Planting Autumn Winter Bulbs With Andy Sturgeon

In gardeningease, the term ‘bulb’ usually refers to any bulbous plant which stores food underground in order to survive a dormant period during cold weather, or some adverse conditions like drought. True bulbs include daffodils and onions but corms, tubers, rhizomes and tuberous roots like dahlias are normally all lumped into the same group.

It’s easy to be tempted by a glossy picture on the packaging of some unknown and shrivelled brown thing inside a bag. There’s nothing wrong with these impulse buys because it is easy to squeeze in a few bulbs here and there, even in the most packed borders, but it’s always worthwhile reading up about their exact requirements before you plant them.

Cyclamen hederifolium and others coum
Eranthis hyemalis

Plant lilies and tulips and lift gladioli, lifting dahlias or covering. I think the rule with anything like this is to have backup. Propagate the plant by dividing the parent before replanting in spring and in subsequent years leave one or two in the ground and lift one or two for storage. However, this isn’t really a fool-proof plan because such is the weather in this country that you get lulled into thinking everything is fine for years, and then suddenly a really hard winter turns everything on its head and you lose dozens of plants, or at least I do anyway!


Anemone blanda
Scilla bifolia

How to…

Lift and store Dahlias

Now it depends whereabouts you live in the country and how prone your garden is to frost, but this month is the most usual time to lift and store the tuberous roots of Dahlias. In warmer areas they can be protected and left in the ground but most of us will need to dig them up and store them.

Step 1

The leaves become blackened at the ends by the first frosts and this is the time to lift them. With a fork, gently tease them out of the ground and carefully clean off most of the mud.

Step 2

Trim all the flower stems back to within about 10cm of the tubers and dry them upside down in trays, in a frost-free place.

Step 3

Trim away any straggly or unhealthy looking roots and give the tubers a dusting with yellow sulphur to protect them from mildew and other moulds.

Step 4

Store them in cardboard or wooden boxes. Stand them the right way up on a layer of dry sand or peat substitute and then cover the roots with more sand or peat substitute but be sure not to bury the crowns. Store in a cool, frost free place like a shed or garage.

Step 5

Every other year before planting, divide each plant into two or three pieces; each one with a bit of stem, a dormant bud and at least one swollen tuber. Plant up the tubers in late April or early May.

Around about this time of year…

Must Plant
Crocus sativus
Saffron crocus


In Autumn, this plant produces rich lilac starry or cupped shaped flowers with dark purple veins – when fully open these little plants give a fantastic display for the sometimes dull garden.


Best planted in large groups to get the maximum effect. The dull green grass like leaves are borne with or shortly after the flowers. Best grown in full sun in a gritty poor to moderately fertile, well drained soil. Or, if growing in a cold frame or cool conser – full light in equal parts of loam leaf mould and grit.


Plant the corms in July at a depth of 8-10cm. Also, when in flower watch out for birds and slugs… and believe ift or not mice that have a tenancy to eat the corms or snip off the heads!

Tell me more

The flowers give us saffron which is used in cooking and for dye in clothing. It is obtained from the deep red style and grows to about 5cm high by 5cm wide


The Spanish use it a lot nowadays for cooking and colouring foods (Spanish rice, bouillabaisse and tradinal saffron cakes and bread). Greek word krokos, derived from semitic karkom and one of the most ancient plant names.

Article provided by multi-award-winning landscape gardener Andy Sturgeon.


Author: Editor

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