Bulbs, corms and tubers

When summer bedding is spoiled by frost remove it and replace it with bulbs for spring flowering.

Planting spring-flowering bulbs

Daffodils and hyacinths are best for an early display; tulips for a later one. Plant the bulbs on their own or between plants such as wallflowers, forget-me-nots, winter pansies and polyanthus. Spring-flowering bulbs can also be planted in tubs and window boxes, and dwarf irises and squills in informal groups in the rock garden.

Bulbs are remarkably tolerant in the first year, but whether they thrive after that depends on how well they are suited to their position. Those that come from the Mediterranean and the Near East prefer drier conditions where they can get the full sun in the summer. Woodland plants, such as bluebells and winter aconites, will do best in deep, leafy soil that doesn’t dry out too much.

When planting a bed devoted to bulbs, first plan the layout. Start planting in the centre and work outwards to the edges allowing about 15cm between bulbs in each direction.

If you are planting bulbs in a mixed border, plant the perennials and shrubs first and then position bulbs between them. Allow more space between bulbs when planting them in this way.

As a rough guide to planting depth, bury each bulb twice as deep as its height. If you have a great many bulbs to plant, or the weather is bad, plant the daffodils first. They begin their root growth earlier them most bulbs.

Easy Planting Method
To achieve an informal grouping, scatter  between 6 and 20 bulbs on the ground and plant each where it falls.

If you want an instant display on a lawn or in rough grass, an easy method for planting small bulbs, such as crocuses, snowdrops and scillias, is to make holes 8-10cm deep with a crowbar or dibber in an irregular pattern. Fill the bottoms of the holes with peat, peat substitute or fine soil, place a bulb in each, then fill to the surface with peat, peat substitute or sand. The grass will soon cover the tiny patches, and you can mow through the autumn until the bulbs start to grow at the end of winter.

You have to allow all the leaves to die down to build up the strength of the bulbs before you start mowing again next spring, but if you want to start mowing early in the year and you are prepared to sacrifice the bulbs, choose early-flowering varieties and replant with fresh bulbs each autumn.

Winter-flowering arum lilies

Repot lilies for winter flowering under glass using potting compost. Place one plant in each 13-15cm pot, or three in a 20-23cm pot. Store in the greenhouse or indoors.


Cut gladiolius flower spikes regularly, leaving at least four leaves on each plant.

Border perennials

Check which new plants can be planted in autumn and which are best left until the spring.  List those available for propagating and those to be bought.

When buying, choose good, healthy stock with formed crowns and foliage. Containers should be well packed with firm compost and plants should be carefully labelled. Field-grown plants can be assessed by their top growth.

Preparing and planting

In dry areas it is advisable to plant in the autumn as the rainfall over the winter months will keep plants in good health. September is the best month for this, so finish preparing the ground as soon as possible. Make sure that added fertiliser such as Vitax Q4, or manure is thoroughly mixed into the soil before planting.

Choose days for planting when the soil is moist and the weather is not too cold or windy. Water the plants in and, if a dry spell follows, continue to check that they have sufficient water at the roots until they are well established.

Planting spring bulbs

Plant spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and crown imperials to give early colour and fill gaps between plants. If you are using early bulbs to mark late-flowering perennials, choose small varieties and plant around, rather than immediately over, the dormant plants, otherwise when the dormant plants emerge, they may dislodge the early bulbs.

Planting out

1. Plant so that the crown of each plant is level with the surface of the soil. If plants are bare-rooted be careful not to damage the roots.

2. For plants in pots, check that the hole is the correct size, remove the plant from the pot and gently spread out the rootball. Place the plant in the hole and fill with soil.

3. Always firm in well. If the plant is small and the hole shallow, you can do this with your hands, otherwise tread the soil carefully to remove pockets of air.

4. If in doubt about whether the plant has been planted firmly enough, tug it gently. It should not move in the soil. Water in, and keep well watered until established.

