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How to get success with bulbs?

Randommoose1Randommoose1 Posts: 6
edited 8 May in Problem solving

Can I have suggestions for how to get success with bulb plants as I am not having much luck? Two winters ago I ordered from Farmer Gracy as they seem to have a good reputation and about 2/3rds of the bulbs came up, most of those flowered and at least half of them have come up again this year. Last winter I ordered from the same place but hardly any of the bulbs have come up (for instance 1 anenome out of 20, none at all of most varieties, about 1/3 of the alliums). A lot of the bulbs arrived damaged, apparently as it was the end of the season but the majority were undamaged. I know there is no guarantee of crop when buying from this supplier so would appreciate suggestions for how to improve my luck in the future.

I am getting varieties that say they naturalise well, hardy varieties (allium, anenome, scilla, starflower, camassia etc). They are in soil where everything else is growing well. They are planted at the recommended depth for the variety. They are in different locations, sun, shade, a few in pots. So what am I doing wrong? Or is this just how growing bulbs goes? It is annoying to have spent about £60 and only have about 30 things come up out of 150+ ordered.

Thank you for any suggestions!


  • bertrand-mabelbertrand-mabel Posts: 1,483
    We had many bulbs in pots and decided to clear them all out and plant in a new bed in the ground. Tulips, grape hyacinth, daffs, bluebells, iris tuberosa, crocus to name a few. This Spring we have had a great show far far better than what we had in pots.
    Anemones in a gravel bed also have been brilliant and they self seed all over.
    Camassia is in a grassy area with ox eye daisy, cowslips, bluebells, bugle, plantains, poppies.
    When we had bulbs in pots the blackbirds used to dig in and pull the bulbs up trying to get to invertebrates. We also had the squirrel and mice taking the bulbs.
    Could your lack of success be a result of this?
    Surprised that no quarantee is given as on packets of seeds there is and we have had refunds when germination rate has been very poor or non-existent. We also had refunds on some bulbs bought in packets from a garden centre that failed to grow.
    I agree having spent so much money and having poor returns is very disheartening. Bulbs are worth growing but maybe buy in a different way.
  • B3B3 Posts: 21,433
    I'm beginning to give up on small bulbs and corms. Mice or squirrels eat them overnight. The only ones I see are the odd ones that the bggggrs miss😡
    In London. Keen but lazy.
  • GardenerSuzeGardenerSuze South NottsPosts: 1,112
    @Randommoose1 I would be interested to know if others have ordered bulbs from Farmer Gracy. A friend recently recommended their tulips.  My family have bought tulip bulbs for my birthday from Sarah Raven in the last two years they have all been good but expensive. I had sixty bulbs of Tulip Ballerina and they nearly all flowered.
    In pots squirrels  love them, some chicken wire on top of compost then another layer of compost works.

    I don't know what sort of anemone's you had but I know some of them need to be soaked before planting.

    I have given up on the larger Alliums as my soil is just too wet and heavy in winter. I have a friend who has a light soil and she has given me some seed heads. What I do know is the bulbs need to be a good size to flower.  The only alliums I grow now is A cernuum. Alliums will seed bu then it takes many years for them to flower . 

    Another I no longer grow  is Narcissus Bulbcodium as they need acid soil

    One of my favourite bulbs is Iris Reticulata but they can be difficult year two as they start to make bulbils after flowering.

    Camassii Galanthus Leucojum and wood anemones love my clay soil.

    I think bulbs may be graded but not sure.

