There are plenty of tasks to be done in the flower patch in the autumn and planting bulbs is one of them. Plant them in drifts around the school grounds or garden; create bulb mazes, spirals and patterns; plant them in groups of five or seven in borders; plant them in pots near entrances; plant them close together in trenches ready for cutting in the spring.
As a general rule you should plant daffodils and alliums in September but wait until November to plant tulips because they don’t form roots until the weather gets colder. If you plant them early they’ll sit in the soil and be prone to attack from slugs and fungal disease.
Bulb planting is a great opportunity to get the community together improving the neighbourhood and sharing the workload. Add in coffee/hot chocolate/juice and cake, some crisp, sunny autumn weather and you have the makings of a perfect few hours.
If you are a school community, it’s a great opportunity to spread the word about your flower patch, get parents in to work in the school grounds with their children and encourage some regular volunteers to help out. Hold a ‘Bring a Bulb to School Day’. Ask for donations of lots of bulbs beforehand and cakes and workers on the day itself. Each class could do an hour’s planting and take responsibility for a one area. Then it doesn’t become too onerous.
It may seem a bit extravagant to give space and time in your cut flower patch to bulbs like daffodils and tulips, which only produce one flower but it’s worth it. They don’t take up a lot of space, are easy to grow and will fill the gap before your annuals and biennials start to flower. Choose a few of lots of different varieties which flower at different times, so that you have something to admire and pick over a longer period of time.
When selecting bulbs choose those that feel firm when you give them a squeeze.
Daffodils like a sunny spot but can cope with a bit of shade. Pop them in pointy side up. The advice is that you can plant them close together but not touching if you are intending to lift them after flowering and about 10cm apart if you are going to leave them in the ground. (My cutting daffodils are planted close together and never lifted!) Don’t forget that all parts of daffodils are toxic. You may want to wear gloves when picking daffodils.
Popping a few paperwhite narcissi in pots will give you some blooming presents for Christmas or something to sell at a school Christmas Fair. They take about six weeks to flower after planting.
If space is tight, the bulbs to grow are alliums because they can be interplanted with biennial flowers and you won’t find them for sale in the supermarket . I plant mine in October in a sunny spot incorporating some grit into the ground and sinking them to about three times the depth of the bulb.
When the weather is colder, I plant tulips in rows in between my dahlias (which I also leave in the ground). By the time the tulips have died back the dahlias will start to produce shoots, giving two crops in one space. Simple.
It all sounds ideal doesn’t it? But beware squirrels. Squirrels can be pests, digging up and munching newly planted bulbs in your school grounds. Try a belt and braces’ approach. Clear up any debris after planting (the dry ‘tunics’ which fall off bulbs when planting) so that pests aren’t attracted, provide a source of food for squirrels well away from bulbs and cover pots and trenched bulbs with wire mesh. Above all, stay vigilant. Children will love going on squirrel watch.
A bit of organisation and hard work now will be well worth it in the Spring.