Pointy end up – planting bulbs in autumnAlison Marsden
Yes, I am writing about planting bulbs in autumn which I know is a well visited subject in gardening programmes and columns at this time of year. So rather than repeating guidance on planting bulbs – and to be honest you do not need to know much more than “pointy end up” – I am thinking about what happens after you plant them and specifically why they may immediately be dug up again!
Not by the gardener this time but pulled or dug out by local wildlife. When you think about what a bulb is, namely a store of energy, it is not surprising that some creatures are interested in eating them.
The most commonly raided ornamental bulb is the tulip which is attractive to many small rodents such as mice and voles, as well as grey squirrels. Mice and voles are not likely to make a huge dent in your planting unless you are overrun, but squirrels can be a problem and often pots of newly planted tulips will be dug out. Covering pots with a layer of chicken wire secured round the edge can be effective and the bulbs and bedding will grow through. If you plant tulips in grass and find your lawn ploughed up overnight then the most likely culprits are badgers, who adore tulip bulbs and have an appetite to match their size. You are likely to know if badgers frequent your garden as they are creatures of habit and use the same paths consistently, wearing tracks in the grass. Chicken wire can be pegged down over a small patch of bulbs in grass or border but it is hard to deter a committed badger and the answer may be tulips in pots grown on in a secure place.
In the vegetable garden, late autumn is also the time to plant garlic cloves, which benefit from a cold snap to encourage good bulb growth later, and certain varieties of onion sets that can be overwintered to produce an early summer crop. Although in the same family, onion sets and garlic are planted slightly differently. Garlic cloves are planted with at least their depth of soil above the top of the clove whereas onion sets are planted closer to the surface, with the ‘nose’ at ground level. Firm the sets in well to discourage birds from pulling them out of the ground. If you find your onions scattered on the surface, this is usually the cause. Birds do not eat them but seem to pull on the nose looking for worms. If onion sets are lifted, simply replant firmly.
Happy Gardening from Alison
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