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Caring for Spring Blooming Bulbs — After they Bloom

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Caring for Spring Blooming Bulbs — After they Bloom

Have you enjoyed those early and mid-spring blooms on your bulbs, only to wonder, “Okay, what do I do now?” Well, you’re smart to ask, because as it turns out, there are a number of things you can do to care for these blooming beauties after they’re done with their big performance. And certain bulbs have different requirements, so while it can seem a bit confusing, we’re here to help!

Should I feed bulbs after they bloom?

It’s important to remember to avoid fertilizing your spring flowering bulbs after they have started blooming as that practice can lead to bulb rot (which sounds good to literally nobody). You can, however, fertilize with a balanced fertilizer as soon as you see shoots emerging from the ground, and then again after they are done blooming (but while the leaves are still green) using a product like bone meal.

A note about tulips: It’s not necessary to fertilize tulips after blooming — they are often treated as annual bulbs, and don’t typically benefit from fertilizing after the first blooming season.

Should I deadhead spent flowers to encourage more bloom?

This depends upon the type of bulb you have. Here are some of the most popular spring blooming bulbs, and if you don’t see yours on this list, just do a quick internet search on deadheading that particular bulb.

Smaller bulbs like scilla, snowdrops, muscari, and crocus: These bulbs multiply by their seed as well as bulb offsets — and they’re usually the bulbs that naturalize, which is why so many gardeners love them. To give them a little rah-rah motivation, do not deadhead them — leave them be so the seeds can ripen.

Tulips: Go ahead and prune off spent flowers if you want the tulip to rebloom.

Daffodils: This one’s your personal choice — there’s no reason to leave the flowers on or to remove them, so if the spent flowers bother you, off with their heads!

Alliums: Some alliums are self-sowing. If you love that, cool — leave ‘em be. If you don’t, proceed with deadheading.

When should I cut back the bulb foliage?

You can cut the foliage back when it’s dry and brown or yellow. As long as they are green, the foliage is creating energy to use for next season’s growth and bloom, so even though it’s a bit unsightly you’ll have to hold yourself back. With smaller bulbs like snowdrops and squill or early-bloomers like chionodoxa and scilla, that foliage dies back pretty quickly so it likely won’t bother you too much — but larger bulbs like tulips and daffodils take a few weeks to fully die back.

But keep reading, because we have some tips about how to hide that unattractive foliage so you’re not prematurely tempted to break out the pruners.

How can I hide the foliage as it’s dying back?

There are several solutions that deal with the bulb’s foliage as it’s dying back — and they are all relatively easy.

  • Disguise it with other plants. Cover up that icky foliage with the pretty foliage of other plants like hostas, daylilies, or seasonal annuals. Keep in mind that these perennials and annuals need to be leafing out just a bit later in the spring season to do this job adequately.

  • Dig them up immediately after flowering. And after you dig them up — and this is important! — immediately replant them in a “holding station” bed until it’s time to dig them up and replant them in their “pretty area” in the fall. The holding station bed can be out of sight.

  • Turn a blind eye. We don’t mean that literally, but more like “plant the bulbs where they are not in a place where it will bother you to look at the foliage.” Places like a cutting garden, the vegetable garden, wilder flower gardens will do nicely. More public spaces (out in the front yard, for example) do well with Solutions #1 and #2.

  •  How do I divide clumps of bulbs after they bloom?

    First you’ll need to decide if you should divide them, as some spring flowering bulbs require occasional digging/dividing, while others are treated as annuals and simply composted. Because there are so many variations of this garden task, we’re just going to list some of the more popular spring blooming bulbs along with their individual digging/dividing requirements.

  • Daffodils: After 4-5 years, daffs get overcrowded and the blooms either decline or stop altogether. Gently dig the clump up, discard any that are mushy or damaged, and replant the rest in a roomier arrangement. 

  • Crocus: Every 2-3 years, lift and divide the corms up to 6 weeks after the plant is done blooming, then replant them immediately.

  • Snowdrops: No need to dig, divide, or replant these bloomers at all! 

  • Winter Aconite: Divide the clumps after they’re done flowering and replant, or collect seeds and sow in the fall. 

  • Hyacinth and Grape Hyacinth: Every couple of years, lift out those bulbs after the flowers start to fade, then gently separate the clumps. Replant immediately.

  • Tulips: Don’t bother. We don’t mean to sound harsh, because you know we love our tulips around here, but tulips typically put on their best show in their first season. If you want to repeat that spring show, plan to plant anew each fall — no digging, dividing, or storing required.
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    • Katie Elzer-Peters