Winter protection

Frosts in September are not often as severe or long lasting as in later autumn, but care is still needed. Cover tender or young plants with cloches, netting, newspaper, old woollens or similar materials if frosts are forecast. Remove when the temperature rises.

Make preparations to overwinter tender perennials, under cover in pots or as cuttings.

Deadheading and collecting seeds

Keep the border tidy by cutting back flowered stems and deadheading unless seeds are required. Later flowering plants may now have set seed, so collect those, ensuring that the seeds are dry before storing.

Bulbs, corms and tubers

Spring-flowering bulbs

Finish ordering spring-flowering bulbs which are to be planted this autumn. Hyacinths, small irises, dwarf early tulips, crocuses, chinodoxas, scillas, snowdrops and miniature daffodils can all be grown in bowls or pots for flowering indoors in winter. Bulbs suitable for planting in borders and rock gardens include alliums, hardy cyclamen, eranthis, erythroniums, muscari and ornithogalums.

Planting daffodils

Plant daffodils by the end of the month, unless they are to be planted in beds which cannot be cleared of summer annuals until September or later. Daffodils recommence their root growth in late summer, so they need to be planted into soil from which they can draw moisture and food. Plant all but the smallest bulbs 15cm deep.

Christmas-flowering bulbs

Plant prepared hyacinths and ‘Paper White’ narcissi in bowls for Christmas flowering indoors. Put the pots in a cool position outdoors or in a shed to produce strong root systems.

Cutting gladioli

Cut gladioli for indoor decoration as soon as the first flowers on the spike are open. For exhibition plants, timing depends on variety. When cutting a flower spike leave at least four or five leaves on the plant, otherwise the corm will be deprived of its source of nourishment. To cut a flower spike without damaging the plant, insert a sharp knife low down on the stem, give the spike a gentle jerk each way and twist. The stem will snap and can then be withdrawn from its sheath of leaves.

Gladiolus thrips

Watch for signs of gladiolus thrips. These first show as holes in the leaves.


When flower buds appear on begonias, remove those with winged embryo seed pods behind them, as they are single female flowers.

Bulbs, corms and tubers


Continue to remove dead blooms from daffodils, tulips and hyacinths as they finish flowering.

Lifting bulbs

Most bulbs, such as tulips or daffodils have finished flowering by now, and it may be necessary to lift them from the beds or borders to make way for summer bedding. Heel in the bulbs in another part of the garden so that they can die down naturally.

1. Provided the flowers have died you can lift spring-flowering bulbs and corms to release the space for other plants. Lift them carefully with a fork, keeping as much soil around the roots as possible.
2. Place the bulbs at a slight angle in a shallow trench so the foliage is above ground. Put netting in the bottom to make it easier to retrieve the bulbs later. Cover the bulbs with soil. Lift and store when the foliage has died down.

Cleaning and storing bulbs

Clean the bulbs of early tulips and daffodils that have had time to die back and store them in shallow trays in a cool, airy shed for replanting in October. Destroy any diseased tulip bulbs that are soft or have prominent brown or grey marks or scars on the body of the bulbs. If they are placed on a compost heap they may carry disease to fresh plantings.

Watering and feeding

Water all plants thoroughly in dry spells. Daffodils in a light, sandy soil will particularly benefit from this. Give gladioli and summer flowering bulbs a general liquid feed (Vitax Balanced Feed and Vitax Liquid Growmore are good choices)


After hippeastrums have finished flowering allow the foliage to die back. Cut off any leaves cleanly above the neck and store the bulbs in their pots in a cool place until next spring.


Crinum bulbs should be planted 15-20 cm deep in a south-facing border. Alternatively, if you live in a cold area, plant them in tubs which can be moved under cover during the winter.

Arum Lilies

Arum lilies are often grown in pots in the greenhouse for protection and early flowers but, except in cold areas, they also flourish in the open. Plant them out when all danger of frost has passed, either in moist soil or up to 30 cm deep in a pool to grow as water plants.


