March into Autumn with beautiful bulbs
Winter and spring flowering bulbs are usually available from March and you don’t want to miss out on your favourites, so buy them early! March can still be extremely hot and the soil temperatures are still far too high to plant out bulbs; so store them in a cool, dark and dry place until the temperatures drop significantly in April, or even May.
Also, prepare the beds for planting without delay. Bulbs require very well drained soil, so dig them over about 30cm deep; working in lots of compost. Sprinkle with an organic general purpose fertiliser like 2:3:2 (one handful per square metre) and a generous dressing of bone meal or hoof and horn meal. If you have clay or badly drained soil, add generous amounts of washed river sand to the soil, or consider planting in pots or raised beds. Water the beds lightly and allow them to lie fallow until planting time.
If you are mixing bulbs together with other garden plants and annuals, a bit of planning pays off in the long run; and besides correct preparation of the beds, the next most important consideration is to determine how much sun your beds will receive in winter and spring. This will greatly influence your plant selection. Also, the ultimate flowering height of the bulb is most important; especially if you are planting on top of your bulbs.
TIP: Place a white pebble on the ground on top of each planted bulb. This will prevent you from damaging the bulbs when over-planting.
Small winter and spring flowering annuals like pansy, viola, lobelia and alyssum work well with most bulbs; providing continuous colour right through winter and into spring, when the bulbs pushing through the planted seedlings make a glorious display. If the over-planting of bulbs is well planned the seedlings will not swamp the bulbs, or grow too tall. Over-planting also acts as living mulch around the roots of your bulbs, keeping them cool and conserving moisture.
Consider including some of our gorgeous indigenous bulbs like Babiana, Freesias, Sparaxis, Tritonia, Ixias, Gladioli, Ornithogalum and Lachenalias; and remember to leave space for planting out Daffodils, Narcissus and Hyacinths which only arrive in the stores towards the end of March. Tulips are usually available from late April; and Liliums from May.
Now that your garden will have continuous colour through winter and spring, don’t stop here. Veggies you can grow in winter include a lot of cruciferous vegetables and hearty soup vegetables like carrots, parsnips, potatoes and pumpkin. If you would like to add a salad to your winter comfort food; cucumbers, lettuce, peppers, radishes and tomatoes are also great to plant now and harvest in winter.
Sources: Gardening in South Africa; Jacolien Vermeer