bulb-growing basics: a springtime recap
THEY’RE ONE OF SPRING’S best garden performers: flower bulbs. But what if your daffodils have no flowers (or very few), or the animals dug up or ate your tulips and you want a solution for the future? A springtime recap of bulb-growing basics, to answer some of the most common flower-bulb questions I’m being asked right now:
When do I feed flower bulbs? Generally feed bulbs when their foliage pokes through the ground, in early spring, with an all-natural organic formula labeled for bulbs. You basically topdress the area; that is, sprinkle it and maybe scratch it around gently at most, but don’t work it in roughly, so as not to harm the bulbs, but let the fertilizer mellow gradually itself. Don’t forget to feed your garlic bulbs in the vegetable garden, too.
When can I cut off flower bulb foliage? Don’t trim back foliage until the bulb is done with it—until the foliage fades naturally, nourishing the bulb below in the process. If the bulbs didn’t need its foliage it would wither it sooner itself. Be patient, because trimming back foliage too soon is one possible reason for skimpy bloom. Speaking of which…
Why aren’t my daffodils blooming as well as they used to? Flower bulbs can fail to bloom well because of various factors, including too little light, too little moisture during active growth months, too much competition with tree roots for moisture and nutrients,too much Nitrogen, failure to allow the foliage to ripen naturally, and more. The details on when bulbs fail to bloom properly (above).
When do I dig and divide overcrowded bulbs? There are two opinions here: “in the green” (meaning while the foliage is still active and on the plants) and after ripening (when the foliage has browned naturally). The American Daffodil Society says dig daffodils after the foliage ripens (for me with Narcissus, that’s about July 4) and transplant then. Or, they say, you can dig after the foliage withers, then store until fall in mesh bags in a dry, not-sunny spot (like in the garage) and replant at that time. A lot of expert friends I know like to transplant “in the green” because it’s easier to see where the bulbs are, but if you damage/remove the leaves in the process, the bulb doesn’t get fed by the full weeks of photosynthesis that intact leaves are meant to perform. “In the green” relocation is probably best with minor bulbs (snowdrops, for instance, are one such example).
Squirrels dug up my crocus. Now what? Many bulbs—tulips. lilies, crocus, and more–are favorites of animals. I don’t think planting in underground cages or spreading blood meal or any such tactic it truly effective. Time instead for investigating animal-resistant flower bulbs instead. Here’s my list (which includes snowdrops, scilla, alliums, winter aconite, daffodils and many more beauties). And here’s why I have given up on crocus entirely, plus a slideshow of some of the many animal-resistant bulbs I grow.
When can nonhardy bulbs such as dahlias and cannas be planted outside? I don’t like to expose tender bulbs such as my overwintered cannas (above) to any chance of frost, and they don’t like the cold ground. So rather than pushing them out the door I pot them up in the barn (a bit warmer that outside) a month or so ahead of my frost-free date, like this (a story and slideshow).
Have more flower-bulb questions? All my flower-bulb Frequently Asked Questions and answers are on this page.