Combining bulbs and annuals  such as ranunculus, tulips and white primula  makes a stunning combination in a small garden. Picture: Supplied

Johannesburg - The cooler weather has arrived and the soil is starting to cool down. Now is the time to plant bulbs for colour in your spring garden this August. The choice of bulbs is larger this year than it has been before and includes both exotic and indigenous. All the spring-flowering bulbs can be planted now – however, tulips are best planted in May.

Exotic bulbs include tulip, daffodil, hyacinth, ranunculus, leucojum, Dutch iris, anemone and brodiaea.

Most of these bulbs come from the northern hemisphere.

Most of the indigenous spring-flowering bulbs (including their hybrids and cultivars) are native to the winter rainfall area of the Western Cape. They include freesia, ixia, sparaxis, tritonia, lachenalia, bush lily (Velheimia bracteata), wild tulip (Homeria elegans), chincherinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides) and Gladiolus tristis.



Containerised colour

For success when planting bulbs in pots, you should adhere to two rules: make sure the pot has adequate soil, but never allow the bulb roots to dry out.

Place pots in a semi-shaded position and water every day. Winter and spring flowering bulbs don’t fare well in areas with excessive heat. Daffodils and hyacinths do particularly well in cool soil.

Avoid areas such as long driveways, paths or sunny walls unless you can provide some form of protection from the heat. Bulbs make excellent container plants especially when combined with spring-flowering annuals. Consider alyssum, pansies, poppies, stocks, calendula, forget-me-not, snapdragons and Virginian stocks for sunny positions, and primula for partially shady positions.

An easy way to achieve a splendid container combination is to choose a colour scheme for each container or each container grouping.

Plant pink hyacinths and blue pansies in one container, blue hyacinth and white alyssum in another, and blue Dutch irises and mauve primula in a third. Remember to choose annuals of the right height to complement the bulbs.


Plant up colour

How do you plant up a container of colour for winter? Consider these planting tips:

* The container must have the appropriate depth for the chosen bulbs – a depth of 10-15cm will suit most bulbs, but ranunculas, ixias, daffodils and tulips need a deeper container.

* Traditional lore suggests you place a layer of broken terracotta shards and bricks or large stones at the bottom of the container to ensure good drainage. It is even suggested that you place a layer of decayed leaves over the stones before adding potting soil. More recent research shows that bulbs do just as well in containers filled up with a nutritious potting soil.

* Water the soil well before planting the bulbs.

* Leave a 2.5cm gap below the rim of the container to act as a reservoir where water can collect and soak in.

* In combination plantings, remember to plant tall-growing bulbs in the centre of the container and shorter ones around the rim of the container. Also remember to allow space for any annuals you have included in your plan.

* It is best to grow all containerised bulbs in a semi-shaded part of the garden or patio. This is because the soil in containers tends to dry out fast, especially in sunny situations, and even more so if the containers are placed on a heat-reflecting surface such as a patio floor.


* Water bulbs in containers once a day as the soil around the roots of bulbs must be kept moist at all times. Make sure the water can drain out of the bottom. Do not use saucers or trays under containers as this will cause water-logging of the soil and the bulbs will rot. If you feel you must use saucers to prevent water marks on patio tiles, empty them an hour or so after watering.

* When the bulb stems appear above the soil in May, annuals can be added in between the bulbs.

* When buying annuals, look for compact healthy plants. Plants that have been allowed to dry out should be rejected. Avoid plants with roots showing beneath the seed tray.

* Fertilise annual and bulb combinations every two weeks with a foliar feed such as Multifeed P, Nitrosol or Supranure.

* Bulbs that are to be discarded after flowering do not need any fertilising. If you wish to lift and store them, fertilise after flowering in order to build up bloom embryos for the next season. Continues to fertilise bulbs until the foliage dies down. Keep well watered during this period.



* Support Green Office Week (April 21-25) by creating a more environmentally friendly workplace. Buy indoor plants for your desk and work area. They will clean the air by absorbing indoor air pollution and increasing the flow of oxygen. The more light, the more choice of plants. Some office plants to consider are ivy, philodendron, peace lily (spathiphyllum), spider plant (chlorophytum), palms and ferns.

* Petunias do well in autumn. They need a sunny position and well-drained, composted soil. Choose compact kinds for windy gardens, small flowered cultivars for rockeries and beds, and cascading petunias for containers and hanging baskets.

* Improve soil in the vegetable patch by incorporating generous amounts of organic matter. The following winter crops can be planted now: beet, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, cauliflower, leek, peas, Swiss chard and turnip. Only grow those vegetables that are popular with your family.

Clean the air in your home by incorporating indoor plants into your interior design.

Saturday Star