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What to do with Spring Bulbs After Bloom

Posted by Sarah Fellerer -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

With our spring weather, every spring bulb has long ago finished blooming and now only the foliage tops remain. Our early and long spring has left lots of time for the bulb foliage to grow and actually be taller than it normally would be. For some gardeners this poses no problems at all depending on where in the beds the bulbs are, for others that foliage is now about to be in the way when getting ready to plant summer annuals. If your bulbs were back from the bed edge, you likely have room to go ahead and plant your summer bedding plants without interference and can let the bulb foliage die down naturally.

It is important to understand why gardeners leave the foliage as long as possible. Those leaves produce the energy that is so important to replenish the bulb for flowering in 2013. That same energy is also used to create new bulblets off of the mature bulbs that will in a couple of years be flowering as well. This is how nature has intended bulbs to multiple. Leaving the foliage as long as possible ensures that bulbs will have the ability to provide us with many years of flowers and the bulbs increase in numbers. As a gardener who is trying to increase the number of spring bulbs, fertilizing now and watering if it gets hot and dry again will be very helpful before the foliage naturally turns yellow and browns and eventually collapsing.

A tip that is helpful is if your bulb flowers were pollenated and are now producing a seed pod is to remove the seed heads, directing that energy back into the bulb.

In the past gardeners have bent the foliage over and used garden string or a rubber band to contain the bulb foliage. Another practice has been to "braid" the leaves together for the same purpose. In both cases, those inner leaves are not able to receive any sunlight, resulting in no food production that can benefit the bulb. These practices are not recommended any longer.

This time of year the bulb foliage has begun to weep over and take up a lot of space. If you need to clear away foliage, scoop up the foliage from a bulb in one hand and use the pruners in the other to just cut enough foliage so it stands up again. This method works well with daffodils. Most likely you can plant around the tulip foliage without much of a problem since tulip foliage is minimal compared to that of daffodils. By leaving as much of the bulb foliage as possible, you provide a bit of a backdrop for your newly planted bedding plants and the bed will not look quite so empty or new looking.

Although not directly related to your spring bulbs yet bulb related is that the soil has warmed so it is time to plan on getting your summer bulbs set out. Summer bulbs are pretty generic these days to include true bulbs and also corms, tumors, and roots (Gladiolas, Calla Lily, Cannas, and the tropicals like Elephant Ears are a few examples.)

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