How long can daylilies stay out of the ground?

Daylilies blooming in my garden, here at Whimsey Hill.

Daylilies are probably one of the most dependable and easiest to grow of all the Summer flowers. The Daylily is also called the Hemerocallis. It is called the daylily, because its flowers only bloom for one day. The nice thing about it, is that there are many flower buds on its scape (stem), so you have flowers for a long period of time.

Daylilies come in a wide range of colors, from white to almost black, and many tones of yellow, orange, red, and pink. The only color they don’t come in, so far, is a true blue. As for height, they can be kind of short stemmed like the Stella de Oro, or have an almost 5 foot scape / stem like the wild orange variety that grows along the road.

Daylilies come solid, multi-colored, and can be single or double petaled. They also can bloom early, in the middle, and late in the gardening season. Some are even repeat bloomers.

Buying and Planting Daylilies …Daylilies can be purchased at places like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, K-Mart etc, as well as Garden Centers, and through Mail Order Catalogs. When buying plants from garden centers, and the big hardware and discount stores, they will most likely come potted up in soil, in a one gallon pot. Buy the one with the most greenery (fans) as possible. If you purchase one that already produced multiple fans, it is an older plant, and at that moment, you could divide it, if you wanted. Each of the fans is really one individual plant.

Years ago I purchased a number of Daylily Collections from different mail order companies. Collections are one or more of a grouping of plants. One of the collections was an assortment of pink colored daylilies from the White Flower Farm, in Litchfield, Ct.

Sometimes you will be surprised how SMALL, but Healthy, the plants that you purchase from a mail order company can be. Years ago I ordered 27 daylilies (maybe 4 collections), from a certain well-known company, that shall remain nameless. When the plants arrived, they were all sent bare root (not in any kind of soil), and tagged for what variety they were. They all looked healthy, but each of the 27 plants were the size of my baby finger. The 27 plants arrived in a box the size of a shoe box.

Planting Daylilies …Plant daylilies in full sun (6 plus hours of direct sun a day) to partial shade (4 hours of sun a day), in an area of average to fertile, well-drained soil.

Most daylily planting tags say space the plants about 18 inches apart. I think this is too close. If you plant them that way, you will have to divide them after, maybe 4 or 5 years. I think daylilies should be planted at least 24 inches apart. Mark off a 24 inch square of garden for each plant, and place your daylily in the exact center of the 24 inch square. Your plant will have 12 inches of space all around to expand. If you want to never have to move your daylily plants, plant the 36 inches apart. I planted mine 30 inches apart, and have not had to divide them in almost 20 years. They still produce flowers well, with just a Spring feeding of an all-purpose granular fertilizer, like Plant Tone.

Remember the 27 finger sized daylilies I bought mail order? They all lived, and are doing fine, but for the first 3 years, after planting, I planted tomatoes around them, until they started looking like something.

When making a daylily bed, or planting some daylilies in your garden, start them off on the right foot. Mix some Sphagnum Peat Moss and dehydrated Cow Manure into the soil to amend (improve) it. Your daylilies will have a fertile environment, in which to thrive for years.

Dividing Daylilies …Daylilies can be divided anytime of the year, except when blooming. You could divide them when blooming, but you would probably destruct / damage the flower, which is what you planted it for. I think the best time to divide daylilies, in my area of Upstate New York (zone 5-4), is anytime after August 15. At that time a good amount of the Summer plants have finished blooming, and Fall is on its way. When you dig up and divide the daylily, you will be damaging its foliage, but so what. All that is important, after the plant is divided and replanted, is that it gets a good drink, and has the weeks of September and October to reestablish itself, and get ready for Winter dormancy.

When dividing a daylily, take a straight spade, and try to cut it right down the center. Position your spade so its blade is between the daylily fans (green grassy leaves), so you don’t knock off to many fans. After cutting it in half, if it is a big plant, cut it in half again, the other way. (See the two dividing illustration). If you need to, cut your now 4 pieces in half again. Next take a Round Point Digging Shovel, and dig / pry each section out, one at a time. Don’t worry about slicing off root parts. The daylily is resilient, and will recover nicely, no matter how hard you divide it. If you find you have loose pieces of daylily root falling off, plant them. Put them under the ground, about an inch or so, on their side (horizontally). Even the smallest piece will come back to life.

