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Planting Bulbs in Clay Soil – How to Help Them Thrive

While clay soil may be extremely nutrient-dense, it’s also known for having poor drainage in the winter and a lack of moisture retention in the summer. As you can imagine, this can pose a problem for many bulbs, especially those that don’t do well in overly wet conditions. Even worse, the heaviness of clay soil can prevent flower bulbs from properly growing and multiplying.

Don’t worry – this doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your dreams of a flower-filled garden. Instead, follow these tips on how to deal with clay soil when planting bulbs.

Improve Drainage in Your Planting Holes

While you may not have the time or budget to amend the soil throughout your garden, it’s easy to do this in each individual hole that you plant a bulb into. 

Start by digging each hole a little deeper than you usually would – aim for a depth of around 20cm. Then, add 5cm of gravel to the hole, followed by a 5cm layer of a 50/50 mix of sand and garden soil. On top of this, place your bulb, before covering it over with the same sand and soil mix. 

This will help to drastically improve drainage, preventing water from pooling around your bulbs and causing them to rot. 

Apply a Winter Mulch

During the winter, the ground repeatedly freezes and thaws. Clay soil experiences this more than other soil types. This can cause new bulb roots to break off, after which many won’t regrow. 

The best way to keep the temperature of your soil consistent is with the use of an organic mulch. Wait until you’ve had your first freeze before laying it down. Your bulbs should then shoot through this the following season. As the mulch breaks down, it’ll also help to restructure your clay soil and improve drainage.

Choose Suitable Bulbs for Clay Soil

Some bulbs, such as tulips, alliums, and hyacinths, need relatively dry and well-drained conditions, meaning that they’ll struggle to thrive in clay soil. However, other bulbs take well to the rich and moist conditions offered by clay soil. They’ll make the most of all of those nutrients and will clump out beautifully. 

Some of the best bulbs for planting in clay soil are: 

  • Camassias 
  • Fritillaria meleagris 
  • Campernelles 
  • Jonquil daffodils 
  • Traditional snowdrops
  • Leucojum 
  • Byzantine gladiolus

Don’t forget – bulbs don’t have to be planted in the ground. They do well in pots or raised beds too, so even if your favorite bulbs aren’t suitable for clay soil, you’ll still be able to grow them in your garden. 

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