Time to think about spring

It may only be the Bank Holiday weekend but with a sharp drop in temperatures it might feel a bit more like autumn and that means, to many of us at least, time for spring bulbs. I mentioned the autumn-flowering bulbs last week, which have to be bought and planted as soon as possible – after all they will bloom within a month or two. But it is time to plan, at least, if not actually buy, spring-flowering bulbs. I will go into more detail in future weeks, but, in general the small bulbs should be planted earlier rather than later.

Snake’s head fritillaries

This is because, being small, they lose water while dried and in their packs and if you wait till November, many will be desiccated and not much use. the worst affected tend to be snowdrops, eranthis and snake’s head fritillaries. You may notice that all three are UK natives so not used to a summer baking, unlike their relatives from hotter, drier climates such as crocus and tulips.

These days, bulbs are sold in packs with huge colour photos; a far cry from my days at Nags Hall when bulbs arrived in ‘display boxes’. Usually divided into five sections with five photos at the back, the loose bulbs meant a lot less packaging. But there was always the danger that customers would mix them up!

Hyacinths in a container

So one of the jobs, as soon as the bulbs arrived, was to pack them in tens. It took days to go through them, bag them into nets and label them. But it did make it easier for customers and reduced handling for anyone buying them. This was important since some people are allergic to bulb scales, especially hyacinths.

‘Belle Epoque’ – a recently introduced tulip with subtle colouring

The selection of bulbs today is also different, with far more varieties. There is lots of breeding going on, especially in tulips, hyacinths and daffodils, and although it takes several decades for a new variety to reach the stage when it is available in a prepackaged, you can find lots of new flowers to plant every year.

‘Rapture’ is a fine, cyclamineus hybrid that is perfect for planting in grass

Naturalising daffodils in grass deserves a topic of its own in the future too, but it is worth remembering that they always look best when you stick to one or two varieties and avoid bags of mixed daffs. I think that ‘natural-looking’ daffs are best in grass and it is worth remembering that early-flowered daffs are best because their leaves can be cut soonest – an important consideration.

Jobs for the week

Keep bedding plants growing and flowering by removing the dead flowers to prevent seed production.

Watch out for box blight. The recent hot and humid weather has been perfect for this serious fungal disease. It is worst on closely cut hedges where there is little air movement between the leaves and the foliage remains wet. When the weather is dry, prune out the affected areas, even if it means reducing the size of the hedge. Keep the centre open as you shape, so it is less likely to be affected again. You can spray with fungicides next year to help prevent an attack but most of us don’t want to get involved in regular use of garden chemicals.

Sow salads and Oriental vegetables. This is the perfect time to sow quick-growing crops; the moist and relatively warm (once this cold spell goes) means seeds germinate quickly and the plants will be ready to harvest in a few weeks. Autumn sowing also means that Oriental veg such as Pak choi will make good plants and not run to seed.

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