When replanting your divided daylily, dig a hole and just pop it into the ground. Try to cover the root system with an inch or two of soil. If you can’t plant your daylilies for a few days, or even a week, or more, after dividing, just put them in a shady spot, and sprinkle some water on them to keep them moist. Even if you neglect your unplanted daylily tuber /root, no problem. It will just sit there in kind of dormant state. I don’t think you can kill a daylily!

Daylily Maintenance … Daylilies are a low maintenance plant. Other than giving them a good watering, here and there (hopefully once a week), and possibly a Spring application of an All Purpose fertilizer, the only other maintenance issues are (1).. Daily (if you wish), taking off spent (wilted) flowers, this is called Breaking Bloom, and (2) after the plant has completely finished blooming, clipping off the daylily scape (stem) that held the flowers.

In the Fall, at the end of the gardening season cut / pull off the now yellowing daylily foliage. I have large daylily beds, which I slowly cut through with the lawn mower.

And finally, the daffodil is a good companion plant to a daylily. Space daffodil bulbs 12 to 14 inches apart throughout your daylily planting. They will bloom early in Spring, and their foliage will blend in, and be covered by the daylily foliage as the gardening season progresses.

I hope this post was helpful to you, and that you now know the basics of daylily planting, All I can say to you is… Go out and buy a few for your garden! Happy Planting.

Companion Posts…
(Planting)
When designing a perennial garden it’s all about Shapes of Leaves 1-15-2011,
How it Plant (Design) a garden, Mass versus Specimen planting 2-17-2011,
Colored Foliage adds that WOW FACTOR to a Garden 2-22-2011,
Stagger Plant Heights when Planting (Designing) a Garden 2-23-2011,

(Plants)
Hostas (Plantation Lily) Planting, Dividing and Maintenance 8-14-2011,
Roses..Planting Pruning and General Care 5-11-2011,
Starting a Rose Bush and Other Plants from a Cutting (Slip) 6-17-2011
My Peonies Don’t / Won’t Bloom 5-16-2011,
My Hydrangeas Don’t / Won’t Bloom is a lament uttered by Many 6-21-2012,
Dividing Miscanthus Grass, NOT EASY, but you can do it 12-12-2010,
Daffodils..Planting Fertilizing and Maintenance 4-8-2011,
Tulips..Planting Fertilizing and Maintenance 4-19-2011,
Neatening up a Rhododendron after it Blooms 6-3-2011,

(Garden Design)
Designing / Laying out Flower Beds 5-4-2013,
Planting a Garden Room on your Property 2-17-2013,
When Designing a Shade Garden, think Focal Point, Plant Color and Shapes of Leaves 9-4-2011,
Foundation Planting, Laying out Foundation Plants in Front of your Home 9-28-2013,
Planting Foundation Plants across the Front of Your Home 10-21-2013,
Looking at Evergreens in the Garden 1-31-2012,
Some Ideas about Planting Trees by your Home for Curb Appeal 4-26-2012
It’s Easy to Grow Pussywillows 2-15-2012

Q: My daylilies are finished blooming for the summer. The leaves are dried up. I am wondering if I can cut the plants back. They are dead looking and need to be thinned out also. When is the best time to cut back and divide them? We are suffering a severe drought at this time so they are a little ahead of the normal schedule.

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Daylilies, members of the genus Hemerocallis, are brightly colored flowers that bloom during mid summer. Daylilies range in color from near white through yellow, orange, and red, to brown and violet. Very low maintenance, these perennial flowers are very low maintenance and need little special care. Daylilies will grow in almost any kind of soil and bloom best in full sun. Dividing them from time to time will encourage them produce more flowers.

How to Prune or Cut Back Daylilies

Late summer or early fall are the best times for cutting back your daylilies. When cutting back, use your hands to pull off any dead foliage and then cut back the rest of the leaves to within a few inches of the ground.

How to Divide Daylilies

Late summer is the best time for dividing daylilies. Early September is best, their roots will have time to grow before winter.

It is easiest to remove your daylilies from the ground by using a garden fork to lift the clump from the ground. Start by placing the fork in the ground 6 to 12 inches away from the base of the plant. Gently push down on the handle to pry the clump up and out of the soil. Work around the root ball repeating this process until the roots are freed.

