Spring bulbs are a welcome sight for the winter-weary soul.
Author Jean Hersey is quoted as saying, “I love planting bulbs. It is making promises with tomorrow, believing in the next year and the future.”
After the winter we had, they have never been more beautiful. There is something about seeing those fresh, green leaves start to push through the ground, only to be followed by the brilliant shades of yellows, reds, pinks and purples.
As the soil begins to warm up in the spring, the bulbs begin to emerge. It’s the smaller bulbs, such as snowdrops and crocuses, which are not planted as deep in the soil, that emerge first. As the soil warms deeper into the ground, the larger bulbs emerge.
When bulbs begin to grow in spring, it is a good time to feed them with an organic fertilizer that is high in phosphorus, such as bonemeal. The phosphorus helps to feed the roots and blooms.
After the bulb has finished flowering, make sure that you remove the seed head (including the flower stalk), but let the leaves remain there until they have completely turned yellow and have gone dormant.
It takes a lot of the bulbs energy to produce seed and that energy is better spent elsewhere.
At this stage, the leaves are processing sunlight, through photosynthesis, and turning the light into food for the bulb. This food is stored in the leaves for a time. If you cut off the leaves while they are still green, you are robbing the bulb of much-needed food.
Once the plant starts going dormant and the leaves start turning yellow, this is the signal that the food is now making its way back down into the bulb. This also is when the flower buds and leaves are set in the bulb for the next season.
If the leaves are cut off prematurely it robs the bulb of the food 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.
A lot of hardy bulbs can be left in the same spot and will come up year after year, giving you low-maintenance, reliable flowers. But 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 you start to notice they are not producing as many flowers or they don’t appear to be as vigorous.
As bulbs grow, they’ll put out little offshoot bulbs (baby bulbs) that cluster around them. As these offshoots get bigger, the bulbs start to get too crowded and the flowers stop blooming as vigorously.
If a patch of flowering bulbs is still producing leaves but are producing fewer flowers than in the past, that means it’s time to divide. This tends to happen every three to five years, especially with daffodils which are a bit more vigorous in nature.
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 bulbs growing off it. Gently pry off these bulbs with your fingers. Squeeze the parent bulb – if it’s not squishy, it is still healthy and can be replanted.
Make sure you replenish your soil with compost or composted manure before replanting your bulbs. If you are unable to replant the bulbs right away, you can also store your new bulbs in a dark, cool, airy place until you’re ready to plant them again.
Make sure you get out for a nice, long walk or drive and take time to enjoy the beauty of spring's bulbs.
Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca.