With care, spring bulbs will be back

I had beautiful red tulips lining my entry path this year. It was quite a stunning display. I was pleased to see that they had spread even though this was only their second season. What we do to tulips and other spring-blooming bulbs while they are in bloom and after they bloom definitely influences next year's display.

Bulbs need water while they are growing, until the foliage declines and dies. After that, an occasional watering through the heat of summer should suffice. Too much water can rot the bulbs. As long as the leaves are growing and after flowering, fertilize the plants so they have enough nutrients to build strong bulbs filled with next year's food source. Use a bulb food high in phosphorus or potassium, or a complete fertilizer with a 10-10-10 formula. Be sure to work the fertilizer into the soil a bit, so it reaches the roots.

Although the dying leaves are not very attractive, they are critical for building up the strength for the following year's flower production.

Sunset's "Western Garden" book describes this stage of bulb growth as "bedraggled and weary." Removing the leaves will deplete their food-making ability and flower yield will decline in subsequent years. If these less-than-stellar-looking leaves are too messy to you, gently fold them over and tie them loosely into neat bundles with a string or rubber band. Or, plant other flowers to hide your passing bulbs. When they are dead, you can cut them off at ground level.

Bulbs need dividing when the flowers get smaller and fewer with passing years. Some, such as daffodils, can be divided every three or four years. Being a lazy gardener, I have never divided my daffodils. After 16 years, they are still pretty in spring! Some people prefer not to bother with division, and would rather just buy new bulbs. Some bulbs, such as grape hyacinth, should be split up when their beds get too full. Daffodils and tulips are best divided about six weeks after flowering. They and most Dutch bulbs can be dug, split, and replanted. You can also store them until fall if you prefer.

To store bulbs, let them dry out in the sun, and then brush off the soil and old roots. Save only the largest bulbs, and throw away any mushy bulbs. Put firm, large bulbs in mesh sacks or paper bags (not plastic) to keep them dry. Store them in a cool, dark place until late September, and then replant them.

For information on gardening, contact me, 887-2252 or skellyj@unce.unr.edu, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at www.unce.unr.edu. "Ask a Master Gardener" by e-mailing mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu.

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City / Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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