Take a look at the the root ball and look for weak areas at the center of the clump. Plunge two garden forks, placed back to back, into the clump. After the forks are fully inserted, gently push the handles apart. This will cause the roots to separate, forming two smaller clumps. If you want more divisions, you can repeat this process until you have the desired number of root clumps.

How to Transplant Daylilies

To re-plant the daylilies you have just separated, dig a wide shallow hole. The depth should be slightly less than the height of the rootball. The width of the hole should be 6 to 9 inches greater than the width of the rootball.

Place the rootball in the hole and backfill with soil. Lightly tamp the soil into place. Apply mulch to a depth of one inch to discourage weeds and protect the roots from drying out and from temperature extremes.

The area should be watered thoroughly. The foliage can also be cut back to a length of about 12 inches, which helps the plant retain moisture while it is getting established.

How Long Can Daylilies Stay Out of the Ground?

Daylilies are very hard plants, and hard to kill. They can stay out of the ground for quite some time as long as they get some water occasionally. If you are going to leave them out of the ground for a month or two, place something between the plants and the ground, such as a sheet of plastic, or the daylilies will try to take root in into the ground right where they are. If they are going to be out of the ground for some time, place them in a five gallon container in a little water to keep the roots moist.

Your divided daylilies will continue to bloom for years to come. Most daylily varieties may be left untouched for a period of four or five years before they need to be divided again.

This document incorporates information from gardening experts at the United States National Arboretum.

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“Help: I forgot to plant bulbs last fall. They are still sitting in my basement, is there anything I can do?”

First, check each bulb to see if it is dead or alive. How to tell: bulbs that are soft and mushy are dead or dying. Healthy bulbs should be firm and hard.

If your bulbs are still alive, below are several things, depending on the time of year, that you can try.

Bulb rescue plan

If it’s late in the fall and the soil isn’t hard frozen yet and you still can dig, plant your bulbs and water them in very well.

However, if you forgot to plant bulbs and winter has started and the ground is frozen rock solid, plant them into containers, and water.

Keep the pots in an unheated spot (your attached garage might be perfect) where temperature stays around 40F (4-5C). You don’t want the bulb pots to freeze solid. Keep the bulbs in the cold for at least 12-14 weeks.

After that, you can either bring your pots indoors so the bulb plants can grow and bloom in the house. (This is called forcing.) Or, once the danger of frost is over, you can set your bulb pots outdoors and allow the plants to bloom in outdoor containers. You could even plant the contents of your pots right into your flower bed in early spring.

If it’s spring when you discover that you forgot to plant bulbs, you can plant them straight into the garden.

Do this only if they are firm and in good shape. They could live – you won’t know if you don’t plant them. If they are alive, they will produce only leaves this year, not flowers. The reason: they missed out on the period of cold dormancy that they need for root growth and flowering.

However, with leaf growth, the chances are good that they will recover and bloom in subsequent years.

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Emma Townshend: ‘If you didn’t plant your bulbs last autumn, fear not: there is a short cut’

What you’ll find that you can get delivered are great pots. Many times this spring I have already cast my covetous eye over Crocus’s terracotta Lucca pot, which has an easy, jaunty, continental air to it (£79.99 for a pot 60cm diameter). Scarlet and white tulips, I’d be going for here, with sky-blue forget-me-nots or deep-blue lobelias covering their bases. Or for something a bit more industrial, look to Crocus’s galvanised planters, which could be paired with grey-green grasses to make a strong backdrop for orangey-red tulips (starting from £14.99 for a large planter).

One thing about buying the relatively expensive option of bulbs in flower is that you can check that what you buy is healthy. Look for fat green leaves, flushed with spring, and ignore plants that are already forming flower buds on spindly stems: they’ve been rushed into growth and won’t prosper.

When making up pots from bulbs already in full growth, don’t bother trying to disentangle the roots before settling them in. This is not in their best interests. Focus instead on trying to transfer them from the plastic pot with as little disturbance as possible, tucking them in tightly and snugly, so they keep their balance, then simply water and feed.

Now, depending on your plans for the summer, pay attention to what you plant around your bulbs – plugs of Verbena bonariensis, for example, would lift the blues mentioned earlier, for a soft gauzy purple display once full summer arrives. Alchemilla mollis, on the other hand, has a tangy lemon-greeniness that sets off reds and purples with gusto (both plants £14.97 for six 9cm pots from Crocus).

