What Bulbs Do After Bloom

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.

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Bulbs Are Not Finished Yet

90213thumbIt was easy to forget about spring bulbs after they went into the ground so unceremoniously last autumn. They got buried without so much as proper funerals. Cool season annuals got planted over the grave sites of some, just because bare soil is not much to look at. They stayed silent out in the garden through the cool and rainy winter weather. It might have seemed like the perfect crime.

Now they are back. Daffodil, narcissus, crocus and snowdrop might already be blooming. If not, they are at least extending their vertical foliage. Tulip will be right after them. Spring bulbs tend to bloom in very early spring or late winter here, just in time to remind us that there are even more bulbs and bulb like perennials to plant. This is the time of year for planting summer blooming bulbs.

As the name implies, summer blooming bulbs bloom later than spring blooming bulbs. They also get planted later. Unlike spring bulbs, they do not enjoy winter in the garden. (Most spring bulbs are chilled before sale, but would otherwise need winter chill to bloom in spring.) In fact, some summer bulbs are sensitive to frost if they start to grow too early. Types that bloom only once can be planted late to extend bloom, but will need to be watered more carefully after the rain stops.

Dahlia, canna and the old fashioned big white calla are the easiest of summer bulbs. Happy dahlias can last for years, and can be divided if they get big enough. Cannas are even more reliable and more prolific. Big white callas are slow to get started, but can be difficult to contain of once they get established. However, the smaller colorful types are quite demanding, and not so reliable.

Gladiolus and the various lilies are among the most impressive of summer bulbs, but they bloom only once annually, and if not grown in ideal conditions, are unlikely to bloom more than once ever. Lilies want to be watered and fertilized regularly, and grown in rich potting medium. Gladiolus bulbs are typically planted in groups, but only a few in each group will likely regenerate after bloom.

Gladiolus

60203The sword of a gladiator was known as a gladio, and it probably resembled the leaves or floral spikes of gladiolus. These narrow and pointed leaves stand nearly vertical, angling only slightly to the left and right of a single flower stalk that can get as tall as six feet. The floral spike supports several very colorful florets that are arranged to the left and right, but tend to lean toward the front.

The summer bloom can be red, pink, orange, yellow, greenish yellow or white, in bright or pastel hues, and often with multiple colors. Florets bloom upward from the bottom, so lower florets fade before upper florets open. Gladiolus is an excellent cut flower anyway. Taller blooms might need to be staked.

New bulbs should be planted about now, at least four inches deep, and about four or five inches away from each other. Gladiolus want well drained soil and full sun exposure.

Bulbs Now For Summer Bloom

60203thumbLike a timely sequel, bulbs are back. Spring blooming bulbs were available in nurseries earlier, so that they could get planted and disperse their roots through winter, and get ready for their early bloom. Since then, Christmas trees came and went as they were replaced by bare root stock. Now that bare root stock is selling, summer blooming bulbs are arriving for late winter planting.

Summer bulbs are not on the same schedule as spring bulbs. Most of the earliest spring bulb bloom while their foliage is still developing. A few daffodil, grape hyacinth and crocus are already blooming prematurely. Summer bulbs start to grow a bit later and grow a bit slower, and then bloom only after their foliage has matured. Some may not bloom until late summer or early autumn.

There are a few similarities between spring and summer bulbs though. Both groups include plants that develop corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots instead of bulbs. All are known as ‘bubs’ for convenience. Although very different physiologically, they all function about the same way, by storing resources through dormancy so that they can regenerate within their particular season.

Another similarity is that after spring and summer bulbs bloom, and their spent flowers get pruned away, their foliage should remain until it withers. This foliage is what sustains the bulbs below while they replenish resources to survive through the next dormancy. (Actually, most bulbs replace themselves with new bulbs.) This foliage will want water and fertilizer like any other perennial.

Unfortunately, even with regular watering and fertilizing, the most popular spring and summer bulbs are not really as reliably perennial as they are purported to be. Except for the few types that thrive and naturalize like daffodils (spring) and crocosmia (summer), most bloom very impressively only in their first year, and then bloom meagerly in their second year, if they bloom again at all.

Crocosmia, dahlia, hardy orchid (Bletilla), canna and classic big white calla are the most reliable summer bulbs. Smaller colorful callas are not as easy, but are worth trying. Gladiolus, tuberous begonia and the various lilies are so spectacular that no one minds if they bloom only for one summer. Astilbe, liatris and various alliums work nicely behind where summer annuals will go later.

Gladiolus papilio (from the author of Tangly Cottage Gardening Journal)

p90127https://tonytomeo.com/2018/11/10/six-on-saturday-tangly-cottage-gardening-journal/

This link is to the original post to ‘Six on Saturday’ that was about the four dozen or so Gladiolus papilio bulbs that the author of Tangly Cottage Gardening Journal sent to me at the end of last October.

I tried to not get too eager about these new bulbs. I sort of watched their site shortly after planting them, just to make sure they were safe. Once they were planted, nothing else was done there. There was a bit of frost just to let them know what time of year it is. The rain has been soaking the ground for them.

More recently, I noticed that some of the spring bulbs, particularly narcissus, are blooming elsewhere. Daffodils with bigger flowers are just about to bloom. Even though I know that the summer bulbs bloom a season later, I also know that, their foliage starts to develop quite some time before bloom. They are not as fast as spring bulbs, so their foliage may appear months before ultimate bloom in summer. Again, I was trying to not get too excited.

