What to do with your bulbs now that its winter?

Today, let’s talk practicalities: we are approaching winter; what’s to be done right now?

Let’s recap briefly:

We planted our spring flowering bulbs in the autumn just as the soil cooled. Why? Because the drop in temperature was the trigger that told our sleeping bulbs that it was time to wake up and start growing. Remember, many of them come from the Western Cape where it rains in the winter – just right for the growth phase of bulbs.

We chose a sunny aspect for our bulbs and a site with good drainage to avoid water logging. We obediently followed the instructions on the packaging regarding planting depth and feeding, and to our delight within weeks the first shoots appeared and our bulbs showed up as if on cue – huge round of delighted applause!

What’s next? Well, the truth is, bulbs need little maintenance once planted but there are a few things to think about.

First, a word about mulching as I recommend it in all gardens. If you do any reading on modern methods of gardening, the word should be familiar – you might even be heartily tired of it. However, perhaps you don’t know much about the rationale behind the practice so here’s a run- through:

In a nutshell, mulching acts as a barrier to keep sunlight and some air away from the surface of the soil. This can be both good and bad. First some pros (there are lots):

  • If soil temperatures are kept relatively even, roots are less likely to be stressed by extremes in temperature. Particularly given our generally- warm winter days, the cold- loving winter bulbs are protected from excessive heat in the afternoon.
  • Water evaporates more slowly from soil that is cool and protected from the wind, and in our country, water is a precious resource. (It’s also handy to cut down on labour – less watering equals less time working and more time enjoying!)
  • A layer of mulch tucked over your soil protects it from erosion.
  • Without sunlight, some seeds will not germinate which means that many weeds are foiled.
  • Organic mulches (like bark chips, raked leaves, leaf mold, compost or even nut shells) do break down gradually and contribute to the nutrients in the soil.
  • Mulching creates a friendly environment for the tiny, often microscopic, living elements that inhabit the soil (like beneficial bacteria, fungi and micro-organisms). These are absolutely vital for the health of the soil. The healthier the soil, the happier your bulbs and other plants will be.

Two little cons:

  • Slugs and cutworms also like cool, moist, dark places so, to minimise bug attacks it’s best to use a thin layer of mulch and to keep it away from plant bases.
  • Watch out for water logging: if the soil gets too wet, rake your mulch aside and allow the soil to dry out.

This pretty much touches on the basics that hold true for bulbs and for gardening in general: don’t allow your soil to dry out – thorough, deep watering is better than superficial sprinkling. Avoid water-logging. Clear aggressive weeds if need be and nourish your soil with compost.

One final word: if you do notice a problem developing, deal with it quickly before it has time to escalate. If your plants are not looking healthy, or if they are attacked by pests of some kind (most of which lie low in the cold weather), seek advice from a good nurseryman and act accordingly. So, how are your plans for summer gardening coming along? Contact us for more information.