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Get those bulbs in the ground for dazzling spring tulip displays





Once the summer flowers fade we begin to think about - and then worry about - our spring garden display. Isn't it funny? We have bulbs on our minds but sometimes don't quite make it to the garden centre to pick them out. Or if we do, we sometimes leave them in the shed or garage and forget to plant them.

Well, I've great news - it's not too late to buy or plant tulips.

November is the traditional time to plant out tulip bulbs. If you'd been super organised you could have got them in the ground in September or October, but this hasn't been a normal year for gardening - or anything else for that matter.

Between you and me, you could wait even until early December, but this month is considered optimal. The reason for that is that if you plant now there is a reduced risk of a fungal disease called tulip fire, which becomes less likely as the soil gets colder.

And because we really need to look forward to a joyful spring, make sure you get a few in the ground or in a pot over the next few weeks. For most tulips, a good, free-draining soil is best.

You don't want them to be sitting in waterlogged soil for the rest of the winter. If your soil isn't suitable then pots are ideal. Plant the bulb at a depth of two to three times its height.

Do you need to buy fresh bulbs every year? Yes and no. The highly bred varieties put on their best show in the first year and after that can often fade in both colour and size. So for your pots and containers, the best displays will come from newly purchased bulbs (and bigger or plumper bulbs will produce bigger flowers).

When they're finished flowering you don't need to hang about with letting the foliage die back, which usually isn't very pretty - you can either dispose of them entirely or plant in a less visible area of the garden where it doesn't matter so much how messy they look dying back or when they grow less flamboyantly the following year.

However, there are species of tulips which will come back year after year in much the same way as daffodils. They aren't as showy as their cultivated relatives and are usually shorter and smaller, but they make up for that in durability and are lovely for rock gardens or alpine troughs.

For example, Tulipa humilis 'Coerulea Oculata Alba' is an exquisite miniature with pure white petals and a dazzling deep blue centre, which will reliably return year after year. Their petite stature makes them ideal companions for other small spring bulbs such as blue and white woodland anemones, which would complement them beautifully.

But back to the prima donna tulips who put their all into a single performance. If, like me, you are impatient to see the first blooms, choose some early-flowering varieties. 'Orange Emperor' comes out as early as March with vivid orange single blossoms. 'Apricot Beauty' also comes early with delicate shades of salmon pink and apricot, and 'Verona' is a fuller peony type in April which has the added bonus of subtle fragrance.

Tulips make great cut flowers and can last for up to 10 days in a vase. Cut them with as long a stem as possible and before the flowers have opened.

Trim off the bottom leaves as these will rot in the water and make a diagonal cut at the base of the stem, which will maximise water take-up in the stem. Get them into water as soon as possible and change or top up the water every few days as they are heavy drinkers and tend to flop over when dehydrated.

Position somewhere cool for longer lasting flowers and away from fruit bowls - fruit emits ethylene gas as it ripens, which can speed up flower decay as well.

If you want more inspiration, good shopping websites include mrmiddleton.com; bulbs.ie; blomsbulbs.com; sarahraven.com; avonbulbs.co.uk, and farmergracy.co.uk, or check out the following Instagram accounts: @ClausDalby (a Danish bulb planter extraordinaire); tulip (and hen) enthusiast @arthurparkinson_; and great flower arrangements from Jack @aglimpseofthegarden.

Belfast Telegraph