How to plant bulbs

Preparing the soil

Preparing the soil for planting is very straightforward. When you are ready, clear the chosen spot of any weeds or debris. Work the area over using a spade or a fork to a depth of around 30cm (12in), making sure all the soil is nice and loose with no large clods.

Heavy or clay soils can be improved by digging in plenty of leaf mould. Soil structure can be improved by adding course sand or well-rotted organic material.

Your soil should not be too wet. It should drain well but also have good moisture retention as bulbs are not deep rooted. A good handful of horticultural grit directly beneath the bulbs will aid drainage.

Feed and fertiliser

Your bulbs won’t need to be fed in the first year as they hold all the food reserves they need to come into flower. And don’t cut back or tie up dying foliage as all the goodness will need to go back into the bulbs.

Fertiliser is not essential but a dressing of a high potash and phosphate fertiliser such as bone meal or hoof and bone, applied before planting, may be beneficial. The ideal pH level is approximately 6.5.

The exceptions here are the bare-rooted plants we supply: plants like Eremurus, Agapanthus or Dicentra flower better after a small feed as they are not bulbs and do not hold the same food reserves.

Any bulbs you wish to keep after flowering will benefit from a top dressing of bone meal or slow-acting fertiliser. And if you want to keep Tulip bulbs for replanting next season, deadhead them and feed after flowering, then lift once the stems have died right down. Discard the smaller ‘bulbils’ and store the larger ones somewhere dry and airy, ready to replant in the autumn. (See When to plant for more information about storage.)

Tools and equipment

There are many easy ways to plant bulbs, depending on the type of bulb or the effect you are looking for. Use a trowel or a bulb planter for planting individually or in small groups.

If you’re the resourceful type, the handle from a broken garden fork or spade can be transformed into an ideal bulb dibber.

Which way up?

With most flower bulbs, it is quite obvious which end is the top (because it is often pointed with a growing tip) and which is the base (because it is usually flat with evidence of roots).

However, with a few types, it can be a little harder to tell. If in doubt, plant them on their sides and they will do just fine.

How deep?

A simple rule of thumb is to plant the majority of your bulbs at a depth two to three times their own length. For example, if a Tulip bulb is 5cm (2in) long, then the tip needs to be approximately 10–15cm (4–6in) beneath the surface of the soil.

There are, however, a couple of exceptions to this basic rule: Eremurus (Foxtail Lily) and Cyclamen prefer to be planted just below the surface.

How far apart?

The distance between the bulbs depends on the size of the flower, but they should be far enough apart so that they’re not touching. Tulips, for example, are happy to be planted just an inch or two apart.

Planting bulbs in small groups of six–eight can make for a better display. You can achieve a more natural effect from scattering by hand and planting where the bulbs land – we think this is ideal for our Crocus, Daffodils and Specie Tulips.

If you are unsure how many bulbs you’ll need to fill a square metre, don't worry, you'll find this information on every product page.