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How to grow freesias

Sarah instructs us on how to grow freesias and her tips and tricks for succesful planting and cultivation of this beautiful plant with a gorgeous fragrant flower. Find out when is best to plant freesias, how to plant freesia bulbs in a pot and ways to care for your freesia plant throughout the year.

❀ How to grow freesias

Prepared freesias can be planted into the ground or in pots, from April to July, to flower this summer and autumn. Plant them inside in autumn for flowering from January to April.

- In the ground

Plant the corms 1-2in deep, 3-4in apart, in a well-drained spot, in sun or light shade. Add plenty of organic matter to improve thin soils. When the plants are up and growing, feed them with a potash-rich feed – comfrey pellets or whatever you would use for tomatoes.

When they are putting down roots and actively growing, reliable, gentle heat and regular watering is what they love, not baking sun, so light shade is a bonus.

- In pots

Plant six bulbs, pointy end upwards (again at 1-2 in deep) in a 13cm/5in pot, or spaced at that equivalent in a larger pot. They like a rich, loam-based compost (which I expect explains why they do well on my heavy soil) with a little extra grit added for drainage. Go for about two thirds compost, one third grit.

Water regularly and keep them moist and shaded at all times – a cold greenhouse or conservatory is ideal. Once the corms start to sprout, move the pots into full sunlight and keep watering. When the buds show colour, you can bring them indoors. If they have been planted in good soil or compost they will not require feeding.

- Support

Both in the garden and in pots, they will need support to keep the foliage and flowering stems upright as they grow. In pots I use special round supports, which are held on a central cane, but a triangle or square of canes would do the job just as well. In the garden, I use twiggy end branches of silver birch or hazel.

- Care

Freesias are not fully hardy, so you are usually recommended to lift the plants in the autumn, either when the leaves yellow, or after the first frost. Cut the stems back to 1in and allow the corms to dry. Remove the old, shrivelled portion, keeping only the new plump corms. These store easily in peat or sand. Keep them in a cool, dry, frost-free place. Plant again, when the ground begins to warm in late April. Stagger plantings to extend the flowering season.

- Once cut

The yellows, blues and whites have a longer vase-life than the reds and pinks, with some lasting 3 weeks when cut in bud. Either bought or home-made, flower food is worth it with freesias. Use one teaspoon of thick bleach and two of a thick sugar syrup to 1 litre of water, or two small flower food sachets. This extends the vase life by as much as 20%, helps the buds to develop and is said to enhance scent.

My experience of growing freesias and choosing good corms 

Freesias were my best gardening success in 2011. They can be a washout if you start with corms that have been sitting around too long in their bag, so that all life's juices have been drawn out of them. I had tried growing "garden varieties" a couple of times with hopeless results. The odd leaf emerged, but not a single flower.

Then in the spring of 2011, I visited a freesia grower in Holland who explained that to flower reliably, the corms must be professionally heat-prepared and then stored carefully until planting. They need to be subjected to the dormancy-breaking heat treatment – an average of 12 weeks at 30C (86F) after lifting – and then kept at not much below this until the frosts are over and they make it into the ground. This – he said, with the so-called “prepared corms” – mimics what they would find in their native Cape in South Africa and ensures good growing and flowering.

So, I came back from Holland with several bags and waited for the frosts to be almost certainly over. I then started planting a batch of about 20 corms every two to three weeks from late April until July. Most went into an east-facing border against a hawthorn hedge, a partially shaded spot in the cutting garden, although I also planted some up in a few pots for scattering around the greenhouse.

Buy these prepared and carefully-selected freesia corms on SarahRaven.com.

Flowers begin to appear

I had almost given up and thought that, yet again, all I would get were their veiny, flattened, crocosmia-like leaves. But four months later (that’s what they take – about 100 to 120 days from planting), the first freesia flowers began to appear. And then you couldn’t stop them. They flowered their socks off, with the latest batch continuing to produce new spikes after the first hard frost. The flowers were then marked by the cold, but kept on coming until I lifted most and dried them off inside.

The pots in the greenhouse fared slightly less well. Based on having seen them growing in the wild, I had imagined they liked intense heat once growing, but the light shade of the garden hedge seemed to suit them well, and I now know that if grown in a greenhouse, they are happiest with a bit of shading, particularly in the early stages.

In December, we lifted most, but not all the corms, mulching a few lines deeply, leaving them where they were. I’m hoping that freesias may do as dahlias do in my garden and, given enough winter insulation (that’s a good 6-8in of mulch to protect against frost), they’ll survive left in the ground.

Beauty for the vase

They are often the only cut flower I buy, because I love their perfume and longevity in the vase so much I cannot resist them. The whites and yellows have the strongest perfume, with the deep reds next, followed by the pinks and mauves.

I love arranging them in one of two ways: either jumbled up together, a mixed bunch in a strong-coloured vase, or separated out and spread right down the middle of a table as a series of single stems.

However, buying them always makes me feel rather decadent and guilty when I have plenty of home-grown flowers in the garden, ready and waiting to be picked. There are too many air or road miles involved, plus serious heating costs that go into most commercially grown freesias, to make them an environmentally sound choice. Now I at least have the possibility of picking my own from July to October/November.