Buying Bulbs for Your Garden: A Concise Guide to Choosing the Right Varieties

Gardeners seeking to accentuate their outdoor space often turn to the timeless appeal of bulbs. Planting bulbs is a rewarding garden project that yields colourful and vibrant blooms from early spring to late summer. They come in an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and colours, and can be an easy way to add life to a garden due to their relatively simple planting requirements and low maintenance. Whether inserted into a border or naturalised in grass, the right bulbs can transform a garden, providing annual pleasure as they reappear each season.

In South Africa, gardeners have a bounty of bulb options, many of which are indigenous and suited to the climate. The SA Bulb Company, Hadeco, and other local nurseries offer a wide range of bulbs, irises, and daylilies to suit various landscaping needs. These specialists provide robust bulb selections, including both winter growers perfect for shipping during their summer dormancy, such as Lachenalias and Oxalis, and evergreen species that can be shipped year-round.

Understanding the right time to plant and how to care for your bulbs is crucial to ensure a healthy growth and prolific blooms. While some bulbs prefer the warm start provided by spring planting, others thrive when planted in the cooler months. Bulbous plants are typically easy to grow and require minimal care once established, making them an excellent choice for novice gardeners or those looking to add hassle-free beauty to their gardens.

Understanding Bulbs

Selecting and planting bulbs requires knowledge of their various genera, attributes, and care requirements. Gardeners should consider seasonal planting times and the specific demands of each bulb type to achieve the best display of flowers.

Different Bulb Genera

Bulbous plants encompass a range of genera, each with unique characteristics. Key genera include Daffodils (Narcissus), renowned for their spring beauty; Tulips (Tulipa), loved for their vibrant colour; and Hyacinths (Hyacinthus), celebrated for their fragrant blooms. Other genera such as Amaryllis, Snowdrops (Galanthus), Crocus, and Alliums add diversity to gardens and bloom at different times.

Bulb Characteristics

Bulbs, as a storage organ, consist of layers, much like an onion, and contain nutrients for the upcoming growth season. They produce a variety of blooms and leaves, with some being evergreen, while others enter a dormant state after flowering.

Seasonal Planting Considerations

The timing of planting bulbs varies: Spring-flowering bulbs like tulips and daffodils are typically planted in autumn, while bulbs that bloom in the summer often need planting in the spring. These seasonal habits ensure that bulbs have adequate time to establish and survive through their dormant periods.

Bulb Planting Requirements

Bulbs thrive in well-drained soil with ample sunlight. Soil preparation is essential, involving the incorporation of compost and other organic nutrients to nourish the bulbs. For healthy growth, plants need the right balance of water; regular, but not excessive, watering is key.

Bulb Storage and Care

If bulbs cannot be planted immediately, they should be stored in a cool dark place with a stable temperature ideally between 17 to 18°C (60 to 65°F) to prevent early sprouting. Bulbs should remain dry during storage to avoid mould or rot.

Common Bulb Pests and Diseases

Bulbs may be susceptible to insect damage or diseases such as grey mould or bulb rot. Investigating for signs of distress or damage before purchase and providing good air circulation can mitigate these threats.

Importance of Following Planting Instructions

Each bulb species has a set of recommended planting instructions that cover depth and spacing. Adhering to these guidelines ensures that each bulb has sufficient space to grow and access to necessary moisture and nutrients.

Understanding Plant Hardiness and Climate Zones

Hardiness zones guide gardeners on which bulbs are appropriate for their outdoor climate. Knowing these zones is crucial as they indicate the lowest temperatures a plant can withstand.

Selecting the Right Location

The chosen location should provide enough sunlight and suit the plant’s requirements, whether it is in garden borders, containers, or beneath light shade. Placement will affect the bulb’s ability to produce vibrant flowers and healthy foliage.

Preparing to Plant

Before planting bulbs in the garden, one must ensure the soil is conducive for growth, the timing is right, and the needs for water, food, and protection are met.

