Haven’t the spring bulbs this year just been glorious? With the cooler weather, the flowers decided to extend their stay, making for a very colourful spring season.
There is something about seeing those early spring flowers that just puts a smile on your face.
Recently, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Horticultural Society arranged a trip for their members to visit the TASC You Pick Tulip Farm on Balfour Street in Fenwick.
It is 25 acres of land with more than 2 million tulip bulbs planted: Talk about a spectacular sight.
The timing of our visit to the Tulip Farm was perfect, with the majority of the plants in full bloom, and enhanced by a flowering cherry orchard as its perfect backdrop.
As I was walking through the field of flowers, literally “tip-toeing through the tulips,” I was thinking about how low the maintenance level of bulbs truly is.
Here are a few care tips:
Most of the spring bulb varieties are just finishing to bloom such as the daffodils, hyacinths, snowdrops, scillas and tulips, but don’t be too quick to cut them right back.
After the plants have finished flowering, make sure you remove the seed heads (the spent bloom) including the flower stem.
Let the leaves remain there until they have completely turned yellow and have one dormant.
It takes a lot of the bulb’s energy to produce seed, energy 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 signals the food is making its way back down into the bulb.
It is also at this time 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 food it needs, resulting in smaller or no flowers next year.
The more food the bulb receives, the bigger the flowers will be. This is critical to maintaining the bulb’s overall health.
When the bulbs have finished blooming for the season and while the leaves are still green, fertilize them with an organic fertilizer high in phosphorus (middle number) such as bonemeal.
This will help feed the roots and help flower buds form, readying them for next year’s show.
Once the leaves have turned yellow or brown, you can cut or gently pull them out. Be careful not to pull the bulbs out.
Spring bulbs can be left in the same spot and will come up year after year, giving you low-maintenance, reliable flowers.
Sometimes, even bulbs need a little help and may need to be divided.
As a rule, 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, called baby bulbs, clustering around them. As these offshoots get bigger, the bulbs start to get too crowded and the plant stops blooming as vigorously.
This tends to happen every three to five years, especially with daffodils, which are a bit more vigorous in nature.
When dividing bulbs, it’s important to wait until the foliage dies back naturally.
Dig up the entire patch. Gently pry off these smaller bulbs with your fingers. Squeeze the parent bulb – if it’s not squishy, it is still healthy and can be replanted.
When replanting, space the bulbs out so they are not touching each other.
Make sure that you replenish your soil with compost or composted manure and bonemeal 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.
These simple steps will keep your bulbs performing for you for years to come.
Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca.