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With wildlife in mind, take extra care when trimming hedges

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RULE THE WINTER BLUE! With wildlife in mind, take extra care when trimming hedges: start too early in summer or too late in winter and you could disturb nesting birds

  • Garden centers are already full of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths
  • Autumn brings colchicums, crocuses and even a small scilla native to Britain
  • Nigel Colborn advises planting small bulbs in the right environment to enlarge

Never underestimate the value of small bulbs. Although small, they pack quite a punch. A few may even bloom before Christmas. But the main show runs from January to May.

Garden centers are already stocked with tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. They are all beautiful and the planting season is just around the corner. But weight for weight, small spheres also make for a surprisingly big show. They bloom earlier, some appear in early December.

We all love snowdrops, especially when mixed with yellow aconites. But crocuses, scillas and dwarf iris are just as beautiful. Autumn brings colchicums, crocuses and even a small scilla native to Britain.

For spring there are tulips for pots or a border front. One I love, Tulipa pulchella Little Beauty has plum red petals with opalescent violet centers.

Garden centers are already full of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Autumn brings colchicums, crocuses and even a small scilla native to Britain

Crocuses range from large Dutch, striped or solid to purple, white or yellow.

Smaller, prettier varieties come in a wider color range with stripes and other petal markings. They all multiply naturally.

Some scoops are extra special. You can grow them in shallow pots, rock gardens or perhaps an alpine trough. The best are beautifully highlighted with a wide color palette. Small bulbs have been close to my heart since childhood. Plant each in the right environment and the bulbs will grow steadily.

DIVIDE AND CONQUER

You can propagate most by dividing clumps and replanting the single bulbs. Do this shortly after flowering, but be careful not to damage the roots.

Many will also propagate naturally, some from seed, others – such as Crocus tommasinianus – from wandering underground stems. Many spring bulbs come from arid regions with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters.

Some, like snowdrops, can grow almost anywhere, provided the soil is moderately fertile and can drain freely. Yellow winter aconites enjoy similar conditions.

In February, varieties of Iris reticulata have tremendous garden value. Their colors, shades of blue or purple have contrasting yellow spots and dark leopard spots. They are easy to grow, but will only multiply if planted deeply. In the wild lawns of our garden I boosted the plants with autumn-flowering Crocus speciosus. Blue Anemone blanda follows in spring, blooming among budding primroses and snakehead nacres.

While beautiful in large numbers, small bulbs are just as beautiful in small clumps in containers.

PRODUCTION LINES

The best small bulbs have two important virtues: longevity and productivity. A daffodil planted this fall will become a bush in the spring of 2024.

Snowdrops expand faster. Fertile varieties often self-sow as well. The same goes for winter aconites.

Crocus tubers grow even faster. Fertile varieties self-seed, and some also spread by horizontal, underground roots. If you plant 100 mixed crocus bulbs in grass this fall, a carpet of soft colors will follow each spring.

When buying bulbs, pay attention to quality. Small bulbs deteriorate quickly as they emerge from the ground. Therefore, plant small varieties first. Plant deep – too deep is better than too shallow.

Terracotta alpine tiles are the most suitable for potting special spheres. A loam-based, peat-free growing medium is best and the pans should drain freely.

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