How to Water Bulbs
If you’re new to growing flowering bulbs, some of the care may seem a little confusing to you. After all, bulbs grow a little differently than other types of plants like trees, perennials, and annuals. It’s amazing, really—everything that bulb needs to flourish is right there, stored in its round casing.
And although bulb care is actually quite simple, it’s still different. And sometimes when plant care is different than what we’re used to, we tend to overdo it and love on that plant a little too much (like overly-cared-for houseplants that get watered every day). So, we recently spoke with Jim Threadgill, owner of Easy to Grow Bulbs, and he gave us his best tips for growing bulbs, starting with how to water them.
Don’t you just water? What’s the big deal?
Nope, not really. According to Jim, if you water incorrectly or at the wrong time, you will not only end up with fewer blooms, you might rot the bulb out altogether and kill it. Now, don’t let that scare you—what we’re talking about here is watching for a progression of the foliage life cycle, and that will tell you what to do:
- The Golden Rule for Watering: If you can’t see the foliage, don’t water the bulb.
- Water thoroughly after planting: This refers to bulbs planted outside in the garden. Bulbs grown indoors are a bit different—amaryllis take hardly any water after planting until you see little sprouts emerging, and paperwhites like moisture in order to get going, then consistent watering after that.
- Watch the foliage: After the bulb is done blooming, the foliage will change colors. It’ll start off green and then go to yellow, then brown. As it’s going from yellow to brown, start backing off with your watering.
- Cut and stop: Once the foliage is brown and dead, you can cut the foliage back. And once you do that, stop watering altogether. Remember, no foliage, no watering.
- Be prepared to experiment: If you have an automatic irrigation system, you may need to tinker with it to get it on the right setting for your bulbs. Don’t assume that what’s good for your perennials and grass is also good for your bulbs.
Are there any exceptions to these rules?
Again, no, not really. The only exception is how much water the bulb needs when you are actively watering it. There are bulbs that love, love, love lotsa water, those that love consistently moist soil, and others that are fairly dry and drought tolerant.
So, just like with any other type of plant, you’ll need to understand that particular bulb’s watering needs in terms of how much water it likes. Here are the bookends to how much water bulbs like, and remember—if you have a bulb that isn’t on either of those short lists, then aim to keep the soil moisture even, like a wrung-out sponge.
- Drought tolerant bulbs: Agapanthus, Bearded Iris, Belladonna Lilies, Crinum, Haemanthus, Ismene, Ixia, Kniphofia, Tuberose
- Prefers or tolerates wet feet: Astrantia, Aztec Lily, Japanese Iris
Anything else I need to know?
Those are the basics, but if you want to become a Bulb-Watering Ninja, read How to Water Bulbs (And Your Favorite Plants) and Watering: Too Much of a Good Thing? on our blog. Between those two blog posts and this one, you’ll learn how to expertly judge the amount of water your bulbs and other plants are getting, how to quickly adjust, and some additional tips and tricks that we’ve learned over the years.
As with any new information that’s being learned, you might want to read over this a few times until it starts to “gel” in your brain. Then, after a while, you’ll know it like the back of your hand and become an expert like Jim Hightower. Just kidding. Nobody’s an expert like Jim is, but we’re glad to be able to learn from him!
- Katie Elzer-Peters