  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 46,095
    You'd need to be more specific. Which bulb is planted in which site?
    Alliums need different conditions from Camassias. The former need sun and lighter, freer draining soil, and the latter need soil that doesn't dry out. Best in some shade too. 
    What kind of anemone? There are loads. 
    What are star flowers? The correct names will also help with advice  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • GardenerSuzeGardenerSuze South NottsPosts: 1,112
    I have grown white Ipheion's many years ago very choice. Year two ok year three one flower so then I gave up. I think the blue one's may be easier to grow?  I think you would say they can be iffy.
    The conclusion I have come to is to get bulbs to flower year on year go for Narcissus. Jetfire , February Gold, Thalia,Tete a Tete, Minnow, Cotinga all flower year on year in a  clay soil.
  • Randommoose1Randommoose1 Posts: 6
    Thank you for all your replies! Here is some more information and numbers:

    Bed 1 - morning sun, afternoon shade, evening sun in summer. Loam over clay, medium moisture (neither wet nor dries out). Woodchip about 1-2 inches deep keeps moisture and temperature steady. I have planted here two years. Successful: white Scilla (lots of these), white Ipheion (sorry, thought this was known as starflower!) about 20 first year but only a couple second year, white Camassia (10 - about 5 grew), white allium (possibly Graceful beauty, can't remember, flat bottomed type, not full ball shape 10 - about 5 grew first year, I don't yet know if they have this year as no buds out yet), white ball allium about 6 inches tall (about 10 grew well first year, don't know about this year but definitely haven't come up in some places they were last year), big cream tulips (10 about 5 came up originally and have been bigger in the second year than the first).
    Failures: Eremurus Pinokkio (3 - nothing came up), Fritillaria (30 - nothing), Anenome Mistral (planted 10, one has come up)
    Unknown as no buds yet: Allium Graceful Beauty (20), Allium Red Mohican (6), Allium Azureum (25). But there definitely aren't that many plants! Maybe about 20 unflowered plants in the whole bed.

    Bed 2 - full sun, same sort of soil but a bit shallower loam. Small gravel/grit covering (old). I have planted here just the one year but grape hyacinth have thrived there for years. I planted:
    Allium Purple Sensation (20)
    Allium Giganteum (5)
    Allium Gladiator (5)
    Allium Mount Everest (5)
    possibly some of the Allium Graceful Beauty, I can't remember
    Urginia maritima (10)
    There are a total of about 10 plants growing, a few with a big bud (look like allium to me).

    2 large pots - morning and evening sun, shady day, mix of compost and top soil. Gravel covering. I planted:
    Allium nevskianum (6 - either all 6 or 5 have come up and are budding)
    Iris George (about 10 - one flowered, 2 came up just as leaves)
    Oxalis triangularis (15 - about 8 have come up and have a single leaf each so far)

    All bulbs were the biggest size option Farmer Gracy do - the Urginia especially were huge, about 12cm across! The big alliums for the sunny bed were about 8-10cm across. Quite a few bulbs were damaged or sprouting a bit as it was November and the delivery took quite a while but I got them straight in the ground. There haven't been any ground freezes.

    I haven't seen any signs of digging near the bulbs. 

    I read the Farmer Gracy terms and conditions and it says "We give no warranty, expressed or implied, as to description quality, productiveness or any other manner of any seeds, bulbs or plants we sent out, nor will we be in any way responsible for the crop." so I don't think there is any recourse there, it is something I need to work out what to do myself. The amount I have spent on them it might be better to swap to plants instead of bulbs! Everything else is thriving. But I really really like Alliums and so want them to work.

  • Randommoose1Randommoose1 Posts: 6
    I can grow onions no problem so thought Alliums would be like that! But that is from sets planted in spring so it is different. No damage to this year's onions (unprotected) so I don't think it is something eating all the bulbs as wouldn't they have gone for the exposed onions rather than the buried flower bulbs?
  • B3B3 Posts: 21,433
    The removal of bulbs from my trough was like keyhole surgery. You won't necessarily see any signs of digging. The only evidence I found was one half eaten bulb and little dents above where I'd planted them.
    In London. Keen but lazy.
  • Randommoose1Randommoose1 Posts: 6
    They are planted over too wide an area for me to have any idea where any individual bulb is supposed to be (Bed 1 is 10mx1m, Bed 2 is 6mx30cm) so looking for dents would be like looking for the needle in a haystack! It could be a sneaky mouse or something I suppose. The grape hyacinths and daffodils don't get eaten though.
  • B3B3 Posts: 21,433
    Those awful tiny alliums don't get eaten either unfortunately
    In London. Keen but lazy.
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