Potted tulip bulbs after bloom

So what do you do for bulb care after flowering? The bulb plants’ leaves are gradually going to turn yellow and die away. So should you braid the leaves or tie them with rubber bands to tidy your garden?

Definitely not: first, you don’t need the extra work, but second, and most important, you need to leave bulb foliage in place so the plant can “recharge” itself for next spring’s flowers.

Yes, this takes restraint because floppy tulip leaves and long-lasting daffodil leaves can look awful for awhile.

Bulb care after blooming is finished

Daffodils with scilla

The leaves perform an essential function: they use the sun’s energy to transform basic elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium into food.

As bulb maven and garden writer Judy Glattstein, likes to say, “It is absolutely prohibited to cut, fold, braid, spindle or rubber-band bulb foliage.”

So here’s what to do:

After the bulb flowers have faded, deadhead the plants by removing faded blooms so that they won’t waste energy producing seeds. Bulbs that you are naturalizing don’t need this treatment – keep the flower heads on to encourage self-seeding.

Once bulb leaves yellow and wither, which takes about six weeks – cut them off. Planting bulbs between perennials helps to camouflage ripening foliage. Forget-me-nots, peonies, hostas and daylilies do a particularly good job of this.

However, if you can’t resist mass-planting hybrid tulips and hate their messy leaves, consider treating these bulbs as annuals, and simply pull them out after flowering to make way for summer’s flower display, as most parks departments do.

Since many hybrid tulips only look their very best the first couple of springs, this is a sure-fire way to have a terrific display – and to try out new varieties each year. (It may seem extravagant, but don’t most gardeners spring for new annuals every year?)

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Your Ultimate Guide to Caring for Bulbs

Flowering bulbs offer height and color to any garden in the spring, summer, and early fall. There are so many types of bulbs, and an increasing number of varieties of each flowering bulb species, that it can be difficult to know where to start.

The most important part about planting successful bulbs is getting the timing right. Then, there are some must-know tips and tricks for taking care of bulbs after they are planted. Use this guide as a springing-off point to get perfect bulb-based blooms in your garden bed or container garden.

Learn how to care for bulbs in pots here.

When to Plant Spring-Blooming Bulbs

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The best time to plant most spring-blooming bulbs (including tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths) is in fall when the soil temperatures have cooled but before the ground freezes. Any time before Thanksgiving is ideal. With that being said, if you’re in a pinch or didn’t have time to plant in the fall, you can plant bulbs on those occasional warm days in January.

Watch this video to learn how to plant spring bulbs.

Spring Bulb Care

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Most spring bulbs emerge and bloom in spring, then their foliage starts to fade and they go dormant by midsummer. When growing bulbs, it’s important to let the foliage naturally go yellow—don’t cut it off early and don’t braid the foliage to try to make it look tidier. Instead, plant colorful annuals or perennials in front of your bulbs to hide the foliage from sight.

Paying attention to bulbs after flowering is just as important as when they are blooming. It is beneficial to remove the flowers on most spring bulbs as soon as they start to fade. Otherwise, your bulbs will put their energy into producing seed instead of a big crop of blooms the following year.

It’s typically not necessary to use bulb fertilizer on spring-bloomers, especially if you have average or rich soil. But if you do wish to feed your spring bulbs, feed them at planting time or just as they begin to emerge in spring. Be sure to reference the instructions on the bulb food for the proper bulb fertilizer ratio.

Test Garden Tip: Many spring-flowering bulbs are native to hot, dry areas, so they prefer dry conditions in summer when they’re dormant.

Learn more about caring for spring bulbs here.

When to Plant Summer-Blooming Bulbs

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Most summer-blooming bulbs, on the other hand, are best planted in spring, after the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has passed. Hardy lilies are an exception—you can plant these bulbs in spring or fall.

Most bulbs do best in well-drained soil and are prone to rot if they’re in a spot that stays wet or has very heavy clay. In heavy soils, it’s often helpful to amend the planting hole with organic matter or even a several-inch-deep layer of sand under the bulb to increase drainage when watering.

See more of our favorite summer bulbs here.

Summer Bulb Care

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Summer bulbs emerge in spring and bloom in summer. Most come from warm-weather areas and don’t like freezing temperatures. If you live in a cold-winter climate, you’ll probably need to dig the bulbs right around your first fall frost and store them in a cool place (around 50 degrees F) for the winter.

Like spring-blooming bulbs, it’s helpful to cut off the plants’ flowers as they fade. In many species, this will encourage the plants to keep blooming. (Lilies are an exception—these summer bulbs bloom only once a year.)

Because many summer-flowering bulbs enjoy rich soil, it can be helpful to fertilize them with a general-purpose garden fertilizer, especially if you have poor soil. Be sure to follow the directions on the fertilizer package to avoid damaging your plants with too much bulb food.

See our best bulb planting tips here.