But, in the end, this doesn’t have to be a pricey time. Of course you’re risking your wallet when you venture into a garden centre in spring, but one small 10cm pot of narcissi from Ikea has been making do by my front doorstep for weeks. The tiny nodding golden heads have cheered us up every morning as we set off outside; and all for £3.99.

Planning ahead: A campaign of colour

Lily of the Valley

The perfect early summer fragrance – fill a pot with this flower for future treats. 3 for £9.98; all plants here from crocus.co.uk

White tulips with pale-green hellebores

No classier combination than this one, which works well in a formal setting either side of a door. Helleborus niger, £5.99

Red tulips with a central postbox-red geranium

Pick the plants up at your local DIY shop, then fill one of Crocus’s sea-blue-green pots, in Aqua, for £12.99

Deep-purple tulips with Patty’s Plum poppies

This outrageous poppy will charm you with its hippy handkerchief skirt, continuing the tulips’ purple beautifully. 3 for £11.98

What Should I Do With Bulbs That Didn’t Get Planted Before the Snow?

Despite our best intentions, there are always a few gardening tasks that don’t get completed before winter arrives. While many of these things will simply have to wait until spring, bulbs really need to be planted by late fall in order to ensure root growth and bloom. If you have some bulbs that didn’t make it into the ground before it started snowing, don’t worry. You still have another option. Many types of hardy spring flowering bulbs are well suited to forcing, which is the process of causing plants to bloom under unnatural conditions or at an unusual time. By potting your bulbs in containers and forcing them indoors, you can still enjoy a spring display of flowers despite winter’s arrival.

Forcing bulbs is quite easy, provided you follow a few simple steps.

Selecting Appropriate Containers

First, you need to select appropriate containers. Bulbs require good drainage, so it is essential that all pots have at least one hole in the bottom. Pots must also be deep enough to accommodate the growing roots (at least 8 inches deep for larger bulbs).

Selecting The Right Potting Mix

It is equally important to use a good quality soilless potting mix for planting such as can be found at most garden centers. Soilless mixes drain freely and will keep the bulbs from getting water logged and rotting, while at the same time providing stability and moisture.

Planting Your Bulbs

When planting, fill the container with a couple of inches of potting mix, and then arrange the bulbs within, making sure that their tops sit below the rim of the container. Bulbs in pots can be placed much closer together than those planted in the ground outdoors. Cover the bulbs with more potting mix and leave a little space at the rim for watering.

Chilling Your Planted Bulbs (3 to 4 months)

After the bulbs have been planted, it’s time to chill them. Hardy bulbs like daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths require an extended period of cold temperatures between 35 and 50°F in order for them to initiate shoots and flowers. Any dark storage space that consistently stays within this temperature range will do, such as a cool basement, root cellar, or cold frame if you’re lucky enough to have one. Unheated garages will work too provided that the temperature does not drop below freezing. While exposure to freezing temperatures will not damage the bulbs, it could cause ceramic pots to crack.

Forcing Your Bulbs Indoors

After the bulbs have been cooled for 14 to 15 weeks, they should be moved someplace warm and bright, such as sunny windowsill. This will cause the bulbs to start growing leaves and push up flower buds. Once the buds start to show color, move the pots out of direct light to prolong the flowering period. After blooming, some bulbs, such as daffodils and grape hyacinths, can be planted in the garden in the spring, although it will take them at least few years to fully recover.

So, if you have some bulbs left over that didn’t get planted this fall, give forcing a try. It can be a lot of fun and a good way to bring some spring cheer into the house in the late winter or early spring.

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Photo copyright by Connie Oswald Stofko

I got this question from reader Trudy Stern:

“I have a daffodil question: Should I keep them in the deep freeze for awhile before I force them indoors in January or February? Tulips? Any special tips? I am looking forward to having some bulb beauty in my house throughout the winter.”

I thought this was a question many readers might be interested in, so I contacted Jeff Thompson, director of horticulture at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Each year the Botanical Gardens does a lavish Spring Flower Show that takes place before tulips and daffodils and other spring bulbs are blooming outdoors in Western New York. They force hundreds of bulbs to to bloom indoors for the show, so they know what they’re doing.

The bulbs need a cold period, but you don’t want to freeze the bulbs, Thompson said. Put them in your refrigerator, not your freezer.

