Tips for Growing Bulbs

Caring for the Bulbs in Your Garden

Cutting a lily stem prevents stem rot.
Cutting a lily stem prevents stem rot.

Bulbs are unique plants that require a few special gardening approaches. The following tips will help you grow healthy, beautiful flowers.

  • Soak fall-planted bulbs for 12 hours in warm water before planting. This moisturizing method works with tunicate-type bulbs (neatly enclosed round or teardrop-shaped bulbs) and is not suitable for lily or other bulbs with loose, fleshy scales. Soaking allows suitable bulbs to absorb enough water to begin growth immediately, saving two or three weeks of time. This is particularly helpful in northern climates, where early-arriving winter weather limits leisurely rooting.
  • Divide or fertilize crowded daffodils to increase their bloom. Daffodils that have multiplied to form a large clump may have depleted the soil nutrients and riddled all the rooting space in the process. The result may be plenty of green leaves but few or no flowers. The solution is as easy as fertilizer or as down-to-earth as division.
  • Start by applying fertilizer. Slow-release bulb fertilizers can be used in fall for good root growth and continued effectiveness in early spring. Or you can use an all-purpose, balanced fertilizer when growth begins in the spring.
  • To divide daffodils, dig up the bulbs as the foliage fades. Separate old and new bulbs, refresh the soil with organic matter, and replant with generous spacing.
  • Remove the bulbils from the stems of lilies and plant them to make new plants. These bulbils, or secondary bulbs, look like small, dark berries but contain no seeds at all. They are similar to miniature bulbs and have the ability to sprout into new plants. Give them a chance, and watch them grow.
  • Cut lily stems to the ground in fall to avoid stem rot. It's better to be safe than sorry!
  • Leave bulb foliage loose to ripen properly. Cutting off the foliage before it yellows severs bulbs' food supply and weakens them. Putting daffodils in bondage by tying up their leaves also reduces food production and makes them more prone to disease attack. Taking care of bulb foliage, even though the bloom is gone, helps ensure more flowers in the years to come.
  • Cut the tall, spent stems of tulip flowers down to the first leaf. This removes the old flower, an important task called deadheading. It also leaves the attractive broad foliage to ripen in the garden as nature intended.
  • Store tender bulbs in vermiculite or peat to keep them from drying out. These materials are a packing cushion and more. They help keep the bulbs from drying out and rotting. Peat moss, which is naturally disease-resistant, is particularly good for this job.
  • Dig the bulbs when the soil is relatively dry so they won't emerge caked with mud. Gently brush off any extra soil, and remove any old vegetation. Throw out any damaged bulbs.

In the final section, we'll talk about avoiding rodents and disease when growing 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.