From the ground up: Tips on caring for spring bulbs after blooms are gone

Once spring flowering bulbs are done blooming you can remove the flower heads as soon as the flowers fade. Removing the flowers keeps flowers producing next year. But don’t remove the foliage until it has died and turned brown; cutting off the foliage too soon stops bulb growth and it may cut flower numbers next year. Some gardeners are bothered by the untidy foliage and want to tie it back with rubber bands or braid it. But tying or braiding the foliage reduces the leaf area exposed to sunlight. As a result, the leaves manufacture smaller amounts of food. Most spring-flowering bulbs don’t need to be fertilized, unless your soil is poor. If you want to give bulbs a boost, you can do that when planting by adding some bone meal to the bottom of the hole before the bulb is placed in the hole. You can also fertilize bulbs after they bloom. Use a 5-10-5 or 6-10-4 fertilizer to bulb beds. Don’t leave fertilizer on leaves to keep them from burning. Control weeds around bulbs to keep them from competing with the bulbs — hand weeding is best.

If you need to move spring bulbs it’s safe to dig them up and replant as soon as the foliage dies back and turns brown, in late spring/early summer. You can also dig up the bulbs and replant them in the fall, when you would normally plant your bulbs. If you want to move daffodil bulbs in fall, mark the site when the foliage is present so the bulbs can be located in October. Once you dig up your bulbs, dry them in the air for two to three weeks. Then place the bulbs in mesh bags and store in a cool (50 to 65 F), dry place, like a basement, until fall planting. Inspect the bulbs several times during the summer and discard any that show signs of decay.

Summer bulbs like gladiolus can be planted in the spring when danger of frost has passed. Water the bulbs when you plant them and mulch them to discourage critters from digging them up. Some animals love to dig up bulbs. The smell of freshly dug earth attracts them, so cover newly planted bulbs with black plastic netting, wire mesh, or burlap for a couple of weeks. If critters are snacking on leaves and flowers, protect the plants with chicken wire or consider scent deterrents. Spraying to kill grubs can help keep out moles and voles that feed on the grubs... and your bulbs.

Jean Murray is a Linn County Master Gardener.

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