Saturday, March 06, 2010

Daffy for daffodils

It is too ironic for words. All season long we have been complaining about the wet, wet, wet summer we have been having, and now, the beginning of March when we expect some rains, it has turned mild and fine on us.


Everyone I know is grumbling about their tomatoes – it just been an absolutely awful year for them – and mine, although fruiting well, look like nothing on earth. The bottom leaves have fallen to blight, and the top leaves are thin and ugly looking.

As always, though, we gardeners are an optimistic lot, so we are all looking forward to having a normal summer (whatever that means) next year.

The sunny days of March have been matched with some cool evenings, no doubt pleasing the orchardists who need a big diurnal temperature difference to colour theirapples. It is also a pleasant reminder to the rest of us that autumn has arrived and it is time to start thinking about planting some spring-flowering bulbs.

One of the delights of gardening in our temperate climate is the wide range of plants we can grow and bulb season shows that up, with cold climate species and bulbs from warmer climes elbowing for space on the garden centre shelves.

For most of us though, spring bulbs begin with daffodils, and I guess there are many for whom they end at daffodils as well. For most the image of a daffodil is a large trumpeted variety, probably golden all over, but there is a wide range of varieties, with a surprisingly wide range of colours and a large range of sizes as well.

One of the beauties of the daffodil is that it will grow almost anywhere in our country. Perhaps if you are gardening in the more humid and warm areas in the north of the North Island it might be a little more difficult, but for most of us it is quite straight forward as long as one or two little things are borne in mind.

The first is to simply remember that these bulbs almost all grow in meadows in the wild – they are used to quite moist soil in the spring. That means they do not want to be waterlogged over winter, but they also do not like growing in hot, dry conditions either.

Secondly, they like a bit of feeding too.

So, let’s assume we have been down to the garden centre, or perhaps spent some time perusing the colourful fliers garden centres seem to specialise in, and you have been seduced by some colourful looking varieties. What do you do next?

Well, actually what you do is wait. Daffodils are best planted once the soil has cooled down a little, so perhaps it might pay to wait another month before planting out. It is a good idea to keep the bulbs in the refrigerator during that time as a little chilling before planting will help to promote better flowering in the spring.

Where to plant is the next question. The best place is a well-drained sunny site with deep soil. If possible the bulbs should be planted about 20 cm deep as daffodils require deep soil to feed properly. You can plant even deeper in light soils, as that will help keep the bulbs cooler.

It is a good idea to work some bulb fertiliser into the soil while planting. Make sure it is bulb fertiliser though, as it is higher in potash and contains less nitrogen. The lower nitrogen levels are important as this element promotes leaf growth at the expense of flowers, and also makes the bulbs more prone to disease. Do not be tempted to use a general fertiliser for your bulbs.

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