WHEN the gardener uses the term bulb, he does so with a broad, and certainly unscientific, meaning. But he is right, nevertheless, for he is classing together under a common name plants which have similar cultural requirements. Such dormant root stocks as those of the gladiolus and crocus are not true bulbs, for they are not formed of swollen leaf scales. Nevertheless, to the amateur gardener, such fine distinctions can be regarded as unimportant. If, therefore, the word bulb is somewhat loosely applied to corms and tubers in outlining their cultural requirements, perhaps the strictly scientific reader will ignore the inaccuracy. The garden novice will certainly care very little, so long as he can understand how to make his plants grow and flower.
The chief function of bulbs is to store food for the future use of the plant. This food is not taken directly from the roots, as may be imagined, but is sent back to the developing bulbs from the leaves above the ground. If this fact is understood, the gardener will readily see that the bulb cannot develop normally to its full capacity unless the leaves of the plant are allowed to complete their growth. In most bulbs this does not take place until after the flowering period.
Every kind of bulb has probably its individuality and asks a little different treatment on the part of the gardener from all the others. In general, however, their cultivation is on similar lines, and this will be briefly outlined for the real beginner in flower growing. After all, many hundreds of keen amateur gardeners began by growing a bulb in a glass or pot, when they were very young, for bulb growing is at once the simplest and the most satisfying of all garden ventures.
The average amateur gardener, when thinking about bulbs, concerns himself chiefly with those of the spring-flowering kinds such as Crocuses, Snowdrops, Tulips and Daffodils.
His idea is to cultivate bulbs to furnish a beautiful decoration for his home or garden.
The cultivation of bulbs can bring much happiness and colour into the life of the cultivator. There is a great sense of achievement in contemplating a garden, or for that matter a house, which is decorated with home-grown blooms. Most of the colours are bright and gay and considerably help to dispel the gloom of wintry days.
The first thing to do is to purchase the bulbs. It is always better, and in the end cheaper, to buy dear ones, as these are more certain to be in good condition. This is a most important point. For one thing, it depends on the food stored in the bulb whether the season’s blooms will be good. If, when it is bought, the bulb is in perfect condition, it is safe to say that the future of the plant is secured. No artificial food which you give during the growing period can make up for lack of substance in the bulb.
How to Choose Bulbs
When selecting bulbs, always bear in mind that they should be firm to the touch, even though small. This is better than buying cheaper bulbs which are larger, but at the same time soft. This point applies particularly to Hyacinths.
There are many kinds of bulbs you can grow, and before definitely choosing, the facilities for growing must be taken into consideration.
If you are concerned with bulbs for garden decoration, the limitations of your purse and your personal taste will be your chief guides. If your money is limited, the best effect can be realized by buying only two or three kinds and grouping them together in a few bold clusters in view of the house. Provided that the groups are not too small, and the predominating colour is a bright one, you will be pleased with the result.
It is always well to remember that selected colours appear to better advantage inthan mixed colours.
When bulbs are grown indoors, where the atmosphere is constantly warmed, the plan of campaign will be slightly different. The best bulb to grow in an ordinary living-room is no doubt the Hyacinth. Then follow the Pheasant’s Eye Narcissi, Trumpet Daffodils and Tulips. These can all be grown in ordinary gardenin flower-pots, or an alternative method is to grow them in fibre, in glazed bowls. Bowls are usually preferred, partly because coloured bowls can be used, which are more bright and cheery than dull terra-cotta flower-pots, but chiefly because, having no drainage holes, they are cleaner. There is no fear of surplus moisture draining on to the furniture after water has been given.
Bulbs are often grown on the window-sills, which is an easy method and has much to recommend it. In this way Snowdrops and Crocuses can be grown, but these must never be brought into the room until their buds are actually bursting, for they will not stand warm conditions during growth.
Growing Bulbs in Bowls
To be successful in growing bulbs in bowls, previous experience is not necessary, and this is therefore a very good way for the novice to start his gardening career.