Place the bulbs in an opaque plastic bag that is open at the top and put the bag in the crisper drawer. That will do two things: keep your bulbs from drying out and protect them from the light that pours in every time you open the door.

The bag has to be open so you have some air circulation. If the bulbs get moist, mildew and fungi could grow and kill the bulbs, Thompson said.

A paper bag will also work when storing bulbs in the refrigerator, as David Clark, horticulturist and national garden speaker, told us this fall. But make sure you don’t store bulbs in your refrigerator if you have apples in there. Apples release ethylene gas, which can kill the embryonic flower inside the bulb. See more tips on planting spring bulbs in your garden here.

After the bulbs have been in the refrigerator for a few weeks, plant them in pots, water them, and place the pots back in the refrigerator. Don’t water them again while they are in the refrigerator.

“What you’re trying to do is to trick them and make them believe they’ve gone through winter,” Thompson explained.

About three or four weeks before you want the plants to grow and bloom, take the pots out of the refrigerator, put them in a warm area, give them light and water them.

The Botanical Gardens staff has had some bulbs all potted up and in the cooler since Nov. 25 in preparation for the Spring Flower Show that won’t be held until March. The reader who asked the question wants to have them bloom in January or February. If you haven’t already started refrigerating your bulbs, you might be able to shorten your simulated winter and still get results, Thompson said.

Thompson noted that you might find potted paperwhites, hyacinths and narcissus in the stores now. Those have already been cold tempered by the growers, so you don’t have to refrigerate them.

Professional Resources ”

Why Bulbs Don’t Freeze in Winter

Bulbs are designed by nature to withstand cold winter temperatures. Indeed they rely on winter’s cold to trigger the biochemical process necessary to bring the bulb to flower in spring.

While winter soil may actually freeze to depths beyond which the bulbs are planted, soil temperature will rarely fall below 29° F or 30° F (-1°C). At these just-below-freezing temperatures, water in the cells of the bulb may freeze but the cells will not be harmed. Also, as is true for many hardy plants, cold temperatures trigger starches in bulbs to break down into glucose and other small molecules. This simple sugar or glucose, interacting with other small molecules, acts in much the same way as salt on a winter sidewalk. The sugar in the bulb, like the salt on the sidewalk, lowers the temperature at which water freezes.

This fortunate chemistry helps to keep bulbs safe and snug in their winter beds. Other factors that help keep soil temperatures within tolerable limits include an insulating snow cover and, in colder areas, a nice layer of mulch over the bulb bed once the ground temperatures have dropped.

Who’s a Deadhead?

Despite the opinions of certain music aficionados, dead head is an ancient term that has nothing to do with a certain group from San Francisco. It refers to the act of removing withered flower heads after bloom to discourage flowers from going to seed. The act of setting seed can use up as much as 30 percent of the energy of tulips in spring. That’s why it’s smart to dead head tulips, encouraging subsequent bloom while providing a tidier look. Daffodils, on the other hand, reproduce differently from tulips. There is no need to dead head them after bloom. In order to regenerate for new growth next spring through photosynthesis, the foliage of all spring bulbs must be left in place to die back for a minimum of six weeks after bloom. After this period, the withered leaves may be cut back to ground level.

Yikes – Forgot to Plant These!

Each year, a certain percentage of busy gardeners belatedly realize that the flower bulbs they bought in September or October have not yet been planted — and they are left wondering, guiltily, what to do with the little rascals. If this sounds familiar, take heart. For one thing, it may not be as late as you think.

Rule #1: When in doubt, plant the bulbs. If bulbs should be planted in October in your area and you’re looking at unplanted bulbs in December or January – get them in the ground. It’s not optimal but it’s certainly not impossible. Plant the bulbs if it’s at all possible to dig in the ground (look for mulched beds which don’t freeze as quickly). Bulbs are programmed by nature to “want” to grow and late-planted bulbs generally still grow and flower, though not always at peak performance.

However, if you’re looking at unplanted spring-flowering bulbs in March or April, you’re probably out of luck.

The reason is simple. Though flower bulbs look like nothing more than brown lumps, they are actually living things. Nestled inside each is a tiny embryonic flower complete with leaves, surrounded by layers of plant food ready to nourish the bulb to bloom. All that a spring-flowering bulb needs is to be planted in a somewhat timely manner for rooting and a period of sustained cold to activate a bio-chemical process that stimulates it to send forth its glorious spring blooms.