Continue to plant gladiolus corms for a succession of flowers. Try to finish planting by the middle of the month.

Small alpine bulbs

Gradually reduce the watering of dwarf bulbs which you are growing in a bulb frame or greenhouse as the leaves start to turn brown.

Bulbs, corms & tubers


Remove the faded flowers from daffodils and other early-flowering bulbs to prevent them wasting their energy producing seed. It also makes the plants look much tidier. Leave the flowers on bulbs such as snowdrops, crocuses, scillas and muscari. They will then seed themselves and spread.

Summer-flowering bulbs

Plant bulbs such as acidantheras and tigridias 5-8 cm (2-3 in) deep and 10-15 cm (4-6 in) apart in a sunny, well-drained position.


Commence regular, shallow hoeing around gladioli once the young shoots appear through the soil. This will check the growth of weeds and keep the soil aerated and moist.

There is no need to water gladioli until the secondary roots have formed, which should be by the end of April.

Continue planting gladiolus corms in mixed borders or for cutting.

Arum lilies

Plant out arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) in very mild areas.


When shoots appear on begonia tubers planted in February or March, thin them to leave only the strongest.
Hippeastrums planted in March will need watering more frequently, as growth accelerates. Keep them warm and moist through the growing season.

Tuberoses and gloriosas

Pot up tuberoses and gloriosas for flowering under glass

Container gardening

Protecting plants

In a mild spring, some deciduous trees and shrubs will already have started into growth. New shoots are particularly vulnerable to frost and wind damage so keep the containers in a sheltered spot.

Severe conditions in February can take their toll of winter and spring bedding plants in containers. Whenever possible, move the containers under glass or to a more sheltered spot, close to the house walls for example, when hard frost is forecast.

Maintaining a winter display

Check plants regularly, removing faded flowers and foliage. If plants are badly damaged or die off, replace them – garden centres will have plenty of suitable plants. Look for pots of dwarf, early-flowering bulbs such as scillas and daffodils. Pansies and other bedding plants often have a break from flowering at this time of year, but don’t discard them; they will shoot back into growth next month.

Pruning shrubs

By the end of February, most deciduous shrubs and trees should be starting to bud which makes it easy to distinguish living from dead wood. This is a good time to carry out any necessary pruning jobs, but never prune without checking on the appropriate treatment for a particular plant or you risk pruning out this year’s flowers. The aim is to produce a natural and attractive shape, in proportion to the size of the container, and to keep the plant healthy and free-flowering.

In cold areas leave hard pruning until next month as pruning stimulates growth and any resulting young leaves may be damaged by frost.


In February, the garden is showing signs of coming back to life after the winter. Bright yellow daffodils spring from the ground to give a shock of colour. However there is more coming to life and to enjoy than the early spring narcissus.

Narcissus ‘Midget’

Narcissus-midgetThis miniature narcissus bulb comes very highly recommended by all the specialist bulb growers. It has tiny golden trumpets above attractive, neat, greyish green leaves. It grows up to about four inches and flowers very early – usually in February or March. As it is so adaptable, ‘Midget’ may be naturalised in grass, or grown in borders, troughs, or pots. As with all daffodils, it is a good idea to deadhead it as the flowers fade, and allow the leaves to die back for at least six weeks before removing them. Remember, when planting outside, that manure or fertiliser containing an excess of nitrogen should be avoided. I think ‘Midget’ would make a wonderful partner for scillas or chionodoxas.

Propagation: Separate and replant offsets as the leaves fade in late spring.


Helleborus x stemii

helleborus-x-sterniiSometimes a plant is bewitching, and this enchanting hellebore is certainly no exception. As its parents are H. argutifolius and H. lividus, it has the distinction of being a born aristocrat with pretty leaves and flowers. Its leaves, from four to eleven inches long, are pleasingly marked with pinkish purple and cream veining, and are carried on pale purple leaf stalks. The charming, one to two inch flowers are creamy green suffused with pinkish purple strands, and appear as many flowered cymes from late winter to mid-spring. This hellebore grows to about twelve inches, with a similar spread, and should be grown in neutral or alkaline, humus rich, moist, but not waterlogged, soil. It is a good idea to protect it from strong cold winds.

