Plant tulip and daffodil bulbs now for a blooming spring

Fancy a spring floral display that gardeners in Holland would be proud of? It’s time to plant tulip and daffodil bulbs for gorgeous spring bouquets.

Words: Jane Wrigglesworth

Daffodils are the easiest of the two to grow. The bulbs don’t need chilling, and plants grow well in all parts of the country.

Plant bulbs where the plants will get plenty of light (at least half a day) as daffodils need it to develop and flower year after year. Planting under deciduous trees is fine as most daffodil growth is done and dusted by the time the trees are in leaf. However, as they’re competing with tree roots, give them additional water and fertiliser.

Perfect drainage is the key to success. If it’s too wet, particularly during summer when soils are warm, bulbs may rot. Work the soil deeply.

If you are planting into clay, add plenty of grit or coarse sand. You can add leaf mould or compost but avoid animal manures as these can encourage basal rot.

Plant daffodils so the base of the bulb is about 15cm below the soil surface or, in light soils, 20cm deep. Space 15cm apart. Stagger planting so you have a long picking season or choose both early- and late-flowering cultivars.

The closer you plant your bulbs, the sooner you’ll need to dig them up and separate them, as they’ll become overcrowded and stop flowering. At 15cm apart, you’ll need to dig and replant them every three to five years. If you don’t want to bother with that, space them wider.

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Daffs are not heavy feeders. Mix bulb fertiliser into the soil before planting. Don’t just throw it into the bottom of your hole, as new roots can be killed by a high concentration of fertiliser. Apply another dose as the leaves begin to emerge from the soil.

Keep plants well-watered.


Bulbs need cold weather to root. Wait until the end of April or early May in cool regions; in warmer areas, you can delay planting until May-June.

Tulips also need a period of cold for flower bud development. In warmer areas, chill your tulips in a paper bag in the fridge for at least eight weeks before planting out.

But even if your region is cool, your bulbs will still benefit from chilling; it accelerates flowering and plants grow longer stems. Less cold equals shorter stems. Keep fruit out of the fridge as the ethylene they give off can damage bulbs.

Alternatively, you can add an ethylene-absorbing sachet (available from bulb specialists) to the paper bag.

Choose a selection of tulip cultivars (early, middle and late season) to ensure a long flowering season. Tulip bulbs should be planted about 15cm below the soil surface, 10-15cm apart.

Add a slow-release fertiliser to the soil when planting, or use a low-nitrogen, high-potassium fertiliser as plants grow.


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NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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