Soil Preparation and Amendment

Proper soil preparation cannot be overstated. One should aim to create a well-draining and nutrient-rich environment. They should incorporate compost to a depth of 30cm to enhance soil structure, therefore, improving drainage and providing essential nutrients. For denser soil, adding perlite or grit can further facilitate drainage.

Choosing the Correct Planting Time

Planting at the correct time is vital for bulb development. Spring bulbs thrive when planted in autumn, as the cool period is necessary for them to break dormancy. Conversely, bulbs flowering in summer perform best when planted in late winter or early spring.

Planting Depth and Spacing for Optimal Growth

Each bulb type has a specific depth at which it flourishes. A general rule is to plant bulbs at about three times their height. Spacing is equally important, with most bulbs requiring a space of 5-8cm apart, ensuring they have adequate room to grow without competition.

Watering Needs Post-Planting

After planting, bulbs need sufficient water to establish their roots. The soil should be kept evenly moist, but not waterlogged, to prevent rot. As the bulbs start to grow, one can reduce watering frequency.

Feeding Your Bulbs

Upon planting and as shoots emerge, feeding bulbs with a bulb fertilizer can provide additional beneficial nutrients. An application of fertilizer in early spring supports their developmental needs.


Mulching helps retain soil moisture and regulate temperature. A layer of organic mulch around the bulbs can protect them from extreme weather conditions and also provide ongoing nutrition as it decomposes.

By following these specific guidelines, one can create an environment in which garden bulbs are set up for success.

Buying Guide

When selecting bulbs for your garden, it’s essential to purchase high-quality products from reputable retailers and understand the intricacies of bulb quality, price, and shipping considerations.

Where to Buy Quality Bulbs

Gardeners can buy high-quality bulbs from both garden centres and online platforms. The key is to look for sources that specialise in horticulture and have a robust selection. A reputable retailer should offer a wide range of bulbs suitable for various climates and garden types. One may consider local garden centres for the advantage of seeing the bulbs in person or opt for online retailers like American Meadows, Eden Brothers, or Longfield Gardens that provide a broader variety and often detailed planting guides.

Understanding Bulb Quality and Selection

The quality of flower bulbs is paramount for a successful bloom. A high-calibre bulb should be firm to the touch and free of visible damage or rot. Size can be an indicator of quality, with larger bulbs often producing more vigorous blooms. The selection should include indigenous varieties, which are more likely to thrive in local conditions, as well as a diverse array of species to ensure continuous blooming throughout the seasons.

Comparing Prices and Assessing Value

Price comparison is crucial and should be balanced with quality considerations. When assessing value:

  • Size vs. Price: Larger bulbs may cost more but can offer greater value given their potential for larger blooms.
  • Quantity Packs: Some retailers offer bulbs in bulk or mixed packs, which can provide savings for extensive garden areas.
  • Sales and Offers: Watch for seasonal sales or special offers, but ensure the quality remains high.

Shipping Considerations

Shipping is an aspect that buyers should not overlook, especially when purchasing online. Key considerations include:

  • Shipping Costs: Factor in how shipping adds to the overall cost. Some retailers might offer free shipping on orders over a certain amount.
  • Packaging: Proper packaging is critical to protect bulbs during transit. Ensure the retailer has a good reputation for delivering bulbs in excellent condition.

Retailer Reviews and Ratings

Before making a purchase, prospective buyers should investigate retailer reviews and ratings. A retailer should have positive feedback from customers on aspects like bulb quality, the accuracy of orders, and customer service response. It’s advisable to read reviews from several sources, such as the retailer’s own website, gardening forums, or independent review platforms.

By closely following these guidelines, gardeners can make informed decisions and select the best bulbs for their gardens, ensuring a beautiful and healthy bloom.

Innovative Planting Ideas

Innovative planting of bulbs can transform a garden, providing bursts of colour and drama throughout the outdoor space. Strategic choices and placements can dramatically affect the garden’s visual impact.

