90403thumbNarcissus, daffodil, freesia, snowdrop, snowflake, grape hyacinth, various iris and most other early spring blooming bulbs and bulb like plants should be perennials. We plant them with the hope that the will survive after bloom to bloom for another season, and perhaps for many seasons. Some should multiply to provide more bloom over the years. Bloom is just part of their annual cycle.

Lily, crocus, hyacinth, tulip, anemone and ranunculus are not nearly as likely to bloom more than one year for a variety of reasons. Some prefer more chill in winter. Some dislike the long and dry summers. Some survive as perennials, but do not bloom again. However, in some special situations, they also can bloom annually. After spring bulbs, there will be a different set of summer bulbs.

So, what happens after bloom? After exhausting much of their stored resources on production of bloom and foliage, bulbs try to recover and regenerate resources for the following season. Most work to replace their exhausted bulbs with comparable new bulbs. They need foliage to do this, but eventually shed their foliage as their new bulbs go dormant for the following autumn and winter.

Of course, they all do this at different rates. Some smaller bulbs are surprisingly efficient, and shed their foliage as soon as the weather gets warm later in spring. It is amazing that they can store up so much in such a minimal time. Other bulbs shed slowly, as their deteriorating foliage lingers for a few weeks into summer. Foliage of summer bulbs that bloom later is likely to linger until frost.

Because it is essential to the regenerative process, deteriorating foliage can not be cut back prematurely. It is not always easy to hide either. In mixed plantings, it might be obscured by ground cover or other plants. Alternatively, warm season annuals can be planted over the area. Some of us braid daffodil leaves, but others believe that braids draw attention to the deteriorating foliage.

Those of us who still dig and store and perhaps chill marginal bulbs, must wait for complete dormancy.

5 thoughts on “What Bulbs Do After Bloom

  1. Tony, I was looking at my pots full of faded dafs and freesias and wondered if I should feed them with liquid feed to give them a boost for next season. I’ve given them several feeds over the last couple of months and now I’m looking at all the green leaves and dying flowers I wonder if it is necessary. When do you stop watering the bulbs. Last year I left all the bulbs in the pots after they dried out. This year I need the pots for my summer plants… Do you think it will be okay to remove the dafs from the pots and let them dry naturally in the sun?

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    1. You could give them one last application of fertilizer while the foliage is still green. Soluble liquid fertilizer is probably the best option, since there is no need for slow release. The flower stalks should be pruned away. In pots, they should be watered as long as they are green, unless of course, they need to be removed from the pots. Watering does not need to continue after the foliage dies back, although the soil should not be allowed to desiccate completely. If the bulbs must be removed, they should either be planted out into the garden, and watered in just to settle them, or dug and dried, but not out in the sun. It is best to wait as late as possible. I know I should have described this more thoroughly, but space is limited for my gardening column.

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      1. Thanks, Tony. I think the bulbs I am going to give away (all my daffodils) I will empty those pots (so I can reuse) and dry in the garage (thanks for tip about the sun) Maybe plait like garlic/onions. All the freesias I will give one last liquid feed and then leave in their pots so they can dry out in the soil as they did last year. 🙂

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