The bulbs should be bought as soon as possible, as one of the joys of indoor bulb growing is in obtaining early flowers, preferably flowers at Christmas. You will find that the bulbs which give the best results when grown in fibre are Hyacinths, Daffodils, Tulips and Crocuses. When buying the bowls to hold the bulbs, it is better to choose those that do not turn in at the rim. Those that do are inclined to allow too much water to remain in the bowl—a state that is fatal to successful cultivation.
It is possible to get bowls in a very wide range of colour and design, but it is better to restrict your choice to one of the duller hues, unless you are absolutely certain of the flowering colour of your bulbs. By doing this you minimize the possibility of a clash in the decorative scheme.
For this method of cultivation, fibre is sold in a especially prepared form by all florists and nurserymen. It should always be used when bulbs are being grown in bowls, as it retains moisture without becoming stagnant. Ordinary garden soil would become sour with no drainage, and this would of course ruin the bulbs.
At planting time the fibre should be fairly moist—that is, just moist enough to hold together when squeezed in the hand. Each bowl is lined with fibre before any bulbs are put in. Then the bulbs are placed on this, not actually touching each other, and more of the fibre is filled in round them. The tips of the bulbs should just be a little above the level of the rim of the bowl, in the case of hyacinths and, and level with the rim of the bowl in the case of and crocuses. Never quite fill the bowls with fibre, as this will not allow room for watering. Press the fibre firmly round and between the bulbs, so that they do not touch each other, or touch the sides of the bowl.
After planting, the early treatment of the bulbs in bowls is important. They must be kept in a cool, dark, and airy place, to encourage the bulbs to form roots before the tops commence to grow. This is necessary, otherwise daylight will cause leaves to develop before the root growth has started, and this will result in poor and imperfect flowers.
It is usual to place the bowls in a dark cellar or cupboard for a few weeks and then bring them into the light. Unfortunately, cupboards are often too dry and warm to give the best results, and though watering will alleviate the former drawback, only adequate ventilation will overcome the latter, so that it is really wiser to put the bowls in the cold frame, or even to plunge them outdoors in ashes, taking care that the ashes are at least 6 in. thick above the rim of each bowl. To avoid trouble from heavy rains, lay a sheet of corrugated iron or similar cover over the frame or ashes.
As top growth of the bulbs begins, they may be brought into the light, and by slow degrees into the warmth. The removal of the bowls from darkness to day fight will cause the growing tips to turn green. This natural transformation should only occur slowly, and will do so if the bowls stand for the first few days in a dark part of the room. Afterwards, they should be brought gradually into the sunniest position possible.
It may be mentioned here that after spring bulbs have flowered the bowls can be used if liked for the cultivation of. These can be grown in fibre in the same manner as Hyacinths or Tulips, except that it is unnecessary to start them into growth in the dark. The tubers are merely laid on the surface of moist fibre, and kept in a warm place. When growth shows, press the tubers down farther into the fibre.
Bulbs Grown in Glasses
To ensure success in this method, put a small piece of charcoal about the size of a pea into the special bulb glass, which can be bought for a few pence. Fill it with water and set the bulb so that the water comes to just below the base of the bulb. This water must be replenished when necessary, but the charcoal will help to keep it sweet and fresh.
Stand the glass in a cool dark place, where the bulb will obtain plenty of air. If you wish to use a cupboard for this purpose, see that air can enter by leaving the door slightly ajar. A cool cellar is better than a cupboard, however. Keep the glasses in the dark until the leaves appear. When the new growth is about $ in. high, bring the glasses into the light gradually—not immediately. The temperature of the room should be approximately 60-65°. There is no need to give any other special attention except that, as already mentioned, the water should be replenished when necessary. When adding fresh water, care must be taken to use water at the same temperature as the room. A jug left in the room overnight will provide this.