Spring bulbs? Summer bulbs?
Flower bulbs fall into two main categories: spring-blooming and summer-blooming bulbs. Spring bloomers include tulips, irises, crocuses, narcissi (daffodils), snowdrops, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, alliums, and a whole lot more. Summer bloomers include gladioli, dahlias, freesia, canna, begonias, nerines, and others.

What makes them different? Spring bloomers are known as “hardy” bulbs, programmed by nature to need a cold period before they can bloom. Not only can they survive the cold, they need it. That’s why they must be planted in fall. Fall planting allows bulbs time to root, then settle in for a long, cold “beauty sleep” prior to spring growth. For tulips, for example, this translates to 12 to 16 weeks in the dark with a sustained soil temperature below 50° F. In most areas, the optimal planting time is when autumn night-time temperatures drop down to the 40° to 50° range.

Most summer bloomers, on the other hand, are not hardy – and cannot survive sustained temperatures so low. They are known as “tender” bulbs. Summer-flowering bulbs are available for sale in spring and should be planted outdoors after the local threat of frost is past. In the fall, many people dig up summer bulbs to store them indoors in a cool dry place over the winter for planting again the following summer.

Among the exceptions: lilies! These summer bloomers are winter-hardy perennials and can be planted in either spring or fall.

The Squeeze Test
About those bulbs you forgot to plant in fall: The best way to tell if they are still viable is to gently squeeze them. If they are firm, not dry or spongy, they are probably still okay – though no guarantees. Plant them immediately (if there’s any chance, they’ll grow). After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If the ground is too hard to work, plant the bulbs in pots and keep them in a cool unheated area with temperatures between 38°F and 50° F – a home refrigerator works just fine. Water them – and keep the soil moist but never soggy. After eight or more weeks (depending on the bulb type), bring a few pots into the warmth each week to initiate growth indoors. Or, once spring begins to warm things up, move the pots outdoors to bloom.

Flower bulbs are among the easiest plants to grow successfully. But that ease comes with a few caveats. Planting in a timely manner is one of them.

Mid-Winter Thaw Won’t Nip Buds

If bulbs in the garden sprout during a mid-winter thaw, will the next cold snap damage the flowers? Probably not. Healthy, spring-flowering bulbs that have sprouted prematurely are pre-programmed by nature to shrug off the return of extreme cold and even snow. In a hard frost, the buds may be blighted, or the tips of the leaves may get frost burn, but in almost every case they will flower. Smaller bulbs, such as snowdrops, crocuses, Eranthis, winter aconite, and mini-narcissi are actually meant to bloom early, often peeking through the snow.

About Winter Mulch

Spreading mulch over fall-planted flower bulbs is a good idea. However mulching isn’t advised for the reasons commonly thought. Most people we talk to think you mulch bulbs as soon as you plant to keep the soil warm so the bulbs won’t freeze over winter. Actually, mulch is applied later, once the ground gets colder, to keep the soil temperature consistently cool over-winter. The goal is to minimize damage from frost heaves and help retain moisture in the soil through the winter.

Plant bulbs approximately six weeks before local hard frosts typically start but wait until the cold weather is upon them to mulch their bulb beds. If you mulch too early, overly warm soil conditions can promote disease and mildew. Also, premature mulching invites mice, voles and other unwanted critters to nest in your bulb beds – poor you – and lucky them to find such warm cozy dens for the winter!

Courtesy of the International Flower Bulb Center (www.bulb.com)

Q I have been trying to grow tulips on my second-floor balcony in downtown Toronto. I can root bulbs in pots but trouble starts after that. First, I tried placing the pots in the freezer, but the bulbs turned to mush. I found that placing pots in the fridge, or in a garbage can on my balcony containing potting soil and covered with leaves, yielded unimpressive results. What exactly do I need to do to produce the same beautiful, strong blooms that appear from bulbs planted in a yard?

–N.N., Toronto

A: I’ve been holding on to this question since it arrived at the beginning of June, since the timing is ideal now to start such an endeavour. “Forcing” spring flowering bulbs or any other plants requires us to provide conditions needed for this stage of the plants’ life cycle. Your start to the project has been fine: Root development in the fall is the essential first step.

