Kate Gould
Kate Gould

Spring bulbs are relatively undemanding but like every plant, plant them at the incorrect depth or in the wrong situation and they won't grow. This is absolutely ‘operator error’ and not the fault of the bulb, so always follow the instructions given by your supplier and you should be rewarded with spring cheer to wash away the winter blues year after year. Here are my top tips for growing bulbs.


Kate's five favourite spring bulbs.

Prepare the ground

Plant bulbs in prepared ground

Always prepare your ground. Just because these plants come with their own subterranean ‘powerhouse’ doesn’t mean that they will happily sit in solid or very wet ground. I always add food to the hole for good measure, especially if you intend the bulbs to stay in the ground year round. Maintain a distance between planting to avoid overcrowding or blooms crashing into each other, unless this is your intention.

Stack your bulbs

Tulips flowering in a variety of colours
Tulipa 'Slawa', Tulipa 'Cairo' and Tulipa 'Black Parrot'

Spring displays of massed tulips in pots are a joy, and give the opportunity to experiment with colour combinations and forms. Tulips are thought of as one-hit wonders but select varieties with seasonality in mind (plant catalogues will let you know when the plants bloom) and you can select three or four different varieties to take you from March to May in a single planter. Place the pot where you can see it from a door or window and even on a dull day you will have something uplifting to look at.

Remember where you plant

Bulbs emerging from the ground
Bulb foliage emerging from the ground

Make a note of where you have planted bulbs in the autumn to avoid a great deal of head-scratching in the spring, while you try to identify the emerging foliage. This is also useful if as like me, you are a restless gardener and are constantly moving plants around. If I had a pound for every bulb I have cut into a bulb because I thought I could remember where I had planted them in the autumn, I wouldn’t need to work.

Hide bulb foliage

Clearing old bulb foliage

Bulb flowers bring joy, but bulb foliage when the flowers are over is less appealing. Ranging from yellow to slimy it can be a real eyesore, especially if you garden on a small plot. If you are growing in the ground, try and place your bulbs next to plants that, as they emerge, will cover the foliage over. Not only does this allow the leaves to fully die down but most likely you won’t have to do anything to cut away the old foliage because it is totally disguised by new growth from its neighbour.

Lift and store bulbs

Lifting bulbs

Some bulbs can be lifted and stored, once their foliage has died down. Eucomis, Gladiolus murielae, dahlia and begonia can all be lifted after flowering, dried, kept frost free and re-planted in the following spring. Personally, I prefer to over-winter them in a pot of gritty soil-based compost, either in a sheltered space or in a frost-free shed. Keep an eye on them from late winter to make sure they haven’t shot into life during a warm spell. If they have, bring them out into the light somewhere sheltered and protect from the weather as well as from squirrels.