Bulbs in Bowls of Pebbles
Bulbs grow quite as well in bowls of pebbles or clean sand, with water only, as in fibre or soil. The difference in results is mainly that bulbs so grown are practically useless a second season, since they have exhausted the supply of food in their storehouse, with no opportunity of replenishing it. However, this is relatively unimportant to the gardener who is seeking a substitute for the expensive cut flowers that winter markets offer. He is prepared to let his bulbs give their all in the one season.
The best bulbs to grow among stones are probably crocuses and hyacinths. Hyacinths are easiest, and rarely fail to give satisfaction if they are treated, after planting, in the same manner as recommended for bulbs in fibre. Crocuses are almost always failures in the hands of novices, yet their needs are extremely simple.
The first step is to set the bulbs on and among the pebbles in such a way that the bases are fairly level, and come, preferably, just about on a level with the rim of the bowl, saucer or other receptacle used. Then fill the water in until it almost touches the base of each. Then take the saucer or bowl outdoors, to a cool shed, a garage, or an outer window ledge, and leave it there. Look at it occasionally, and if the water level has dropped, fill in more water. A bowl that stands on a window ledge will probably be refilled often enough by winter rains.
On no account bring the bowl into a warm room. If the weather is very severe, bring the bowl into the coldest room of the house, if you like, where there is never a fire or any other artificial heat. But if you cannot do this, it is better to leave it to freeze.
Not until the colour of the flowers is visible can you feel safe in bringing the crocuses into the warm room. Then, if you introduce them to your family, you will find that the flowers respond by opening with amazing rapidity. To keep them in bloom a long time, spray them frequently with water, and leave them as near the cool window as you can.
The secret, you see from this, is to keep the Crocuses as cool as they would be in the open garden. Then the flowers come almost before the leaves as they do outdoors (and they take almost as long to develop, too, so you must not expect flowers at Christmas). If you let them grow in a warm room, the leaves are sure to grow above the flowers, even if the flowers come at all, which is doubtful. Moreover, green-flies and other pests find a welcome in the warmth of the room, and, in short, the decorative value of the bowl is quite lost.
Bulbs in Pots
There is greater variety in the bulbs suitable for ordinary pot culture than in those suitable for bowls. If ordinary pots are used, care must be taken to see that the drainage holes are covered with broken crocks, which will keep them open, and prevent the soil becoming stagnant and sour. A good potting mixture would be composed of loam (ie. decayed turf), leaf-mould, and sand in equal parts. The sand is necessary to keep the soil open, so that air can circulate, and the leaf-mould is an assistance in retaining moisture. If you have to use sticky clay soil, it should first be either burnt or very well mixed with sand. Ordinary garden soil will do equally well if it is open and crumbly.
It is not necessary to cover the bulbs deeply with soil, the tips of each should just reach the surface, and the soil should only come to an inch below the pot rim, to allow for easy watering. As with bowl culture, the sooner the bulbs are bought the better. When they arrive, pot them at once, and then bury the pots deeply in ashes in the frame, or in some suitable position out of doors. Take them out when growth commences, but if you want a succession of flowers, stand those you wish to keep back in a sheltered position outside. Frost will not harm them, providing it is not too severe, but should the weather become very cold, cover the pots with old mats or sacking at night. Pots of bulbs that have been under ashes are generahy washed clean on the outside, and decorated with shell, pebbles, or moss on the soil surface, to hide the ash that clings to the soil.
Unless placed in artificial heat, bulbs make very slow progress, and those in pots will bloom very little before those grown out of doors. It is a good plan to introduce small batches of bulbs into a slightly higher temperature from time to time, bringing them on only as quickly as necessary, because the slower the development the better the blooms. By having the main group of started bulbs sheltering under an outside wall, others in a cold frame, some in a warm greenhouse and the remainder in a hothouse, it will be found possible to provide a continuity of bloom for several months. Should the object be to grow flowers for cutting, boxes of about 6 in. in depth and of convenient size can be used instead of pots. Do not use much fertilizer for pot culture of bulbs.
Where bulbs are grown in tubs, bone-meal added to the soil at the outset would prove an efficient and suitable fertilizer.