Using Bulbs for Garden Drama

To create a dramatic effect in gardens, one should consider the mass planting of bulbs. They can add pockets of intense colour and visual excitement to the landscape. A designer could intersperse these pockets with contrasting foliage or flowering plants to enhance the drama. For example:

  • Dramatic Contrast: Planting bright tulips alongside dark-leaved plants draws the eye and creates focal points.
  • Sequential Blooming: Select bulbs that flower at different times to maintain continuous drama throughout the seasons.

Designing with Bulbs in Pots and Containers

Pots and containers offer a versatile way to display bulbs, especially for those with limited space. When selecting bulbs for pots:

  • Height Variation: Layer bulbs at different depths to achieve a succession of blooms.
  • Colour Coordination: Choose a colour scheme, such as pastel shades or bold hues, to match the container or complement the surroundings.
Bulb TypeContainer TypePositioningBlooming Period
Dwarf DaffodilsTerracotta PotsFront and CentreEarly Spring
HyacinthsWindow BoxesElevated SurfacesMid-Spring
CrocusesHanging BasketsEye-level DisplaysLate Winter/Early Spring

Utilising pots and containers allows for rearrangement throughout the year, keeping the garden design flexible and dynamic.

Aftercare and Maintenance

Aftercare and maintenance are crucial for ensuring the longevity and vibrancy of bulbs in a garden. Proper practices ensure plants thrive through various seasons and return with vigour year after year.

The Importance of Watering

Watering is essential for bulb health, particularly after planting and during growth periods. Bulbs require consistent moisture but should not be waterlogged. Watering regimes vary depending on the location of the pots; those on hot patios or roof gardens exposed to full sun need more frequent watering to prevent the soil from drying out.

Pruning and Deadheading

As the flowering season ends, one should prune and deadhead the plants to encourage future growth. Removing spent flowers prevents plants from expending energy on seed production. Instead, this energy supports the bulb underground in replenishing its stores for the next season.

Protecting Bulbs from Extreme Weather

Bulbs can be sensitive to extreme weather conditions such as severe frosts or excessively hot summers. A layer of mulch approximately 2 to 5 cm thick can insulate the soil, protecting it from severe cold or preventing it from crusting over in high heat. This mulch layer can be made up of organic material which also contributes to the nutrient richness of the soil.

Dealing with Bulb Dormancy

During dormancy, particularly in winter, it’s important to shield bulbs from excessive moisture that can cause rot. If lifted, bulbs should be stored in a cool, dry place, such as a paper packet filled with peat, to retain essential moisture while avoiding damage. Each climate presents different challenges for dormancy, so gardeners should adapt their storage techniques to suit their environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are the key questions gardeners often ask when planning to buy and plant bulbs in their gardens.

What is the best time of year to plant garden bulbs?

The optimal planting time depends on the bulb variety. Spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, are best planted in the autumn, while summer-flowering varieties should be planted in early spring.

How do I determine the number of bulbs required for a certain garden size?

To calculate the number of bulbs needed, one must consider the planting density suggested for each species, usually found on the packaging, and the area of the garden space to be covered.

What are the top bulb varieties suitable for winter in South Africa?

In South Africa, popular winter bulbs include amaryllis, Gladiolus, and Ranunculus, which thrive in the mild winter climate and bloom beautifully in spring or early summer.

Where can I purchase amaryllis bulbs in South Africa?

Amaryllis bulbs can be purchased at most garden centres across South Africa, or online from reputable suppliers such as Hadeco.

Are bulb planters an effective tool for planting garden bulbs?

Bulb planters can be a highly effective tool, especially for large planting projects, as they aid in maintaining consistent planting depths and make the process more efficient.

Which online retailers offer the highest quality Hadeco bulbs?

For the highest quality Hadeco bulbs, consumers should look for well-established online retailers that specialise in bulbs and have a strong reputation for customer service and product quality.

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