Bulb planting 101

bulb planting

Comprehensive Guide to Bulb Planting


After the show of summer bedding and a bumper harvest comes bulb planting time! There is nothing quite like walking into a garden centre at this time of year and inhaling the scent of new bulb displays (obviously, I don’t recommend sniffing too close to the bulbs!) The crackle of a lovely 25kg bag of daffodil bulbs when lifting them into the boot of my car really starts the autumn for me. When I talk to people about bulbs, there is often confusion about how to plant and manage them, and the misconception that this is a precision task or one requiring a Ph.D. Anyone can plant bulbs, and with a little know-how, they will even(!) flower for you.



How to plant bulbs

Unsure how to plant your newly acquired bulbs? There is often really good advice on the back of the packet! Taylors bulbs have some really good header packing for their bulbs – pay attention to their advice, they know what they are talking about! There are, for us amateur gardeners, three main ways to plant bulbs. Each has their place in a garden and are easily completed


  • Individual placement

bulb planter
bulb planter

This planting technique speaks for itself. Choose where you want to plant each bulb and plant it. You can use a trowel or a bulb planter. Bulb planters will make this job quicker than if you used a spade. Simply take a core of soil out, pop your bulb in, then replace the soil. One problem that people have with bulb planters is that they find the soil either too dry or too wet. Remember that in gardening nothing is perfect! Take a trowel with you and make the minor adjustments as you plant.


  • Scatter

Using the scatter method is great if you want to achieve the more natural look to your planting; it can be a fun way to get your children involved in the planting too! Method? Throw your bulbs, individually or a hand full at a time, over the area that you want to plant them. Then use a bulb planter or trowel as above to plant them.


  • Turf lift

A turf lift can create a really wonderful display of low-growing bulbs in a lawned area. Use a turfing iron or a flat spade to cut three sides of a square in an area of lawn no bigger than 1×0.5m. If your lawn has been growing for many years, you will need to ‘encourage’ it to lift using your spade. Once the turf is up and turned, then either place your bulbs or scatter them before replacing the turf. One of the main considerations when using this planting technique is to make sure you have allowed for the depth of the turf cutting when you are deciding how deep to plant the bulbs. I really like this method as after you have replaced the turf, it is hard to see what you have been up to! Then just sit back and wait until you see the shiny new foliage emerging from your lawned area.


When you are choosing which planting method to use, it is wise to consider the aesthetics you are going for and also the location and situation that the bulbs are going in to. For example: if you are planting snowdrops or bluebells in a woodland area, the scatter method will create a natural look in fewer years that the individual placement technique.



Top 3 bulbs to be planting in October and November

 1)How to Plant Daffodils (Narcissus papyraceus ‘Ziva’)

Narcissus papyraceus 'Ziva'
Narcissus papyraceus ‘Ziva’
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Well drained soil
  • Flowers March-April
  • Can be forced to flower in December
  • White flowers
  • Frost hardy with protection

If you are a fan of the traditional blooms, then this is sure to be a pleaser. It is also strongly scented; what else could you want in a flower? This little flower is a firm favourite among amateur growers as it can be happily planted in the ground, pots, and as an indoor plant. The scent is truly wonderful, and your house will be full of the smells of spring.

Bulbs should be planted in the autumn to a depth of around 10cm deep and 10cm apart. I would be inclined to plant the narcissus using the individual placement technique so that you have as much control as possible over where they pop up in their first year. One they have finished flowering, feed with a good quality fertiliser and dead head. Interestingly, you should then just leave the plant to die back and not cut it back; what a great plant – all of the benefits and none of the work!

It is recommended that you wear gloves while handling this bulb and they can be poisonous if ingested.

2) How to Plant Cyclamen bulbs (Cyclamen hederifolium)

Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium

This is one of the few bulbs that are bought ‘in the green,’ with leaves, flowers, or roots present.

  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Well-drained soil
  • Humus-rich soil
  • Flowers October to November
  • Fully hardy

These dainty little flowers are such a joy to look at. If there are flowers present when you buy them, I would encourage you to check for fragrance. Some plants are much more fragrant than others. I have asked in garden centres, but no-one has been able to give me a convincing answer as to why this should be. The cyclamen’s flowers will often be visible before the leaves make an appearance. The upshot of this is that after the flowers have died back, you are still left with a variegated carpet to admire. Cyclamens look best when planted in a woodland or rocky area. They are happy in the shade or in full sun, though, so make your own mind up!

If the coum is not giving you any hints with the presence of flowers, plant smooth side down. The coums will appreciate a good mulch in the spring of leafmould or any other well-rotted home made compost. Cyclamen can look stunning when planted in a lawned area using the turf lift method. The little shouts of pink when they appear brings some real interest into the garden, especially in an area of lawn that can be left to grow once the cyclamen begin to appear.

3) How to Plant Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

Galanthus nivalis
Galanthus nivalis

The word ‘galanthus’ comes from the Greek words gála “milk”, ánthos “flower”.

  • Sun to partial shade
  • Moist, well-drained soil
  • Flowers January to February
  • White flowers
  • Fully hardy

These beautiful nodding heads are a welcome addition to any garden, however small. There is nothing quite like the fresh green of their foliage poking through the otherwise barren soil during the winter. It almost feels like the scatter method was dreamt up specifically for the snowdrop. Large, sweeping drifts on banks or around trees can look absolutely spectacular. They also can look stunning in pots; I particularly like to plant them in pots with some dark green foliage plants such as ivy or a miniature box plant. Snowdrop bulbs can dry out quickly, so choose them carefully in garden centres and only purchase when you are ready to plant them out. If your snowdrop drift starts to look overcrowded, then it is quite easy to divide large clumps. The best time to do this is after flowering but while the leaves are still green.


It is recommended that you wear gloves while handling this bulb and they can be poisonous if ingested.



Bulb pest and diseases


Now, unfortunately, this wouldn’t be a gardening post without covering the pests and diseases that all bulbs are susceptible to.

Vine weevil

vine weevil

The only ‘good’ thing about vine weevil is that the grubs are very easy to spot and you can start dealing with it immediately. The best current advice for vine weevil is to treat with Nematodes. They are very effective and widely available.




While we can’t really blame the squirrels for digging up a tasty treat, their presence is not going to assistsquirrel with a wonderful display of colour! Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest. Whenever I plant bulbs and want to protect them from squirrels, I use chicken wire and lay it over the area where I have planted the bulbs. There seem to be more squirrels than usual around this year, so I would recommend using this preventative method when you plant any bulbs this year.




I hope that I have demystified bulb planting a little for you. Now you simply choose your planting method, bulb type and if you follow our pest protection advice you can look forward to a bright and colourful spring garden!

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