GROWING TULIPS AND OTHER SPRING FLOWERING BULBS
It is a great time of year when winter gives way to spring. Some even say it is the best time of year.
Who doesn't love the Tulips, the Daffodils, Hyacinth etc. in the spring garden? The colors are so varied and vibrant; even glorious.
We wish these flowers could last just a little longer, but at least they do come back and we are glad for that.
KEEPING SPRING FLFOWERS VIBRANT YEAR TO YEAR-- I've had people tell me that their Tulips just don't look as good as they did the first spring after they were planted. Some have even said that they have leaves and no flowers. They want to know what is happening.
GROWTH CYCLE OF SPRING-FLOWERING BULBS: To maintain size, quality and vitality of spring flowers, it is important to understand their growth cycles. "Spring-flowering bulbs have a growth cycle that sets them apart from most other plants. They make roots in the fall, bide their time through winter, emerge and bloom in spring, and go completely dormant in early summer." Colorblends.com Let's talk about each phase:
ROOTS IN THE FALL: I've had people tell me they forgot to plant their bulbs in the fall; will they be ok if I plant them now (spring or early summer)? Good question. They are probably better off in the ground, but the point is that they missed a crucial part of the normal cycle. In the fall the bulbs develop their root system and establish themselves for the essential chill. This is a good time to lightly apply a balanced fertilizer such as 8-8-8 to give the bulb and its new roots a good start.
WINTER TIME: During the winter the bulbs are doing more than simply biding their time; they are chilling. Chilling, 3 to 4 months below 45 degrees, is essential. Without the proper chilling, Tulips and other bulbs simply will not bloom.
SPRING EMERGING: By springtime, the bulbs have already started growing and are within an inch or two of emerging. When the temperatures and daylight are right they emerge. It is interesting to look at a cross section of bulb; it reveals leaves, stem and flower capsulized and ready to emerge in natural beauty.
SUMMER DORMANCY: This is the phase of growth when we can determine the quality of the next bloom cycle. I am asked questions like, 'do I need to dig my Tulips or can I leave them in the ground,' or 'when should I dig the Tulips and what do I do with them after I lift them?' Spring-flowering bulbs will emerge again the next spring even when left in the ground. However, to insure size and quality of the bloom lifting and dry storage is critical. Understanding why is the answer to 'why have my Tulips stopped blooming?' Most plants have more than one way of self-propagation and bulbs are no exception. They will produce seeds and they also produce new bulbs. The seed production actually competes with the bulb production and growth, so it is a good idea to remove the flower head as soon as it begins to fade. Commercial bulb growers call it topping and they have machines for the job....
We can do the job easily with a pair of clippers---Removing the competition, helps the new bulbs prepare for their show the next spring. The bulb growth is what we need to manage. One bulb planted in the fall produces 4 to 5 new bulbs in the same space where the single bulb was planted. Left in the ground, the new bulbs do the same thing, producing 25 new bulbs in the same space. It is not hard to see what is happening. Bulbs left in the ground for multiple consecutive years simply crowd and choke themselves, producing small leaves and few, if any, flowers. I have a general rule of thumb with regard to lifting bulbs, primarily Tulips; I let them bloom twice and lift them so their second dormancy is above ground. This plan works for almost all spring-flowering bulbs. Daffodils may be able to go 3 to 4 blooms before lifting, but the theory is the same for all bulb varieties.
WHEN SHOULD THE BULBS BE DUG: Knowing what is going on beneath the ground is important. During and after the blooming stage, the bulbs are growing. Since bulb size determines bloom size, it is important to allow them as much growing time as possible. With the seed pods removed, the plant itself should be allowed to thrive as long as it can in order to nourish the bulbs and then die naturally. Once the leaves begin to yellow and wilt, the bulbs can be lifted and then placed in dry storage, dark or at least out of the sun, at a temperature preferably less than 70 degrees. When the bulbs have completely dried, they can be cleaned and separated, just like commercial growers do. All of the bulbs will grow and most of them will bloom, but remember that the larger the bulb, the larger the bloom.
I've been talking mostly about Tulips, but to some extent, everything applies to all other bulbs. All bulbs can be dug and separated yearly, but Daffodils seem to perform best when left undisturbed for a few years. On the other hand, Hyacinth, in my experience, performs best when lifted and separated annually.
Let me know if you have specific questions.