‘Optimal time’ to plant tulips to ‘wipe out’ fungal soil diseases

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If your new year’s resolution is to get out in the garden more, there are few tasks easier than planting bulbs to ease you into it. While most spring-flowering varieties do best when planted in the warmth of autumn, gardening experts have explained that winter is the “optimal time” for certain blooms to thrive – and January is not too late to make a start on your tulip display if you didn’t get around to it in 2022.

Tulips and daffodils are hard to miss in spring when they emerge on roadsides and parks across the country, but they are much more rewarding to grow from the comfort of your own garden or balcony.

While bright yellow daffodils are better when planted before winter, a gardening expert from the blog “15 minutes of green” explained that tulips are the exception. 

They said: “I know from experience that tulip bulbs will still produce a decent display if planted in January. So, if you’ve got some tulip bulbs lurking in a paper bag at the back of the shed, get them in – now!”

Of course the later you plant bulbs the later they will bloom, but it is still possible to secure a “vibrant display” around April or May.

Bulbs can survive a freeze if they have adequate roots and enough time to convert the starches to sugars, but the cold weather is also incredibly useful for kickstarting the growth of spring tulips.

The gardening blogger explained: “Tulip bulbs need a period of chilling to break their dormancy, so now is a pretty good time to get them in.

“Indeed, it is best to plant tulip bulbs when the temperature has dropped as it reduces the risk of tulip fire – a fungal disease that thrives in warm damp conditions.”

Heavy rain in November and December, followed by a mild spell has also impacted the planting period for tulips. In fact, the “15 minutes of green” blogger noted that it “might even be the optimal time to plant your tulip bulbs”, as a cold snap will help to wipe out any fungal disease lurking in the soil.

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How to plant tulips in January

No matter when you choose to plant spring flowers, the key to a successful display is starting with healthy bulbs. A quick inspection of each one is all it takes to sort the hard, pointed bulbs from those that are going soft or mouldy. 

Prepare the soil

When you have the healthy bulbs ready to plant, you can make a start on finding a planting site with fertile, well-drained soil. The gardening blogger said: “Soil preparation is important. If planting in the ground, add sharp sand or grit to break up heavy soils and lots of organic matter to improve the structure. 

“I filled my pots to about two-thirds full with a general compost mixed with vermiculite and Growmore.”

If you are planting the tulips in pots, cover the bottom of each one with some broken crockery, gravel or other material to aid drainage.

Position your bulbs

As with all spring bulbs, tulips should be planted with the pointed end facing towards the sky. According to the gardening expert,  they can be planted quite close together in pots as long as the bulbs don’t touch each other.

In the ground, you should make sure to plant each one at least twice the bulb’s width apart. The depth should be two or three times the height of the bulb.

Bury the bulbs with a layer of compost to fill the pot just below the rim and water them well. 

Potted tulips should be kept hydrated though you should avoid waterlogging the container to avoid rotting.

If you’re looking for variety in your spring display, there are a few other flowers you can plant in January alongside hardy tulips.

Gardeners’ World host Monty Don explained that crocus and narcissi can be potted up now, though they are likely to do better in their second season than first when planted beyond November,

He said: “Snowdrops and aconites are much better planted “in the green”, by lifting and dividing existing plants just after they have finished flowering – which in most cases will be early March. If you plant them as dry bulbs the failure rate can be horrendous.”

Fritillaries, Eranthis and, in Monty’s own garden, Muscari seem to thrive in quite damp conditions, but you will need to pay attention to the soil conditions for these to work.

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