Bulb Care After Forcing: Keeping Forced Bulbs In Containers Year After Year

Forced bulbs in containers can bring spring into the home months before the actual season commences. Potted bulbs need special soil, temperatures and siting to bloom early. The treatment and exposure they get in the ground naturally forces them, but in the home interior you will have to fool them. Will forced bulbs rebloom in pots? For yearly blooms, the bulbs need to store extra nutrients and carbohydrates and be held at the right temperatures when not in bloom.

Bulbs are storage organs that hold short term supplies of fuel for leaf production and the embryonic flowers that will soon grace your space. Most bulbs require some sort of specific temperature change to force them out of dormancy. Forced bulbs in pots have been exposed to the chilling requirements necessary to get the bulb to grow leaves and flowers. This is generally three months at 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 C.). Potted bulbs have needs that those in the ground do not in order for them to produce bountiful flowers year after year. The container, soil, food, water, temperature, lighting, spacing and excellent drainage all contribute to year round potted plants.

Environment for Forced Bulbs in Containers

While bulbs will only bloom once per year, there is no reason they won’t do it annually with the proper care. The soil should be porous and loose, a mixture of half loam or compost and half vermiculite, perlite or fine bark is ideal. Mix in a bit of bone meal and bulb fertilizer at the bottom of the container.

The container should be well draining and preferably unglazed so evaporation of excess moisture is possible. Even a nursery container works and has the ability to expand if the bulb is held where a freeze is possible. Use a basket or outer decorative container to disguise the unattractive pot.

Potted bulbs should be planted almost touching with the pointed tops of the bulbs just outside the surface of the soil. The actual temperature for holding may vary by species, but at a minimum, pre-chill spring blooming bulbs at 48 degrees Fahrenheit (8 C.) for eight to 12 weeks. Summer blooming bulbs do not require pre-chilling to bloom.

You can chill the entire potted mass or just the bulbs. If you choose to chill in the refrigerator, make sure the bulbs are away from any fruit which give off ethylene gas and can cause blooms to abort. Once the pre-chilling requirement has been met, move the pot to a warmer area. During the pre-chilling period, the bulbs do not need light.

Caring for Forced Bulb in Pots

Bulb care after forcing is similar to any plant that has not been forced. Indoor plants need regular, even watering until the roots are moist, but do not let them sit in water. This is imperative, as the bulbs are prone to rot if they stay too wet.

Gradually increase the light exposure as the foliage begins to show. When the bloom appears, give the plant full sun, if possible. After the bloom is spent, cut it off to prevent the bulb from expending energy on trying to keep it alive.

The most important bulb care after forcing is to leave the foliage intact until it dies back. The reason for this is to allow the bulb to gather solar energy to fuel year round potted plants.

Bulbs in Pots After Flowering

You may keep the bulbs in pots after flowering, but it is a good idea to introduce some new soil with all its nutrients and fertilize again. You may also remove the bulbs, let them air dry and put them in a paper bag in a location with the proper chilling requirements until you are ready to force them again.

Some bulbs will peter out after a while; the storage organ can only stay recharged just so long, but many will reward you with forced bulbs in pots year after year with proper food, light and chilling.

How to Grow Bulbs in Containers

Growing bulbs in containers is a fantastic solution for gardeners with limited spaces, or for those who want to decorate their decks, patios, or front entryways with the beautiful colors and lovely fragrances of spring-blooming bulbs. You can try forcing bulbs earlier in the spring, so when you put out your containers, you will have full-sized plants rather than having to wait for nursery plants to fill in. Although it is easy to do, here are a few things you need to know about planting spring bulbs in outdoor containers.

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Getting Started

Growing bulbs in containers is easy. You can grow virtually any bulb in containers, and you can mix different types of bulbs together, too. In fact, it’s a lot like growing bulbs in the ground. Start with a container with drainage holes so that excess water can escape, and plant your bulbs in the fall. Most spring-blooming bulbs prefer well-drained soil and will rot and die if their feet are too wet for too long.

If you want to leave your bulbs outdoors all winter, select a large container that will hold enough soil to insulate the bulbs. In the coldest-winter regions, that means a container at least 24 inches in diameter.

Planting Spring Bulbs

Fill your container with a high-quality potting mix (don’t use garden soil) and plant your bulbs as deeply as you would in the ground; for instance, 6 or 7 inches deep for tulips and daffodils, and 4 or 5 inches deep for little bulbs such as crocus and Siberian squill. Water your bulbs well after planting.

If you grow bulbs in a container that’s too small to spend the winter outdoors or one that is made from a material such as terra-cotta that needs protection, keep the planted bulbs someplace cold, such as a garage or shed. Don’t bring your bulbs indoors; most basements will be too warm for them to develop properly.

Spring Bulb Planting Partners

Once temperatures begin to warm in spring, you can augment your containers of spring bulbs with cool-season annuals such as lettuce, Swiss chard, pansy, viola, nemesia, or African daisy.

Or pack more punch in one pot by mixing types of container gardening bulbs. Plant your bigger bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, deeper. Cover them with soil, then plant smaller bulbs, such as crocus, grape hyacinth, or snowdrops, directly above them.

  • By BH&G Garden Editors

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