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Bulbs – continued

At flowering time

Support tall varieties (gladioli, dahlias, lilies, etc.) as they grow, either by tying the individual flower spikes to canes, or in the case of a bushy habit, with herbaceous plant supports (see page 179).

Even bulbs can suffer from drought, though this is usually more applicable to summer-flowering ones. If the ground becomes very dry, give a good soaking of water, but on no account must you make the ground waterlogged.

After flowering

You will find that the leaves of many bulbs continue to grow – this is so they can make food to store until the next season in their self-contained underground larder (the bulb itself). A regular soluble feed helps the leaves in their food-making task; whenever possible, you should leave them undisturbed to die off naturally.

Dead-head regularly unless you want to save the seed.

If you have to lift spring-flowering bulbs because you need the room for something else, they should be heeled in to die down in an empty part of the garden. They die down more quickly because their roots have been disturbed, so this is not an ideal method, and the bulbs may give poorer performance the following year, but they will get over it. One solution is to plant small numbers of bulbs in well drained containers and then sink the whole container in the ground. This can be removed after flowering and the leaves left to die off naturally.

Before the first frost (or, in the case of dahlias, after the first frost), summer bulbs unsuitable for naturalizing should be lifted, dried off, cleaned, tidied up and stored in a cold, dry, frost-free place until the next planting season. (Some purists might question the inclusion of dahlias in this section, as they are really half-hardy herbaceous perennials with tuberous roots, but the similarities to other bulbs are so marked that it is perfectly reasonable to include them here.)

Treat spring bulbs which have been lifted in a similar manner and store in an airy shed until the autumn.

Bulbous plants which are really corms (crocuses, gladioli, etc.) form an entirely new corm on top of the old one; you should discard the latter as it will not grow again.

Only store firm, healthy bulbs from plants which have performed well and check them over regularly in store to make sure none is deteriorating. If any are found to be rotting, you should dispose of them hygienically at once or the problem will spread. Treating with a fungicide according to instructions at storage time sometimes helps to prevent storage rots.

Bulbs which make a great many offsets, such as daffodils, can be left intact until they get too big and overcrowded, when they should be separated. Otherwise you can remove the young bulbs and grow them on somewhere until they become big enough to produce a flower.

Some corms, particularly crocuses and gladioli, make a lot of small corms around the main one. These can be detached and grown on in nursery beds until they are big enough to plant in their flowering positions.

Propagation

Most bulbs increase readily by offsets in the ground or, occasionally, on the stem (e.g., lilies). The young bulbs, corms, etc. will take a year or two to reach flowering size but this is the best and easiest way of propagation.

Some tubers can be divided carefully before planting, for example dahlias and begonias. Do this with a sharp knife, making sure that there is a healthy stem bud at the top of each piece of tuber, otherwise it will not grow. It is a good idea to dust the cut surfaces with a fungicide before planting. Sometimes, small pieces of a bulb can be grown on into a great many whole new ones, but this is tricky for the completely inexperienced.

Cuttings. Again, this method is suitable mainly for tuberous-rooted plants such as dahlias and begonias. Start the dormant tubers into growth in gentle warmth in early spring and remove the young shoots when about 2 in (50 mm) long. Root in suitable compost in a heated greenhouse or heated propagator.

Seed. Many bulbs seed quite readily and seed is best sown when ripe. The length of time taken to germinate and the time needed to reach the flowering stage varies according to the type of plant. Some spring bulbs — bluebells, aconites, chianodoxas, scillas, snowdrops, etc., seed themselves but larger bulbs are best dead-headed – unless you want to sow seed out of curiosity.

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