Propagation: Divide after flowering.


Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’

Clematis-cirrhosa-FrecklesClematises that start flowering early in the year when there is a dearth of climbers in flower are particularly attractive. This one is a great favourite, with its delicate fern like foliage and heavenly, two inch, open, cup shaped, creamy pink flowers speckled with red, just like freckles. It is fully hardy, but not an overpowering grower, seldom growing taller than about twelve feet, and it shouldn’t need to be pruned. Like all clematises, it should be grown in fertile, humus rich, but well draining, soil in sun or partial shade, but with its roots and base kept in shade to keep them cool.

Propagation: Root softwood cuttings in spring or semi-ripe cuttings in early summer. Layer in late winter or early spring.


Acer pensylvanicum

Acer-pensylvanicumSnake bark maples are some of the aristocrats of the deciduous tree world, and this one is no exception. With its white and jade green striped young boughs, it is a fine tree for a woodland edge or a wild garden, where its bark can be enjoyed all year. Its obovate leaves turn a pleasing, rich yellow in the autumn, so it is a good idea to shelter it from cold winds to encourage the leaves to hang on as long as possible. Pendant panicles of greenish yellow flowers appear from mid-spring. It will reach 40 feet by 30 foot at maturity, and should be grown in fertile, moist but well drained soil, in sun or partial shade.



Visit What Plant to see what other plants can add to a garden in February.


Narcissus ‘Midget’

Narcissus-midgetThis miniature narcissus bulb comes very highly recommended by all the specialist bulb growers. It has tiny golden trumpets above attractive, neat, greyish green leaves. It grows up to about four inches and flowers very early – usually in February or March. As it is so adaptable, ‘Midget’ may be naturalised in grass, or grown in borders, troughs, or pots. As with all daffodils, it is a good idea to deadhead it as the flowers fade, and allow the leaves to die back for at least six weeks before removing them. Remember, when planting outside, that manure or fertiliser containing an excess of nitrogen should be avoided. I think ‘Midget’ would make a wonderful partner for scillas or chionodoxas.

Propagation: Separate and replant offsets as the leaves fade in late spring.


Narcirrus ‘Little Beauty’

narcissus-little-beauty‘Little Beauty’ is a sturdy, but small, trumpet daffodil with creamy white petals and a lemon trumpet. The flowers are single and may reach one and a half inches in diameter, on stems that are only about four inches tall. This little daffodil may be naturalised in short fine grass, but its ideal situation is at the front of a border or rock garden, in sun or dappled shade. Plant it at one and a half times its own depth, or slightly deeper if the soil is light, or if it is being naturalised in grass. Daffodils do tolerate a wide range of soils, but are best grown in moderately fertile, well drained soil that is moist during the growing season. The flowering time for ‘Little Beauty’ is early March.

Propagation: Separate and replant the offsets as leaves fade in early summer.


Narcissus Lobularis

narcissus-lobularisThis is a selected form of the Lent lily – Narcissus pseudonardssus – our indigenous wild daffodil and one of the best for naturalising. Its flowers have yellow trumpets with paler petals and it grows to about five inches. It may take a couple of years to flower, so don’t despair if you don’t have many flowers in the first season. If daffodils are not performing well, apply a low nitrogen, high potash fertiliser after flowering has finished. Sometimes flowering falls off if the bulb clumps get congested. If so, they should be lifted and divided. If growing daffodils in grass, delay grass cutting for four to six weeks after they have finished flowering. Narcissus lobularis usually flowers in early March.

Propagation: Separate and replant the offsets after flowering in early summer.


