The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Bulbs That Refuse to Bloom

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

We have had a glorious spring for flowers. Even the magnolias that usually get hit with frost were able to put on a full show. Even with springs like this year sometimes plants such as tulips and daffodils just don't bloom. There are many reasons why bulbs may fail to bloom so put on your Sherlock Holmes cap and see which one of these maybe your answer.

With new bulbs planted last fall:

  • If no foliage appeared this spring then either voles or squirrels got the bulbs or the bulbs rotted from excessively wet soils. Dig the area to determine the problem.

If foliage appeared but no flowers:

  • Bulbs were small size when planted. With bulbs, bigger is better. Purchase the biggest bulbs for the variety that you can afford. Usually small bulbs will eventually get big enough to flower.

  • Bulbs may need to be fertilized. Although in our soils, I doubt this is the problem but fertilizing will help to increase the size of the bulb. Bulbs can be fertilized with a broadcast of 5-10-10 fertilizer granules at planting, when leaves emerge, and again after flowering.

  • Bulbs have been overfed with a high-nitrogen fertilizer (the first number on the bag). Don't use lawn fertilizer on flowers. Nitrogen encourages leaf production sometimes at the expense of flowers.

  • Bulbs are planted in too shady of an area. Most bulbs need at least 6-8 hours of sun.

  • Bulbs are in competition for nutrients with other plants. Evergreen trees and fast growing plants may cause too much crowding and shading. Hostas are nice bulb companions since hostas emerge slowly in spring.

  • Bulbs are planted in an area with poor drainage. Most bulbs love moisture but hate constantly wet soils. The bulbs may rot or the leaves may appear yellow and weak.

  • The bulbs leaves were cut too soon the previous year. In other words your spouse got tired of mowing around them. Bulbs need the leaves after bloom to replenish the bulb. Once the leaves yellow, they may be removed. It is ok if you want to braid, rubber band or otherwise tie the leaves. It's certainly better than removing the leaves completely.

  • Bulbs may be stressed from transplanting. Bulbs as well as many other perennials sometimes do not bloom the year after transplanting. Just give them time.

  • Sometime bulbs can get a virus. Over time, an infected plant loses its vigor, puts up smaller, weakened leaves and stems, stops blooming, and finally dies. Most of the time the virus will show up as streaking or mottled yellow on the leaves. Virus can be passed to other bulbs so it's better to dig up and destroy virused bulbs.

  • Poor growing conditions the previous spring may cause bulbs not to bloom. An early dry hot spell may make it difficult for the plant to properly replenish the bulb.

  • Bulbs may have been growing in the same area for many years and need to be divided. Bulbs can be dug and divided once the leaves yellow this spring. Replant soon after digging. No need to wait until fall to replant.

  • The bulbs just don't like you. Give them to a friend and they will bloom profusely.

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