By the time you read this, most of the early tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and smaller spring-flowering bulbs will have finished blooming. The late season tulips are still going strong, but the rest are just happy memories and clusters of floppy leaves. Bulbs are pretty self-sufficient, and once planted usually come back year after year with no effort on your part. (With one exception: looking at you, tulips.) But give them a little attention after they’ve finished blooming and again in the fall, and you’ll ensure that next spring’s display is as beautiful as this year’s.
First things first: After the flowers have withered, cut the stems of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths off at the base. That’s because the plant will try to make seed, but seeds from these types of bulbs won’t ever amount to anything. Cutting off the spent flower and stem allows all the energy absorbed from the sun to go to fortifying the bulb for next year’s bloom.
But there’s always an exception: Some bulbs, like grape hyacinth (Muscari), glory of the snow (Chionodoxa), scilla, snowdrops (Galanthus), and crocus shouldn’t be deadheaded after they bloom. These will produce viable seed and self-sow, gradually increasing their numbers over the years and becoming that sea of color we all covet. Don’t cut the flowerheads of these species off.
Next, do nothing, at least for a while. You’ve probably read this a thousand times, but I’ll say it again for those in the back: No matter which types of bulbs you have, once they’re done blooming, do not remove the foliage while it is still green, no matter how ratty it looks. This includes delaying mowing if you have bulbs planted in a lawn. That foliage absolutely needs to stay until it withers. The leaves are absorbing sunlight, collecting energy so the bulb will flower the following year. No leaves = no flowers.
It can take six weeks or more for the foliage to die. Don’t try to pretty this stage up by tying, braiding, or otherwise gathering the foliage so that the surface of the leaves isn’t exposed to sunlight. That does the bulb no favors. You’ll know a bulb has finished ripening when the leaves are completely yellow and some come off in your hand when you pull on them.
Now mark your calendar. Flowering demands a lot from a bulb, and the nutrients it used need to be replenished. To ensure a florapalooza next year, set a date to feed the bulbs in fall and again early next spring. The University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service recommends using a bulb fertilizer or any 10-10-10 soluble fertilizer, plus two cups of bonemeal per ten square foot area in fall, and another soluble fertilizer feeding in spring when you see the shoots emerging. Don’t feed the plants while they are flowering.
Hopefully you took notes and photos during the spring bloom and evaluated what worked and what didn’t in your bulb scheme, where you might need more color or texture, and where blooms harmonized or clashed with their neighbors. This way you can refine your design and plant more of what worked if you need to.
Give your bulbs a little post-flowering TLC, and they’ll return to wow you again next year.
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