March Bulbs, corms & tubers

The last of the pot-grown bulbs, such as daffodils, narcissi, hyacinths, crocuses and some smaller irises, will finish flowering this month. Plant them out at once, removing intact both the bulbs and the fibre or compost in which they were grown, to encourage growth that will replenish the bulbs for future flowering. These bulbs are unsuitable for forcing again, so plant them in clumps between shrubs or herbaceous plants, depending on the bulbs’ size. They will flower again in two years’ time and thereafter in subsequent springs. Tulips are less likely to succeed using this method, but may well flower again for a year or two.

Planting hippeastrums

Plant in pots for late spring flowering. Keep in a warm humid atmosphere and water sparingly until the buds appear.

Deadheading daffodils

Remove flower heads from daffodils after flowering, to conserve the strength of the bulbs. Do not tie or bundle the leaves in an attempt to make them look tidy but allow them to die back naturally.

Snowdrops and aconites

If snowdrops and winter aconites are crowded and need replanting, lift them before the leaves die down. Separate the bulbs or tubers and replant them at their original depth.

Summer-flowering bulbs and tubers

for flowering during the summer, plant ‘De Caen’ and ‘Saint Brigid’ anemones and plant lilies in their permanent positions. Divide any large canna roots and pot those into 20 cm (8 in) pots using potting compost.

If you have a lot of summer-flowering bulbs or corms of one type, you can plant them at fortnightly intervals during the next month or two. This will extend the flowering period throughout the summer.

Planting out gladioli

if the weather is warm and the soil frost-free and not waterlogged,plant gladiolus corms in the second half of this month. Wait until April in cold areas.

In a mixed border, plant the corms 10-15 cm (4-6 in) apart in groups. To provide cut blooms for flower arrangements, plant them in rows 30-40 cm (12-16 in) apart. For exhibition purposes, plant the corms sprouted for earlier flowering in either single or double rows. Allow 45-60 cm (1 1/2-2 ft) between single rows. Space double rows 30 cm (1 ft) apart, with a 60-90 cm (2-3 ft) gap between each pair of rows.

Plant corms a good 5 cm (2 in) deep. If you do not plant deeply enough the flower spikes may well collapse. The base of each corm must rest firmly on the soil in the base of the hole or drill. Plant cormlets saved from last year 2.5 cm (1 in) deep in rows 10-15 cm (4-6 in) apart. They can be set so that they are almost touching one another.

Naturalised bulbs

Growing bulbs in the lawn or rough grass is a popular alternative to planting them in borders or containers. However, some bulbs are more suited to this than others. Choose early-flowering, robust varieties that do not grow too tall (unless they are to grow in long grass).

Some gardeners feed naturalised bulbs, but it is difficult to feed bulbs in grass satisfactorily without creating vigorously growing grass which then competes with the bulbs. Usually, the bulbs are left to depend upon the organic matter which accumulates from mowing the grass to provide much of their nutrition.

After flowering, allow at least six weeks for the leaves to die down naturally before mowing.

It is mostly spring-flowering bulbs, such as the ‘De Caen’ anemones that are naturalised in a lawn because of the need to mow the grass in summer. However, some summer-flowering bulbs can be naturalised very successfully in areas of long grass such as an orchard or wildlife garden. These bulbs include many alliums, such as Allium moly, and lilies. The former are normally planted in the autumn, but lilies can be planted in March.

Bulbs can also be naturalised in the front of a shrub border or in a woodland garden. Dwarf autumn-flowering cyclamen such as Cyclamen hederifolium are ideal for naturalising beneath trees, and these bulbs can also be planted in March.

When choosing a site for naturalised bulbs bear in mind that the object is to get the bulbs to multiply freely and t grow undisturbed over a period of years.

Vitax House Plant Liquid Feed

This is a concentrated liquid fertiliser specially developed for house plants.  It contains a balanced quantity of the major nutrients needed by house plants, but with the extra benefits and trace elements provided by added seaweed, which is recognised as a rich natural source of plant nutrients.


The feed is formulated to be used at every watering during Spring and Summer.  In Autumn and Winter it should be used as a top-up feed every 4 to 6 weeks.


It is supplied in 200ml packs.