Then on Friday, I needed to remove some licorice plant from the opposite end of the same big bed that the Gladiolus papilio is in. I did not go out of my way, but hey, while there, I went over to just make sure there were no problems where the the bulbs are at. I really did not expect to find these two shoots. They are emerging from bulbs at opposite ends of the row of the five groups of bulbs described in the earlier article. They look like small shoots of common gladiola, like those that emerge from the tiny cormlets that develop next to larger corms, which is exactly what I was expecting them to look like.p90127+

Bulbs Foliage Lingers After Bloom

80418thumbDaffodils, freesias, lilies, snowdrops and the various early spring blooming bulbs and bulb like perennials will be finishing soon if they have not finished already, leaving us with the annual question of what to do with the foliage after bloom. The plants will not bloom again until next year, and the remaining foliage might be unappealing without bloom. Much of it slowly deteriorates into summer.

Bulbs that were forced have probably exhausted their resources, so are not likely to recover. Formerly forced daffodils and narcissus can go into the garden, but after the foliage dies back, they will probably never be seen again. Regeneration is possible though. Forced hyacinths and tulips are not likely worth the effort. They do not get enough chill here to bloom reliably in spring anyway.

Daffodils and narcissus (and for those who insist on growing them, hyacinths and tulips,) that bloomed out in the garden will need to retain their foliage long enough to sustain regeneration of new bulbs that will bloom next spring. As long as the foliage is still green, it is working. When it withers and turns brown, it is easy to pluck from the soil, leaving new but dormant bulbs in the soil below.

Some of us like to tie long daffodil, narcissus and snowdrop foliage into knots so that it lays down for the process; but this only makes it more prominent in the landscape than if it were just left to lay down flat. Freesias are experts at laying down, which is why they might have needed to be staked while in bloom. The foliage of many early spring bulbs is easier to ignore in mixed plantings.

It is even easier to ignore if overplanted with annuals or perennials that are just deep enough to obscure the foliage. Shallow groundcover might work for some of the more aggressive bulbs. Bulb foliage will need to be tucked under. Flower stalks should be pruned away from bulb foliage, not only because they are the most unsightly parts (if not concealed), but also because developing seed or fruit structures divert resources from bulb development.

Bulbs Are Not Finished Yet

41015thumbIt might seem creepy to think about what spring bulbs are doing right now out in the garden. Like victims of a horror movie, they were buried in shallow graves last autumn. They were not dead though. They were undead but merely dormant. While no one can see what they are up to, they disperse roots and begin to push new foliage up to the surface of the soil. Some might bloom soon.

Now it is getting to be time for summer bulbs. Unlike spring bulbs, summer bulbs do not prefer to hang out in the garden through the cool and rainy weather of winter. If planted too early, they can start to grow prematurely, and could potentially get damaged by frost. If planted much too late after winter rain, they will need to be watered more carefully while young, and are likely to bloom late.

Just like spring bulbs, most summer bulbs are really corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots. Only a few are actual bulbs. Although they are very different physiologically, they perform the same function. They store resources from a previous season through dormancy in order to sustain growth for the next season. Some summer bulbs bloom more than once annually or with many blooms.

Dahlia, canna, crocosmia, hardy orchid (Bletilla) and the old fashioned big white calla are some of the easier to grow summer bulbs. Dahlia is the most colorful, but blooms late in summer or early autumn, and might only perform well for a single summer. With regular watering, canna can grow like a big weed, but in a nice way. The others can grow well enough to get invasive over the years.

Gladiolus and lily will probably bloom for only one summer, but are so colorful that those who enjoy them do not mind. Tuberous begonia is fussier, so is usually grown in pots. Allium, astilbe and maybe liatris have potential to thrive and multiply in the right conditions, but more often bloom for only a few years. Small colored callas are unpredictable too. They are showy but rarely prolific.

After bloom, deteriorating flowers should be pruned away to conserve resources while lingering foliage recharges bulbs for the next winter. This process is known as ‘deadheading’. Gladiolus, lily and any others bulbs that bloom only once obviously need to be deadheaded only once. Dahlia, canna and others that bloom over an extended season will want to be deadheaded a few times.

Plant Spring Bulbs In Autumn

71115thumbOf all the gardening chores, planting dormant bulbs is probably the least gratifying. All we do is dig a hole to the required depth and width, set a few unimpressively dormant bulbs with the correct orientation and spacing, and then fill the hole with the same soil that was removed from it. The process gets repeated until all the bulbs are planted. Soil amendment and fertilizer might be added.

There is nothing to show for our efforts. When finished, only bare soil remains. We might want to plants flowering annuals or a light duty ground cover over the bulbs, or we might just spread mulch. If soil amendment is needed, it should be mixed into the soil at the bottom of the planting holes. Fertilizer can get dispersed over the surface of the soil after planting. There really is not much to it.

Planting bulbs is also a chore that is easy to forget about until it is too late. If we do not see them in nurseries, we might not think about daffodil, narcissus, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, freesia, tulip, crocus, lily, anemone, ranunculus, iris or other spring bulbs until we see them blooming next spring. Yet, this is when their dormant bulbs, corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots get planted.

Many types of bulbs become available in nurseries at the same time, and can be planted as soon as they become available. It might be too early to plant those that are not yet available. Gladiola, dahlia, allium, calla and canna are summer bulbs that will become available later because they likely should get planted later, although calla and canna do not seem to care when they get planted.

Daffodil, narcissus and grape hyacinth are probably the most reliable spring bulbs for naturalizing. Bearded iris is likewise very reliable, but needs to be dug, split and groomed every few years. Freesia and crocus may not naturalize as reliably. Lily, tulip, anemone, ranunculus and hyacinth are spectacular in spring, but are unlikely to naturalize because they prefer more of a chill in winter.

Some bulbs can be phased in their first year. For example, if freesia flowers are expected to last about a week, a second group of bulbs can be planted about a week after the first. A third group can be planted about a week after the second, and so on for a few weeks until the planting season ends. As the first group finishes bloom in spring, the second group begins to bloom, and so on.