Planting and Caring for Flower Bulbs
by Michael J. McGroarty -
There is nothing quite as welcome as those beautiful spring
flowers that seem to emerge from nowhere to welcome the
arrival of spring. Bulb type flowers are really unique
plants, because they spend most of their days resting
quietly beneath the surface of the soil. Then right on
schedule, up they come, full of bloom and vigor, and then
almost as fast as they came, they go. Except for the green
leafy part of the plant that tends to linger longer than we
would like them to.
Despite their short bloom time and unattractive foliage
after the blooms are gone, they are still a wonderful
addition to any landscape. But how should you care for them?
First letís talk about how to use them in your landscape.
Flowers of all kinds are best when planted in groupings.
Many people buy 25 or 50 bulbs and just go around the yard
planting helter skelter. Thatís fine if thatís what you
want, but when planted that way they tend to blend in with
the landscape and really donít show up well at all. When you
plant them in large groups they are a breathing taking show
In the early spring start thinking about where you would
like to create a bed for flower bulbs. Prepare the bed by
raising it with good rich topsoil, and if at all possible
add some well composted cow manure. Do this in the spring
while you are in the gardening mood, you may not be in the
fall. Over the summer fill the bed with annual flowers to
keep the weeds down, and to pretty up your yard for the
summer. Come fall all you have to do is pull out the annuals
and plant your bulbs to the depth recommended on the
If you think you could have a problem with squirrels digging
up the bulbs and eating them, you can also wrap the bulbs in
steel wool leaving just the tip of the bulb exposed so it
can grow out of the little wire cage youíve created. Or you
can just plant the bulbs and then cover the bed with chicken
wire or plastic fencing until the bulbs start to grow in the
When the bulbs come up in the spring and start blooming, you
should clip off the blooms as they start to wither. This
keeps the bulb from producing seeds, which requires a lot of
energy, and you want the bulb to use all of itís available
energy to store food in preparation of the bulbís resting
period. Once the bulbs are completely done blooming you
donít want to cut off the tops until they are withered and
die back. The million dollar question is how to treat the
tops until that happens.
Many people bend them over and slip a rubber band over them,
or in the case of bulbs like Daffodils tie them with one of
the long leaves. This seems to work because it is a very
common practice among many experienced gardeners. However,
Mike is about to rain on the parade.
I strongly disagree with this theory because back about 6th
grade we learned about photosynthesis is science class. To
recap what we learned, and without going in to the boring
details, photosynthesis is the process of the plant using
the sunís rays to make food for itself. The rays from the
sun are absorbed by the foliage and the food making process
begins. In the case of a flower bulb this food is
transported to the bulb beneath the ground and stored for
So basically the leaves of the plant are like little solar
panels. Their job is to absorb the rays from the sun to
begin the process known as photosynthesis. If we fold them
over and handcuff them with their hands behind their back,
they are not going to be able to do their job. Itís like
throwing a tarpaulin over 80% of a solar panel.
In order for the leaves to absorb the rays from the sun, the
surface of the foliage has to be exposed to the sun. On top
of that, when you bend the foliage over, you are restricting
the flow of nutrients to the bulb. The veins in the leaves
and the stem are a lot like our blood vessels. If you
restrict them the flow stops.
You decide. Iíve presented my case. Bending them over seems
to work, but Iíve spent a lot of money on my bulbs. I want
them running at full speed. What I do is clip the blooms off
once they are spent, and just leave the tops alone until
they are yellow and wilted. If they are still not wilted
when itís time to plant my annual flowers, I just plant the
annuals in between the bulbs. As the bulbs die back the
annuals tend to grow and conceal them. If one shows through
I clip it off. It seems to work well for me.
Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit
www.freeplants.com and sign up for his excellent
gardening newsletter, and grab a FREE copy of his
E-book, "Easy Plant Propagation"
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