This section is from the book "Handbook Of Hardy Trees, Shrubs, And Herbaceous Plants", by W. Botting Hemsley. Also available from Amazon: Handbook of hardy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.
- The bulb of a Tulip is termed a timicated bulb, from its being clothed with membranous scales. It never flowers but once, and attains maturity in about three years. A more complete description of its different stages of development will be found at pp. 495-6. From its solid compact structure it will bear storing away out of the ground for several months. This practice is usually resorted to where Tulips are used for bedding, as it then leaves the bed quite free for its summer occupants. But if the bulbs are taken up before the leaves have turned yellow, they are likely to shrivel and become useless, on account of their not having reached maturity. A better plan to pursue, perhaps, where they are bedded, and it is desirable to preserve the bulbs, is to plant them in such a manner as to permit of the summer bedding plants being placed between them. Sometimes they are taken up and replanted in another place to complete their growth; but they rarely turn out so well, even if the greatest care be exercised in their removal. In the mixed border they may be left undisturbed for three or four years, and then they can be lifted at the proper time, about the end of June. When they are taken up they should be exposed to the air in the shade until they are dry, when they may be stored away in any dark place free from dampness, They should be spread out on shelves; and the only other care needed is protection from mice. The best time for planting is from the beginning to the end of July, according to the climate of the locality. If planted too early they will start, and the leaves will be injured by frost. Tulips prefer a deep sandy loam, with an admixture of leaf-mould and rotten manure to give them vigour. But the most important condition is perfect drainage, without which the bulbs are liable to rot; and this may be said to hold good for nearly all bulbous plants. Where the soil is not naturally sandy, it is desirable to add a little sand with the other ingredients, and to place some immediately around the bulbs when planting them. The bulbs should be planted at a depth of about three inches from the surface of the soil. We need not enter into the question of colour and other considerations to be observed in planting, as we have gone into that in detail in another place. The same soil and treatment will answer equally well-for the Hyacinth, except that the bulbs should be planted a little earlier, and at a depth of about five inches. The Hyacinth bulb differs materially from the Tulip bulb, being polycarpic, that is, flowering more than once. The various species of Narcissus, Crocus, and many other genera may also be included here. The only deviation is in the period of planting and lifting, which varies for different species. The rootstocks of the tuberous-rooted English and Spanish Irises should not be kept out of the ground longer than is necessary, as they soon shrivel and lose their vitality. It may be mentioned here that the leaves of bulbous plants should not be cut off, even when the plants are left in the ground, before they have done their work and dried up; but the old flower-stems may be removed without doing any injury.
The numerous species and varieties of the showy genus Gladiolus in cultivation will succeed in a heavier soil than most of the plants of this class. But good drainage and rich soil are essential conditions to obtain fine flowers. Tulips, Hyacinths, and by far the largest proportion of bulbous plants, flower in spring; but the Gladioluses are all of them summer-flowering. The familiar G. communis and G. Byzantinus are quite hardy border plants, succeeding well in almost any soil. The hybrid varieties also will bear our winters if planted at a depth of six inches; but the common practice is to take them up as soon as the leaves begin to decay, and replant them again in early spring. Some time during the latter part of March or beginning of April is the best time for planting, and they may be lifted in October or November, according to the season. The bulbs should be thoroughly dry before they are stored away, and they require a dry airy place, where the frost does not penetrate. The bulblets which are so freely produced by some varieties will bear frost with impunity when they are young, and consequently they may be replanted in autumn. But as they reach maturity they become tender. They will flower about the second or third year, according to the treatment they receive. In any except very sheltered situations these beautiful flowers require support, or they are likely to be broken off by rough winds. The different varieties vary considerably in height, from about eighteen inches to three, or even four feet; but these particulars will be found in the descriptive catalogues of growers. We have said nothing as to distance of planting these and other bulbs apart, because this depends entirely upon the object in view. Where it is desirable to grow fine strong flower-spikes for exhibition, naturally more space must be allowed; but for massing they are usually planted close enough to fairly cover the ground. In the former case, a foot or even eighteen inches apart each way is no more than sufficient. It is as well, where convenient, to change the ground for these and other bulbs, for they will flourish better in a fresh soil.
The culture of the numerous Cape bulbs, such as the species of Ixia, Sparaxis, Watsonia, etc., in. the open air is very limited, and only practicable in favourable localities; a deep warm dry soil and a sheltered situation being indispensable. And then they must be planted about six inches deep to enable them to resist sharp frosts. But ever so little protection with dry litter or some readily portable material will suffice, and the brilliant and unusual combinations of colours displayed by many of them will amply repay the little extra labour they entail.