Gardening: Beating the cold and wet soil for a good show of tulips

Dwarf tulip Pinocchio.
Dwarf tulip Pinocchio.

Got cold, wet soil? No problem! Big showy tulips don’t do well in my garden’s clay soil, so it’s pointless even trying.

It’s not that it’s over wet, it’s just so slow to warm up in spring.

The gravel path brightened up with pots of tulips.

The gravel path brightened up with pots of tulips.

By far the best thing to do is plant ‘bedding’ tulips in pots.

Ordinary multipurpose compost will do fine, and as it’s a case of diminishing returns with most tulips, you will only get a good show for one season.

If you object to this wanton waste, try growing species tulips, which naturalise and their shows get better over time.

You can plant them this late in November, in fact, it’s best to if your area suffers from a virus called tulip fire – the colder temperatures will kill it off.

Tulip Lambada in May.

Tulip Lambada in May.

Ignore traditional spacing guidelines, and place the bulbs in a tight circular pattern.

Cover with compost, planting them at the same depth you would normally, approximately two to three times the bulb’s height.

If you’ve got a big pot, you can be really flash and double or triple up for a longer display – plant the earliest bulbs at the bottom, mid-season next, then late varieties on top.

Make sure there’s compost between each layer and water in when you’re done.

Tulip Diana.

Tulip Diana.

You might need to water the pots in spring if there’s a dry spell but apart from that, they’re pretty maintenance free.

I find closely planting bulbs into 6” black plastic pots is helpful - they fill in any obvious gaps in the border without the pots being obtrusive.

You can grow them on in full sun and sheltered conditions until ready to flower, then move them to semi-shaded spots and take them away easily when they’ve finished flowering.


Tulip Rems Favourite.

Tulip Rems Favourite.

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Indoors, pot up Hippeastrum (amaryllis) bulbs, and bring them back into active growth with regular watering and feeding.

Pruning and renovation of some deciduous trees, shrubs and hedges, such as beech, can be carried out from now – you can see the framework more easily. Exceptions are tender plants, and also Prunus species (e.g. ornamental cherries, plums and almonds), as these are vulnerable to silver leaf if pruned in the autumn or winter. Evergreens are best left until the spring.

When pruning trees and shrubs, examine branches for signs of disease. Small cankers, dieback, and rotten, hollow stumps are best removed, before they spread.

If your trees are too large for you to manage the pruning alone, then you may need a tree surgeon. Otherwise take care not to damage the tree when sawing off thicker branches.

Phytophthora root rots can cause dieback on mature trees and shrubs. Wet winter weather and poorly-drained soils are likely to encourage this problem on susceptible woody plants.

Watch out for downy mildew and black spot on winter pansies.

Look out for crown rot and brown rots (sclerotinia) on dormant perennials, especially if you are on a clay soil.

Reduce watering and feeding of houseplants as the days shorten.

Cacti and succulents need a period of dormancy over the winter: keep them barely moist, and do not feed. Start them back into growth next spring. Christmas cacti can be managed in the same way as other cacti, or in reverse, for flowering at Easter or Christmas.