The standard advice for planting spring bulbs is to plant in the autumn. Surprisingly, against the advice of gardening experts, as a landscape contractor I have been planting daffodils and tulips in February for many years. One of the reasons is that a local retail nurseryman would sell spring bulbs until a few weeks before Christmas. He would then want to clear out his remaining stock to make room for Christmas trees, poinsettias and seasonal plants and flowers. In order to clear the remaining stock quickly and would offer them to me at a price that was lower than cost provided I had the lot. The danger was, of course, that there wouldn’t be enough of the right type of bulbs. This was a risk I was willing to take and that risk was ameliorated by buying a number of tulips and daffodils from normal trade suppliers.
Another reason for planting late was related to the late planting of winter flowering bedding. I would try to leave the impatiens in for as long as possible. After the beautiful summer bedding is removed, it is usually a good idea to have bare soil for a couple of weeks. The flowers on the winter bedding: pansies, cyclamen and primula cover a much smaller area than those on summer bedding. Planting winter flowers immediately after the summer flowers have been removed leaves an impression that something is missing. The two week period is enough for people to appreciate the return of some colour.
So, the winter flowers are going in late, customers are ordering Christmas trees and these have to be installed in their offices and decorated. There is no spare time to install bulbs now. There is another factor delaying proceedings. In some gardens with a large number of deciduous trees, despite being cleared on a weekly basis the leaves hang around until after December. Planting bedding before that time makes it more difficult to clear out the enormous quantities of leaves. It is not practical to plant bulbs early, wait until the all leaves have been removed and then plant winter bedding. If you do this, the firm bulb shoots often spear the root ball of the winter bedding plants and lift them clean out of the ground!
The right time to plant bulbs for me was in January. With other matters to attend to, this often slipped in to early February. The drawback of this method is that the bulbs flower one or two weeks later than everyone else’s. The benefit is that you have something to look forward to when bulbs in other gardens have finished. In addition, if the winter is a particularly wet one, the bulbs that are planted early may rot and not shoot at all.
Further expert busting tips: don’t worry about planting all tulip and daffodil bulbs the right way up. When you have around 5000 to install that seems a little too much to think about. For areas with no bedding plants dig a small trench, not too straight, around 2ft long and 1ft wide. Throw in a load of bulbs so that the bottom of the trench has bulbs all over but only one or possibly two bulbs deep. Ignore advice about turning them the right way. Cover with soil and water in. Move along a couple of feet and make another different shaped trench and so on. When planting in areas with bedding plants, dig a small hole around 3-4" deep in between previously planted bedding and drop in 3-5 bulbs. Cover with soil and water in. Gardening contractors shouldn’t plant too deep. This makes it much easier to remove them after they have flowered. They are not left in the planted beds in office gardens for the following year as the foliage looks unattractive after they have flowered. If they were to be left until the nutrients have gone back in to the bulb, there would be yellowing leaves until June. They also shouldn’t be planted so that the whole bed is covered. Groups of flowering bulbs of the same colour look more attractive than an area that is totally covered, unless you are planting flat regular shaped beds like the local authorities still do. For gardening contractors, new bulbs every year is the general rule. For contractors and home gardeners alike, don’t forget to water the tulips and daffs in raised beds and pots. The warmer weather causing the flowers to open is also drying out the soil and if they are not watered, the foliage and flowers will droop and look straggly.
Finally, if you didn't get around to buying bulbs in the Autumn, pot grown daffs and tulips can be planted in your garden from January to March. This is an expensive way of doing things but allows you to brighten up your garden if you have a special event. Pots grown bulbs will last for a few weeks so it's still money well spent.