Tips for Growing Bulbs

Working with Bulbs Year-Round

Store bulbs for the winter in plastic storage box with a layer of
Store bulbs for the winter in plastic storage box with a layer of

Bulbs can bloom from early spring until late summer, but they require a bit of year-round tending. The following tips will help you maintain healthy bulbs throughout the seasons.

  • Plant spring-flowering bulbs to give early seasonal color to lifeless perennial beds. While the perennials are just beginning to stir and arise, the bulbs are decked with color. As the bulbs are fading, the perennials are beginning to come on strong. It is an ideal partnership.
  • Plan ahead to find the best place for interplanting bulbs with perennials. Although they bloom in the spring, early flowering bulbs must be planted in the fall. They look best set in clumps around or between perennials such as hardy geraniums, daylilies, and Siberian irises that don't need frequent division (which would disrupt the bulbs).
  • Don't wait until the bulbs arrive in October. Mark ideal planting places with a tag or stake in spring or summer, when your existing bulbs are blooming and clumps of perennials are still small. Later in the autumn, when the perennials are dormant, you'll already have the best planting places marked.
  • Dig cold-sensitive tropical bulbs such as cannas and caladiums before the first fall frost to prevent damage to the bulbs. Damaged bulbs are likely to rot in winter storage. Dig cold-tolerant tender bulbs such as dahlias and gladiolus after a light frost has killed the foliage. Point the shovel blade -- not the handle -- straight down into the soil when digging bulbs. This prevents the shovel from angling into nearby bulbs and slicing them in half.
  • In the spring, take dahlia rhizomes out of storage. Cut the crown longitudinally into several pieces, each with at least one rhizome and growth bud. Now each division can act as an independent plant. Divide dahlias to make more plants every year.
  • Dahlias contain underground food-storing rhizomes -- a modified form of stem that looks a little like a potato. The rhizomes connect to a central stalklike crown, which contains all the growth buds. Look closely to find the small scaly bumps or sprouts that indicate where a new shoot will arise. Both rhizomes and shoots are necessary for a new division to succeed.
  • Prestart dahlias indoors six weeks before the last spring frost arrives so you can have extra-early flowers. Plant the tubers in large nursery pots filled with compost-enriched peat-based potting mix. Put the pots in a warm, bright location. The plants will begin rooting and sprouting. Dahlias can stay in large pots all summer, as long as you keep the soil moist and add extra fertilizer. Or you can transplant them outdoors into the garden when the danger of spring frosts pass.
  • Mark the location of bulbs with a stake, stick, rock, or tag so you know where they are while they're dormant. Without an above-ground reminder, it's easy to dig into the bulbs by mistake when planting other flowers or vigorously hoeing out weeds.
  • Cover large patches of bulbs with a ground cover that will fill the void when the bulbs go dormant. Bulbs brighten the ground cover in spring, and the ground cover helps keep the bulbs cool and dry in summer. You may need to fertilize more often since twice the amount of plants will be growing in the same space.

In the next section, we'll give you some great ideas for displaying your bulbs.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.