Bulbs are a wonderful asset in the garden. They are easy to grow and often have very impressive flowers. The well-loved amaryllis flowers in September/October and their large showy blooms come in many colours. I keep mine in pots as it is so easy to forget where they are in the long dry season when they disappear. But a friend has them in an east-facing flowerbed where they have multiplied prolifically and look gorgeous.
Most bulbs, including agapanthus, should be planted at a depth three times the size of the bulb. But amaryllis needs to have a small part of its bulb (the “shoulder”) above the soil. The soil should be a rich, loamy compost with added river sand (fine gravel) for drainage. Re-pot them in late winter – the last week of July and the first week of August – if they need to be divided. A fat flower bud will appear either before or soon after the first green leaves. Four to six flowers will be carried on each stem. When the flowers are over, remove the whole stalk. Leave the green leaves to make more food for the bulb to store. This is the time to add fertilizer. Continue to water until the leaves die. Then leave the pot only slightly damp through the winter.
This winter I decided to grow gladioli for a change. Their roots are corms, not true bulbs, but need similar treatment. I planted them on a bed of gravel to make sure they wouldn’t rot, and waited impatiently for the flowers. I had almost given up when the flower buds shot heavenwards and within a week there were tall stately spikes of deep red flowers on every plant. Before long I will be digging up the corms and keeping them safely for next year.
Other bulbs that are easy and rewarding are sprekelia ( the Jacobean lily), nerine gracilis ( a dainty little pink flower) and hymenocallis (the spider lily with long thin white petals). The latter is easy and looks great en masse.
At this time of year, one thing is essential : MULCH. Soil is the most precious asset in your garden. It needs to be protected from the burning heat of direct sun in October and November. And afterwards, it needs to be protected from pelting by heavy raindrops and erosion by rivulets of water. Use whatever you have as a mulch. All those dry leaves should not have been raked up and burnt…they are needed to cover the soil. They can also be left to lie on top of grass at this time of year to conserve moisture. The heat of direct sun will kill all the beneficial microbes, tiny insects and earthworms found in the top few centimetres of the soil. Just put your hand FOR ONE SECOND in the stream of water that comes out of a hosepipe left lying in the sun for an hour or two. Be careful as it will be scalding hot. All living things in the topsoil will die if exposed to this kind of heat. Water in the soil will also evaporate completely leaving the soil dry in a matter of hours. The best mulch is coarse compost so empty out your compost heaps even if they have not fully decomposed and get all your soil surfaces covered with at least a 5cm thick layer. Shredded newspaper, bark, groundnut shells, old leaves, uprooted weeds, even weeds that are growing, as long as the soil is protected.
By the way it is NOT a good idea to leave the hosepipe in the sun! It will slowly but surely become less flexible and more prone to kinks. And we know how annoying those are. So get into the habit of coiling unused hosepipes in a shady spot.