Monday, 4 February 2013
This is the first post in my new series called Breaking the Rules, in which I'll be looking at some of the gardening advice available to see if it can be bent or even completely broken. I'm not an expert, but I know there's some advice I followed at first, then found doesn't need following slavishly.
First up are spring flowering bulbs.
The picture shows a packet of tulips last Saturday. You may have come across something similar recently going for a song at your local DIY store or garden centre. Did you buy them too? I hope so. According to the advice, I should have planted them last December at the latest. But there's nothing wrong with these tulips. The bulbs aren't soft and soggy or mouldy, the sprouted tips are showing a relatively healthy colour and they aren't long and straggly. Planted now, they should still do well, though they'll probably flower a couple of weeks later than if I'd planted them at the 'right' time.
Why can I get away with planting them late?
The key to success is to select firm bulbs with no traces of mould. I did have one shrivelled up bulb in my pack (which I've since composted), but seeing I only paid 10p for them, that's not bad. Tulips don't start to root until the weather gets colder, so if we have plenty of that to come (and Saturday was pretty chilly!), my bulbs should still perform well.
As we've had so much rain lately and I garden on clay, I decided to plant them into some large black plastic pots. Tulips don't like their feet in water, so I don't currently have the right conditions for them in my garden. I've previously found they don't particularly like soiless compost either because it can dry out, so I used a 50:50 mix of that plus the last of some John Innes number 3 I had to hand.
The pots are now on the patio, just outside the kitchen doors. They might stay there to brighten up the view come April, or I may decide to move them into a garden border later, to help plug a gap.
I've previously had some success planting daffodils at this time of the year, which is even later than advised! I believe like these tulips, the keys to success are ensuring the bulbs are still sound, using a good quality compost and having some luck with the weather. I've found a cold spell is definitely needed for either daffodils or tulips to thrive. I've yet to see whether I can plant late and then get them to come back every year, but when a pack is a late winter bargain, that doesn't really matter.
Whether this rule bending can be applied to bulbs planted at other times remains to be seen...
I see I'm in good company as James Alexander-Sinclair has also owned up to planting some of his tulips late this year. So grab that bargain (or bag you'd forgotten about) and get planting now :)
Update: Helen Gazeley has kindly been in touch with her posts on what happened when she planted tulips and daffodils in March. Unlike me, she had disappointing results (though the tulips did come up fine the following year), probably because March is just a tad too late and too warm for bending this rule.
Conclusion: A rule which can be bent if timing and the right conditions allow, but it can't be completely broken.
Have you successfully bent or broken a gardening rule? Tell me about it in the comments below...