Debunking the Myths of Spring Flowering Bulbs - U of I Extension

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Debunking the Myths of Spring Flowering Bulbs

This article was originally published on October 13, 2017 and expired on November 1, 2018. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Come explore the myths of Planting Spring Bulbs according to University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup. Most gardeners know now is the time to plant your spring flowering bulbs. However, before you plant spring bulbs, read below where a few myths are revealed.

Myth: Spring bulbs require added nutrients, particularly phosphorous, at time of planting to promote good root growth and a greater number of flowers. Traditionally, gardeners will add bulb fertilizers and organic bone meal in the planting hole.

Truth: According to Washington State University, the plant roots relationship with mycorrhizal fungi may be more efficient in extracting phosphorous from the soil than adding bone meal. Mycorrhizal fungi are naturally occurring soil fungi that are believed to have a symbiotic relationship with plants. The addition of the bone meal actually prevents the organic acid from exuding at root tips, a condition that occurs in a lower phosphorous environment, preventing mycorrhizae from penetrating the roots. Mycorrhizae are adept in taking up phosphorous. Another factor to be considered is most soils have sufficient phosphorous for plant growth. When in doubt always get your soil tested.

Myth: Plant Daffodils and they keep multiplying and naturalizing without any additional garden maintenance.

Truth: Daffodils develop offsets, smaller bulbs that that grow around the original bulb. Eventually, these offsets will become overcrowded, diminishing the size of the flower. Divide daffodil clumps, after flowering and foliage ripening, and plant again immediately.  However, your best bet would be to buy new bulbs.

Myth: Daffodils are the only wildlife resistant bulb that a gardener can plant.

Truth: Daffodils may not be eaten by squirrels and rodents but can be dug up by them. Proper planting techniques can deter wildlife such as planting deep enough, watering in at time of planting and firming the soil. Deer and rabbits do not eat Siberian squill, grape hyacinth or hyacinths.

Myth: Bulb planters make light work.

Truth: Cultivating the soil with a spade 12-18” deep will be easier than using a bulb planter. The gardening rule of thumb is to plant bulbs 2-3 times the bulb is tall.  Growers should plant bulbs in clumps or drifts rather than lines for more pleasing design. In addition, growers should plant spring flowering bulbs in greater numbers to achieve optimal impact.

Myth: Spring flowering bulbs will not grow in shade.

Truth: Grape hyacinths, crocus, winter aconites, snowdrops, Siberian squill, and bluebells can be grown under deciduous trees. Snowdrops and Siberian squill will grow in the shade of an evergreen.

Myth: Gardeners must wait until foliage ripens and naturally dies back.

Truth: According to Washington State University, three to six weeks after the flower has faded the foliage has ripened, it has removed enough nutrients for next year’s floral display.

For more information on planting spring bulbs, check out the University of Illinois Extension “Bulbs and More” website ( For additional questions, please contact Kelly Allsup, Extension unit educator, Horticulture-Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Unit at (309) 663-8306 or email her at

Source: Kelly Allsup, Extension Educator, Horticulture,

Pull date: November 1, 2018