There is nothing quite as welcome as those
beautiful spring flowers that seem to emerge from nowhere to welcome
the arrival of spring. Bulb type flowers are really unique plants,
because they spend most of their days resting quietly beneath the
surface of the soil. Then right on schedule, up they come, full of
bloom and vigor, and then almost as fast as they came, they go. Except
for the green leafy part of the plant that tends to linger longer than
we would like them to.
Despite their short bloom time and unattractive foliage after the
blooms are gone, they are still a wonderful addition to any landscape.
But how should you care for them? First let’s talk about how to use
them in your landscape. Flowers of all kinds are best when planted in
groupings. Many people buy 25 or 50 bulbs and just go around the yard
planting helter skelter. That’s fine if that’s what you want, but when
planted that way they tend to blend in with the landscape and really
don’t show up well at all. When you plant them in large groups they
are a breathing taking show piece.
In the early spring start thinking about where you would like to
create a bed for flower bulbs. Prepare the bed by raising it with good
rich topsoil, and if at all possible add some well composted cow
manure. Do this in the spring while you are in the gardening mood, you
may not be in the fall. Over the summer fill the bed with annual
flowers to keep the weeds down, and to pretty up your yard for the
summer. Come fall all you have to do is pull out the annuals and plant
your bulbs to the depth recommended on the package.
If you think you could have a problem with squirrels digging up the
bulbs and eating them, you can also wrap the bulbs in steel wool
leaving just the tip of the bulb exposed so it can grow out of the
little wire cage you’ve created. Or you can just plant the bulbs and
then cover the bed with chicken wire or plastic fencing until the
bulbs start to grow in the spring.
When the bulbs come up in the spring and start blooming, you should
clip off the blooms as they start to wither. This keeps the bulb from
producing seeds, which requires a lot of energy, and you want the bulb
to use all of it’s available energy to store food in preparation of
the bulb’s resting period. Once the bulbs are completely done blooming
you don’t want to cut off the tops until they are withered and die
back. The million dollar question is how to treat the tops until that
Many people bend them over and slip a rubber band over them, or in the
case of bulbs like Daffodils tie them with one of the long leaves.
This seems to work because it is a very common practice among many
experienced gardeners. However, Mike is about to rain on the parade.
I strongly disagree with this theory because back about 6th grade we
learned about photosynthesis is science class. To recap what we
learned, and without going in to the boring details, photosynthesis is
the process of the plant using the sun’s rays to make food for itself.
The rays from the sun are absorbed by the foliage and the food making
process begins. In the case of a flower bulb this food is transported
to the bulb beneath the ground and stored for later use.
So basically the leaves of the plant are like little solar panels.
Their job is to absorb the rays from the sun to begin the process
known as photosynthesis. If we fold them over and handcuff them with
their hands behind their back, they are not going to be able to do
their job. It’s like throwing a tarpaulin over 80% of a solar panel.
In order for the leaves to absorb the rays from the sun, the surface
of the foliage has to be exposed to the sun. On top of that, when you
bend the foliage over, you are restricting the flow of nutrients to
the bulb. The veins in the leaves and the stem are a lot like our
blood vessels. If you restrict them the flow stops.
You decide. I’ve presented my case. Bending them over seems to work,
but I’ve spent a lot of money on my bulbs. I want them running at full
speed. What I do is clip the blooms off once they are spent, and just
leave the tops alone until they are yellow and wilted. If they are
still not wilted when it’s time to plant my annual flowers, I just
plant the annuals in between the bulbs. As the bulbs die back the
annuals tend to grow and conceal them. If one shows through I clip it
off. It seems to work well for me.
Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most
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