Sunday 21 April 2019

Lightening my Spring bulb load - plastic tubs and Autumn leaves reduce heavy lifting

PeterWilliams's gold standard 
As I write this, there is a colourful display of bulbs outside our conservatory window. Its not for want of Brenda constantly reminding me how Peter’s display is so superior. This year I have taken the challenge and splashed out on a sequence of bold displays of snowdrops, narcissus, tulips and (yet to flower) lilies. The snowdrops came out of the ground and I splurged seventy pounds on 150 Tète a Tète daffodils, 200 tulips and 36 lilies from Parker’s Wholesale.

Heavy containers
Lugging large tubs backwards and forwards palls as a gardener gets older. We have plenty of fairly large hardware containers but they aren’t half heavy and to challenge Peter I need very large ones. These days I am prepared to go plastic They are so much lighter and nowadays so much improved and quite tasteful. I purchased two huge ones, perhaps forty litres and four more not much smaller. For the lilies I made do with my existing smaller hardware tubs.
I still had the problem that my soil/char compost is rather heavy.
Some gardeners bulk up their large pots and economise on compost with light polystyrene granules at the base. I hate this practice and of course my homemade compost is free.
At bulb planting time I have copious Autumn leaves. Why not pack them under the compost? I hope the pictures show that this was very successful and the bulb roots penetrated quickly and densely - a large water reserve unlike horrid polystyrene.
I can report the method worked superbly well. As expected there was slight  shrinkage by Spring but not such you would notice.
I think that this method would also work for Summer bedding but continuing leaf shrinkage would be too severe for long term planting without further refreshing.

Follow my efforts in pictures
Large plastic pot two thirds filled with fresh Autumn leaves
Although plastic pots filled with light compost can be too light and top heavy not with large low containers. Yaramila multi-nutrient fertiliser has been mixed in - improvements to current years flowering will be small but will help make strong bulbs for next year.

After tulips were planted
A quarter filled with my soil/char compost after leaves' sinkage. All the pots permanently outside on standing area until displayed. Tulips deliberately planted late at the end of November. Early planting gives too much time for accidents and has no merit.

Root system on early September planted daffodils
On the other hand early planting and time to make a healthy root system is essential for daffodils (And many Spring bulbs, especially hyacinths). At this stage I had not acquired the final display containers.
On the same day I planted the tulips I plunged the knocked out pots of daffodils into their containers prepared the same as the tulips

Change of plan - bulbs plunged again!

Several weeks later management intervened! Brenda insisted that this hardware  container must be planted. I did have two spare large plastic tubs and invited her to do it herself. Already the under leaves were flush with new roots and there would be inevitable damage.

The snowdrops were first in the display
These are the heavy pots we find so difficult. Perhaps I should have lifted a more generous filling of snowdrops?

Daffodils and Corydalis flexuosa
On a whim I tried one daffodil pot with corydalis. Failure, the daffs completely outgrew them. They might as well not have been there.

The early daffodils did really well
Now in the display area the tulips sprouted in early February
I write now at the end of my Spring bulb season and my bulbs have surpassed our wildest expectations. Brenda shuffles the bulbs around to make lovely large displays outside our (live in) conservatory windows and they have given us much joy from mid January to mid mid April.
In particular the tulips have been a revelation. Their colours are so bright and strong and massed together are firm and free standing despite persistent windy conditions and some stood high on a table.
I tend to think of tulips as rapidly going over on warm Spring or early Summer days. Not these (yet). Each of my six varieties have elegantly merged their continuity to give us six weeks of continuous flowers and as I look out today on Easter Sunday all massed together still make a fine display. No single variety has give us less than a month’s strong flower.
It has been unusually windy and dehydrating  and through the last month they have needed generous watering  every three to five  days. Many new gardeners overlook this - it applies to tub planting but not in the ground.
As to sinkage of the underlying Autumn leaves, after a small initial drop it has  been barely discernible and a slightly deeper rim completely disguised by strong leaves gives room to water.

Enjoy the tulips

The one at the top was first to flower
Corydalis flexuosa was a little late this year and as ever thrived on its own

Peter's tulips
I popped down the road to view the opposition. Thank you Peter Williams for your very fine pictures

With Pete's help our owl has now flown to the top of the wall
I must try harder


  1. All the tulip displays are lovely.

    1. They have been a revelation to me. I have previously tended to grow late species tulips and dwarf varieties. The one I have grown for my display are the taller and earlier brasher bulbs and are wonderful. Lower temperatures in March seems to be the key to their long display

  2. Tulips are great! I have grown them in pots for a few years now and one of the advantages of growing this way it is so much easier to protect them from the squirrels as well as keep them in a cooler place until they are ready to shout. It is quite windy on our Welsh hillside so the weight of the concrete pots is a bonus and a sack trolley is a must!

    1. Yes the squirrels were the kind of the accidents I was thinking of when I suggested planting late, Neil It sounds if you perhaps put chicken wire over them to keep the squirrels away.

  3. And all because she's worth it....she is tickled pink I am sure, and you have your gold star! I like your idea of using all the leaves in the bottom on a tub. I'll be trying out that idea.

    1. I was impressed with the strong root system that rapidly developed in the leaves and their excellent water retention

  4. Beautiful job. Still waiting to see how many of my container tulips survived the winter.

    1. Yes I know you had extreme cold your side of the pond. I will be interested too, shouldn't they be showing now?


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