store in a cool, dry, frost free place, preferably in paper bags.

Get three year old rhubarb crowns ready for forcing. Lift now and leave on the surface of the ground to be touched by frost. Bring into the greenhouse and place under the bench, in both dark and heat.

If your rhubarb has become rather thin give it the same treatment. Dig up the plant and leave on top of the soil to let the frost get at it, then replant and place some rotted manure round the plant and you will be surprised how thick the rhubarb sticks become.

You can still sow lettuce outside in a cold frame or under cloches. Also broad beans can be sown now, but use the special winter hardy varieties, the most popular one is aquadulce. Again these will need the same protection as lettuce.

Globe artichokes should have their stems cut right down and covered with straw or compost.

Jerusalem artichokes can be cut down to within a foot of soil level to prevent them blowing over. The tubers can be dug up later.

Lift a root of mint and put it in the greenhouse.

Falling leaves inevitably mean there is a lot of tidying up to do. Put the leaves on the compost heap and sprinkle with a little fish manure to rot down. If the leaves are left on the beds they may encourage diseases. Also remove leaves from the lawn.

Dahlias need digging up and the tubers should be stood wrong end up to allow the moisture to drain away from the crown.

At the same time the soil still on the tubers will dry which makes it easier to clean off. Before storing for the winter trim off all the fine roots (feeder roots) because these are likely to start rotting and this would travel into the main tuber.

To store place in boxes and cover the tubers with dry peat or sand in a frost free place. They will need checking now and again during the winter for signs of rot.