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The second stage depends on the bulb being forced. Some spring flowering bulbs prefer to start the elongation stage of leaf development before their cold period. Tulips may initiate the elongation stage of the flower embryo within the bulb, as will many other bulbs, but the foliage does not generally break the surface of the bulb.

Remember, the flower embryos, stems and leaves are intact in miniature form within the bulbs you purchase in the fall. They are created within the bulb after flowering during the growing season and before the summer period.

Your problems have arisen with your subsequent steps. Placing your potted bulbs in the freezer is too severe. In outdoor conditions, tulip bulbs are normally planted about 15 cm (8 inches) below the surface. This means that the cooling down to freezing happens over a long period of time. The ambient heat lower in the soil slows the process: with heavy mulching, total freezing is often avoided completely. In your freezer the bulbs drop rapidly from room temperature to well below freezing in a matter of hours. The result is burst cell walls and mushy, dead tulips.

Placing the pots in a garbage can on the balcony, even with potting soil and leaves does not work well. though this was an inventive idea, as the cold still penetrates deeply. Placing the pots in a refrigerator is really your best bet.

However, you must avoid fruits in the same air as your bulbs. Ripening fruit gives off ethylene gas which impedes or causes improper bulb development and aborted flowers. You can overcome this by sealing your pots in plastic bags while in the fridge.

Your timing in cold storage is good, but earlier flowering tulips might be happier with just 14 weeks, instead of 16. Don’t worry if the foliage starts to grow in the fridge; respect the prescribed cold period for best results. When you remove the pots, put them in a cool room (15 C or 60 F) with indirect light for a week or so before moving them to full sun and warmer temperatures. Water as required to keep the soil constantly moist but never let the pots stand in water. .

Ed Lawrence is chief gardener for Ottawa’s official residences and host of a CBC Radio phone-in show. Send your questions to [email protected]

Longevity Of Flowering Bulbs: Are My Bulbs Still Good?

When it comes to gardening, bulbs are in a class all by themselves. Inside of the bulb is a virtual storehouse of nutrients ready to feed the plant under ideal conditions. Bulbs planted at the correct time take care of everything else on their own, bursting through the ground in a colorful display when the time is right.

When it comes to the longevity of flowering bulbs, proper care and storage can keep them healthy for years to come. So how long can you keep flower bulbs and how do you know if they’re still good? Keep reading to learn more about flower bulb shelf life.

Flower Bulb Storage

Bulbs that are not winter hardy in your area usually need to be dug up before the weather gets too cool and stored until the following spring. Generally speaking, spring flowering bulbs are known as hardy bulbs and summer flowering bulbs are tender. Proper flower bulb storage is important in order to keep the bulb healthy.

There are a few things that are important to remember when it comes to maintaining the health of flower bulbs. While many bulbs can stand being left in the ground over winter, a few need to dug up and stored. Among these are calla lilies, freesia, cannas and elephant ears.

After you dig the bulbs up in the fall, be sure to wipe all dirt and debris away. This will help prevent rotting. Before storing, always leave your bulbs out in the sun for about a week to dry. Once the bulbs are dry, place them in a box filled with dry material such as peat moss, packing peanuts or sawdust. Put them in the material with the roots down, with space in between, as if they were in the ground. Cover them up and place the box in a dry and dark location.

The storage temperatures for bulbs vary. Be sure that you know the temperature, as this will determine where you place your box. Some possible locations include a garage, basement, storage shed or attic. Prevent the bulbs from freezing and keep away from direct sources of heat for best results. Do not store bulbs in an area where you are storing fruit, as the ethylene gas given off by the ripening fruit is fatal to bulbs.

How Long Can You Keep Flower Bulbs?

Most bulbs, if stored correctly, can be kept for about 12 months before needing to be planted. The longevity of flowering bulbs is largely determined by the adequacy of the storage provided.

Are My Bulbs Still Good?

Most flower companies that sell bulbs will mark them with a best before date. While the flower bulb shelf life may last for more than one season when stored properly, be aware that the quality of the flower decreases with each season that the bulb does not go into the ground.

Consider planting in a pot indoors if you cannot get the bulbs outside. Just be sure to provide adequate chilling time for fall bulbs.

“What if I left my bulbs in storage too long? Are my bulbs still good?” A healthy bulb is firm and plump, not withered and overly dry. If it crackles when you squeeze it, it is probably outdated. Additionally, if they feel soft or mushy, they need to be tossed, as rot has set in.

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