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Bulb Care Instructions

Watering—You should water all bulbs thoroughly at planting time. This helps establish good contact between soil and bulb and helps initiate root growth as soon as possible. Generally, rainfall supplies enough moisture during the growing season, but all bulbs should be watered during periods of drought.

Dead heading—Remove declining blooms to prevent seed set. Seed set reduces the production of storage materials that are necessary for good bulb growth, which in turn affects blooming the next season.

Fertilization—Most bulbs do not require a fertilizer application at planting. Although it is not necessary, applying bone meal may be beneficial in some soils. Contrary to what some bulb books tell you, most bulbs should be fertilized with a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet when foliage is emerging in spring. Later application of fertilizer, however, can promote certain disease problems.

Container-grown plants require more frequent fertilization during their active growing seasons because nutrients that are leached from containers need to be replaced. You can use any water-soluble, complete fertilizer for container plants. Follow label directions for correct dilution rate.

Care of foliage—Foliage should be allowed to die back naturally. After plants have bloomed, foliage acts as a factory to produce all sugars necessary for bulb vigor. If you remove the foliage prematurely, you risk destroying bulb vigor. Remove as little foliage as possible when cutting flowers for indoor use.


Seed—Although bulbs produce seed, propagation of plants by this method is usually left to plant breeders. It can take up to six years to produce a blooming plant from seed. As mentioned, it is generally best for bulb vigor to remove declining blooms before seed is set.

Offsets—This is a general term referring to bulblets or cormlets that can be severed or broken off from the mother bulb. Individual size of the offsets determines how many growing seasons are necessary before bloom size is reached.

Bulbils—Some bulbs, such as many of the lilies, produce aerial bulbils in leaf axils. Under favorable conditions, these “miniature bulbs” grow and produce a flowering-size bulb in two or three years.

Division—After several growing seasons, bulbs like narcissus may have produced enough offsets to become crowded. This crowding reduces bulb vigor, which is apparent by a decrease in number or size of blooms. Reduced number or size of blooms signals that bulbs should be divided. Lift and divide bulbs when they are dormant. August is generally considered the best time to divide spring-blooming bulbs. Summer-blooming bulbs are generally divided after foliage begins to die back. Fall-blooming bulbs, like Lycoris, can be lifted and divided after foliage dies back in the spring.


Division-Tender bulbs can be divided in fall before they are stored for the winter or in spring before they are planted. Tender tubers, such as dahlias, are more easily divided in spring. These tubers produce eyes at the base of the stem. It is much easier to see dahlia eyes in the spring.

Storage-Dig tender bulbs in the fall before the soil freezes. There are basically two ways to store bulbs over winter. Both storage methods require periodic inspections throughout the winter to make sure none of the bulbs have begun to rot. Discard bulbs that show any signs of rotting.

Some bulbs, like gladiolus and ismenes, can be cured as you would onions and stored dry. To do this, dig bulbs and remove excess soil and foliage. Spread bulbs out in a dry area that has plenty of air circulation, and allow bulbs to cure. After curing, remove dried foliage or excess stems. Dusting with a fungicide is not absolutely necessary but can be done at this time. Store bulbs in a container that allows adequate air circulation (potato sack, paper bag with holes punched in it). Place the container in an area with good air circulation and where the temperature will not drop below freezing.

Other tender bulbs, such as dahlias, do not tolerate dry storage because the tubers desiccate. Dig these plants before the first expected killing frost, and remove all excess foliage and soil. You can hose off the tubers to remove soil as long as you allow them to dry adequately before storing them. Generally, division is not necessary at this time. Cover tubers with dry peat moss, vermiculite, or any other material that allows some air circulation. This covering reduces desiccation. Boxes or paper bags are possible containers. These containers should also be stored where temperatures will not drop below freezing.

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