Spring bulb care: Hope planted, now realized
For many gardeners, the hope planted in past autumns is now realized in the colorful show of spring blooms.
From the first pop of snowdrops to the fade of the last flower, spring bulbs radiate dazzling whites, brilliant yellows, vibrant reds, and lots of colors in between.
University of Illinois describes a bulb as “a promise of a plant to come. These ‘packaged plants’ each have a complete miniature plant inside along with its food.” The bulb is a food storage unit and inside is a miniature plant complete with leaves, stem, and a small flower bud.
Like all perennials they need care and feeding. Here’s what to do and when.
While blooming, mark their spot with a plant stake noting type and color. (Plant stakes are 10/$1 at the Dollar Store. This will help when you later divide the flowerless bulbs.
After blooming, cut the faded bloom stems near the bottom.
Leave the green foliage. It will send energy and nutrients below ground to the bulb. When the plant goes dormant over winter, the bulb will continue to store the energy until spring when warmer weather urges it to regrow and flower.
Once the foliage has turned yellow or brown and died back, cut the plant down to 1”. If you need to divide the bulbs, be sure to have them marked.
Penn State Chester County Master Gardeners note that “signs that bulbs need to be divided are overcrowding, multiple stems, and declining flowers.”
Spring flowering plants are best divided and replanted in the fall. If you need to divide them in the spring, you may replant them immediately or store them.
When digging to divide, be careful not to cut or damage the bulb. Dig down and around to get a large clump. Gently brush or wash off the soil to expose the small bulblets. Carefully remove the bulblets from the mother plant, then replant them separately with the tips facing up. They are small now but space them out saving the need to divide again in the next year or two.
If you chose to divide the bulbs and store them instead of replanting immediately, remove all the soil, lay them out individually, discarding any damaged or diseased bulbs. Let them air dry away from sunlight for several days then store in a net or mesh bag. Then store in a mesh bag or some dry peat moss or vermiculite. Keep them in a ventilated in a cool, dark spot and check periodically during the summer, to make sure they are not rotting or drying out.
Replant the following fall. Then next spring, enjoy more hope planted, then realized in more beautiful spring blooms.
Carol Kagan is a master gardener and author who has been active in herbal organizations for over 35 years. She has designed and maintained herb gardens and provided docent services at historic properties. She is the author of Herb Sampler. The book is a great resource for beginners who love herbs but aren’t quite sure how to get started; or have been unsuccessful in establishing a herb garden.