The Q&A Archives: Two Questions On Bulbs

Question: I read conflicting answers in the library about bulbs that have been forced. Am I correct in clipping the flowers once the blooms are over, watering the plants, waiting for the foliage to die and then taking them out of the pots, putting them in a dark place and planting in the fall for next spring. Or is that a waste of time and effort? if not, what should the temperature of the storage area be?

A second related question. I live in the city and space in my outdoor garden is limited. I planted many tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and crocuses last fall. After they bloom, can I remove them and re-plant them for next year or does that damage the bulbs? Or should I try to plant my annuals above them and leave them in the ground? What is the method for either strategy and which is better for the bulbs and for future flowers?

Answer: Under home conditions it is nearly impossible to reforce bulbs that have already been forced once, so it is better to start with fresh bulbs each year. Bulbs that have been forced can be planted in the garden as soon as possible in the spring and in many cases will bloom again, if not the next year then the year after that. The reason for this poor performance is that the forcing process exhausts the bulbs quite thoroughly and they need time to recover. Paperwhites, it shoul be noted, are not winter hardy and thus should simply be discarded after forcing.

When you plant bulbs in flower beds you do have to take into account the maturing foliage and subsequent bare space in the garden. In my experience, crocus are fairly easy to plant around because they are so small and the foliage is inconsequential. These bulbs also tend to naturalize well and last for many years in the garden, as do most daffodils. Daffodils (and the species tulips) however can be difficult to work with in a flower bed because the clumps increase in size and become unsightly as they ripen. In my experience a perennial such as daylily can be planted in fornt of them and will camouflage the needed ripening process. Hyacinths are only occasionally long-lived, and the same can be expected with most of the taller types of tulips, so I would plan on pulling them and replacing them from year to year. Many gardeners treat their tulips like annuals, planting new bulbs each fall and then pulling and discarding them each spring. This actually allows a better more consistent bloom display because you will always have top sized bulbs each year -- the bulbs tend to divide and produce smaller blooms when planted in the ground.

Once your bulbs bloom and you are able to evaluate the display, you may want to rearrange them with summer planting in mind. Although I would not recommend moving them every year, you can transplant them with a high success rate if you are careful to take the entire root ball when you do it, meaning not just the bulb but also as many of the roots as possible. Make sure they are well watered the day before and water them in well when you've replanted them. Prepare the new spot before you dig them up and replant them immediately.

Basically, if you leave them in the ground to ripen and then remove them for summer storage, it will be rather late in the season to successfully plant annuals and perennials. You will also have spent weeks and weeks looking at the ugly fading foliage -- a stage which must occur if the bulbs are to rebuild their strength enough to bloom again.

Since you have only a small space, you might consider forcing the bulbs in pots to be set into decorative containers in the spring and then discarded. This would allow you to plant annuals and perennials in the ground unhampered by having allowed space for the bulbs. This sort of thing is always an issue for small space gardeners. You might eventually decide to grow one patch of your favorite bulb only and enjoy other people's displays of the rest!

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