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Lifespan Of Flowering Bulbs

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Lifespan Of Flowering Bulbs

All flowering bulbs are not created equal. They’re all equally gorgeous, of course, but some are short-lived while others come back year after year. Then there’s the question of how long any bulb can live out of the ground (because we know we’re not the only ones who forgot to plant those daffodils last fall, right?). So the lifespan of your bulbs depends upon a few different factors, and we’re about to break all that down for you!

The Lifespan of Flowering Bulbs

No matter what you do, some flowering bulbs will only bloom for a season while others continue to bloom for years on end. It’s the nature of each type of bulb, and understanding that will help you plan your garden with realistic expectations. It also shields you from heartache and guilt that your tulip didn’t rebloom from last year — you didn’t do anything wrong, you’re not a bad gardener, and the tulip isn’t defective. It’s just being a tulip. 

  • Short-lived bulbs: Most properly planted and cared-for bulbs will flower well for 3-5 years and beyond, but some thrive only for a couple of years or even one season before needing to be replaced. These include tulips, freesia, Dutch iris, and ranunculus. This blog post will help you understand perennial vs. annual bulbs.
  • Long-lived bulbs: Many bulbs come back year after year, often spreading out and naturalizing along the way. If you want the most bang for your gardening buck, choose flowering bulbs/tubers/corms like daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, muscari, fritillaria, and iris. Some tulips will return dependably for a number of years, but they will be the species tulips rather than those that have been bred for larger and more colorful blooms. 

Shelflife of Unplanted Bulbs

Let’s say you ordered a bunch of lily bulbs and then life got in the way and they did not get planted. Someone got sick, you had a baby, your new job required you to travel more. Whatever the reason, those lilies are in their package, gnawing away at a corner of your brain. It’s time to open the package up and take a look inside; it’s the only way you’ll know.

Healthy, viable bulbs are firm and plump. Any bulb that is mushy and soft is rotten, and any bulb that is very dry, withered, or disintegrating is beyond its prime. Neither will grow. Toss them into the compost pile and console yourself with the fact that they will contribute to your garden’s growth and beauty in a different form.

Most bulbs will still flower if they were left out for up to a year unplanted. But realize that with every passing season, while it’s still possible that they could grow and flower, their growth might be weaker and flower production and size will continue to go down. So, plan to plant them as soon as possible, or simply get ‘em in the ground when you’re able and just enjoy what growth pops up.

Increasing the Lifespan of Your Flowering Bulbs

  1. Choose the healthiest bulbs you can from the very beginning. If you have the ability to hand pick your bulbs, go for those that are plump and firm. If you’re ordering them, go with an established company like Easy to Grow Bulbs that has a great track record for sending out quality bulbs. Bulbs that are healthy from the beginning bloom better and longer.
  2. Choose the largest bulbs you can from the very beginning. Larger bulbs produce more flowers and are stronger and more robust. Read more about bulb size here!
  3. Plant your bulbs in the best location. If your bulbs need a sunny location and well-drained soil (that’s most of them), then avoid planting them in water-logged shade. Makes sense, right?
  4. Store them properly. Not all bulbs need to be dug up and stored, but if yours do, storing them properly helps keep them healthy and strong for next year’s growth. Read this blog post to find out if yours need to be stored and how to do it.
  5. Divide the bulbs that need dividing at the right time. Every 2-3 years, many bulbs will have naturalized enough so that the clump is slightly overgrown. That’s the time you’ll want to dig them up, divide them, and then replant. This will extend the life and increase the bloom of those bulbs including alliums, agapanthus, dahlias, daffodils, tulips, irises, and freesias. (Note: Some of those mentioned are actually tubers or corms rather than bulbs, but they are divided in a similar fashion.).

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  • Jenny Peterson