Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2010
Regional Report

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Keep tulips year after year with some simple care after they have finished blooming.

Spring Bulb Care

Spring has sprung, and now what the heck do you do with all those fading tulips and daffodils? They don't contribute a thing to the landscape, what with their flowers going to seed and the petals falling off. No sir, it's time to take them out. Or is it?

It is possible to save and preserve tulips and other spring blooming bulbs for use in the garden next season. Daffodils can be naturalized in the ground simply by removing the flower heads, complete with seed pod. It's important to remove the flower stalk as close to the ground as possible so that the bulb doesn't waste energy trying to create a seed.

Think about the purpose of a plant; its only reason for living is to procreate. That means forming a seed that will carry on the strain for future generations. If you remove the seed, the plant will continue to try to create a new one. Although not a bulb flower, sweet peas, for example, will continue to produce a profusion of flowers in the attempt to make seeds. That's why it is recommended that you cut sweet pea flowers daily - to increase the bloom and prevent the plant from going to seed. In the case of bulbs, which bloom only one time during the season, once the seed (flower head) has been removed the only way the plant is able to procreate is to try again next year. So, instead of putting energy into forming a seed, it will expend that same energy into strengthening the bulb so that a new flower can be produced the following year.

Here's the Scoop
Once the flowers have faded and you have removed them from the plant, treat the spring blooming bulbs as if they were honored guests in the garden. Fertilize and keep the foliage watered until it begins to turn yellow and fade, sometime around mid June. At that point, with hold water completely.

To Leave, or Not?
Now you have a dilemma. Do you leave the fading foliage on the bulbs in your otherwise tidy garden? Or, do you cut it off? Martha Stewart braids the leaves and then bundles them with raffia or rubber bands to keep them tidy looking until they are completely dry and pull easily from the ground. Personally, once the leaves begin to turn from yellow to brown, I cut them off at the surface of the soil. This is for daffodils and narcissus only. Tulips are a different kettle of fish altogether.

Tulip Treatment
Once the flowers fade, tulips need to be deadheaded, then given the high ranking guest treatment with regular watering and fertilizer. Remember, your purpose is to create the strongest bulb possible. Once tulip foliage begins to turn yellow, withhold the water until the foliage is completely dry. After a few weeks, dig the bulbs from the ground and shake off the excess soil. Allow the bulbs to dry in a cool, shady area on sheets of newspaper until the foliage pulls away easily from the bulb. Discard the spent leaves, sort through the bulbs and discard any that are damaged or spongy, then store the rest in a paper bag in a cool, dry area, such as the garage.

Come November, put the dry bulbs into the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator for 4 - 6 weeks prior to planting in the ground or in pots.
This may seem like a lot of work, but it saves a bundle of money.

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