A GROWING CONCERN: Get in gear for May Day with bulb upkeep

TOMORROW IS MY absolute favorite holiday of the year, and with the arrival of the new month, April showers are definitely going to produce a plethora of May flowers.

Your spring-blooming bulbs are in full bore, with many early species already finished.

So now that the bulbs have bloomed and withered: “Do I just cut them off at the ground? What am I supposed to do?”

As blooms fade on daffodils, crocus, hyacinths and scilla, separate the flower stalks from the bulb in the ground with a sharp, crisp snap.

Other bulb plants (such as tulips and lilies) get their blooms cut off. You also cut off what appears to be leaves, but like roses are not true leaves but rather parts of the bloom stalk.

Let me go back over this: Bulb plants that get their flower stalk snapped (a gentle upward motion with a firm grasp on the stalk as far down the stalk as you can, near ground level) have no leaves on the stalk.

The flower emerges straight out of the bulb, through the ground and, without leaves, grows up and blooms.

Bulbs that require their tops being cut off are those that emerge with growth that, prior to bloom, came up out of the center through the ground, grew up and developed a flower head.

These plants (think dahlias here also) have small, seemingly underdeveloped leaves right under the bloom.

In many cases — lilies being the prime example of these plants — they develop several types of foliage, all of which must be removed. (By the way, if you planted the late spring bulb fritillaries, right now it should be the king of your yard).

But what if your bulbs still have flowers on them, although quite brown and dead along with most of the foliage?

Well, in essence, that is how most people’s bulbs are. The determining factor is how viable the leaves are.

The purpose of removing the flower is to direct all the energy to build replenishment, not reproduction.

Poor little bulbs. They were jammed into the dark, cold ground, forced to push up through the dirt and then nourish a huge plant and spectacular flowers.

The poor fellas need to be resupplied.

IMPORTANT: Don’t ever cut the plant to the ground as soon as it is done flowering.

Bulbs need to have their leaves manufacture food and send it down to the bulb.

This re-nourishment of the bulb will immensely help next year’s blooms.

So if your foliage is somewhat green, preserve it.

Many time, daffodils can have their flower removed, then a week or so later, as the tips of the leaves brown, cut away 50 percent of the leaves.

Just grab the whole plant with one hand, pull together and cut halfway down.

Then the following week, as the leaves again brown away, remove at ground level.

Brown foliage on tulips, crocus and other bulbs can be removed with your hand sweeping in circular motions.

If you get foliage after the flowers are gone, give the plants a foliar feed and cultivate the soil. Weeding is always good, too.

Watering is advised for maintaining perfect conditions that will keep the leaves green longer.

Bulb foliage is a short-lived thing because spring bulbs go dormant in the summer.

Being dormant means no root or growth action. The bulbs just sit in the ground waiting for October and November.

A crucial link in bulb naturalization is to always be aware that bulbs crave root-producing nutrients, but not until fall.

The end of August should always be celebrated in the garden with a generous dose of bulb food around all of your spring wonders.

Happy May Day!


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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