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Niagara Falls
Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Growing Together: Time for tulips and other bulbs
After a bulb has bloomed, make sure you remove the seed head as soon as the petals have fallen.

We are now in prime bulb-blooming time. With the cooler weather, the flowers are lasting a bit longer.

All those bright colours sure catch the eyes and let you know that spring is here.

Many of the smaller bulbs such as snowdrops and crocus (planted closer to the surface) finished blooming.

The daffodils and grape hyacinths are still in full bloom and the tulips have just begun showing off their colours.

We still have the alliums, fritillarias, camassias and others yet to make their appearances. 

Hopefully, we still have a long bloom period ahead of us.  

So, once the bulbs have finished blooming, what happens to them next?

Usually, we just hack back the leaves to get them out of our way so that we can plant our annuals.

As I always say though, hacking is not a proper horticultural term, so don’t be too quick to get rid of the leaves.

After the bulb has bloomed, make sure you remove the seed head as soon as the petals have fallen.

The seed head is what’s left after the flower petals have dropped.  

If the seed heads remain on the plant, all the plants energy will go in to ripening the seed.

For a bulb, though, you want all the energy (food) to go back into the bulb — making it ready for next year’s flowers.

When cutting off the seed head, remove the complete flower stem, right back down to the leaves. 

This helps keep the plant looking tidier without a bunch of brown, dried stems sticking up.

Let the leaves remain there until they have completely turned yellow and have gone dormant.

The leaves, while still green, are still processing sunlight into food, through a process called photosynthesis.

So even though our purpose for growing the bulb is the flower, the leaves play a very important role of providing food for the bulb, ensuring that the bulb has everything it needs to have healthy blooms the following year.

As long as the leaves are green, the food is still in the leaf.

As soon as the leaves turn yellow that indicates that the food has now moved down back into the bulb.

It is also at this time the flower buds and leaves are set for the next season.

If the leaves are cut off prematurely it robs the bulb of the food that it needs resulting in smaller or no flowers for the next year.

The more food that the bulb receives, the bigger the flowers will be.

To help feed the bulb you can also be feeding after blooming with a fertilizer high in phosphorus such as bonemeal.

Most hardy bulbs (spring blooming bulbs) can be left in the same spot in the ground and will continue to come up year after year, giving you low maintenance, reliable flowers.

Sometimes even bulbs need a little help.

How often should you divide bulbs? That really depends on the flower.

As a rule, however, bulbs should be divided when they get so overcrowded that it’s noticeable.

As bulbs grow, they’ll put out little offshoot bulbs that cluster around them.

As these offshoots get bigger, the space that the bulbs have to grow starts to get too crowded, and the flowers stop blooming as vigorously.

If a patch of flowering bulbs is producing mainly leaves but not as many flowers as it did in the past, it means it is time to divide. This is likely to happen every three to five years.

When dividing bulb plants, it’s important to wait until the foliage dies back naturally.

The bulbs need the foliage to store up energy for next year’s growth.

Once the leaves have died, carefully dig up the bulbs with a shovel.

Each larger parent bulb should have several smaller child bulbs growing off it.

Gently pry off these child bulbs with your fingers.

Squeeze the parent bulb — if it’s not squishy, it is still healthy and can be replanted.

Replant your parent bulbs where they were and relocate your child bulbs to a new spot.

You can also store your new bulbs in a dark, cool, airy place until you’re ready to plant them again in the fall.

With just a little care, spring flowering bulbs can extend a month of interest in your garden year after year.

Get out and enjoy the beauty that bulbs provide.

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca

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