Frequently Asked Question about Flower Bulbs

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Tulip & Flowers FAQ


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How soon should I plant my bulbs after I buy them?

How do I plant in general?

Should I dig up my bulbs?

Is it true that bone meal is the best bulb food?

Do tulips prefer a sunny or a shady spot in the yard?

I've been told to plant bulbs in clusters--Why is this important?

Should I apply mulch? How deep? When?

Why can't I plant tulips in the spring?

When do bulbgrowers in the Netherlands plant their bulbs?

It's February and I just found a bag of bulbs that I forgot to plant. Do I save them till next year?

Spring weather is often so erratic. What should I do if we get warm weather followed by a cold snap and my bulbs are already 'up'?

What do I do with my tulips after blooming?

I would like to receive my spring bloomers (like tulips, daffodils, etc) in spring/summer. Is this possible?

Which bulbs have the strongest smell?

What are 'botanical or 'species' tulips?

What are the oldest tulip varieties still available?

My tulips don't do well at all the second season of bloom. I've been told that lifting the bulbs, storing them for the summer and replanting them in the fall will improve their performance. Is this true?

I have deer in my garden. Which bulbs can I plant?

Are there bulbs that scare off mice and/or rats?

How do I keep squirrels from digging up bulbs?

I notice lots of tiny insects coming out of my summer bulb flower bouquet. What can I do about this?



How soon should I plant my bulbs after I buy them? 

Ideally, you should plant six weeks or so prior to hard ground frosts in your area to allow ample time for fall root development.
Sometimes you will buy bulbs before you are ready to plant in order to get the best selection. While it's always best to plant your bulbs as soon after you receive them as possible, when you have to wait, be sure to store the bulbs in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
Even if planted late, bulbs will spring into action and try to start root growth. They are pre-programmed to grow and will do their best no matter how late you plant them.

How do I plant in general?

Generally, the depth of the planting hole will depend upon the size of the bulb. As a general rule you should make the planting hole two to three times the height of the bulb. Be sure to plant the bulbs the right way: the root system down and the pointed part up.

Should I dig up my bulbs?

You can leave the spring-bloomers in the ground, because they are winter ‘hardy’. On the other hand you should remove the summer-blooming bulbs when you live in a cold climate zone. These bulbs are not winter ‘hardy’, so they cannot stand the cold. When you live in a warm climate zone then you can leave the bulbs in the ground.

Do tulips prefer a sunny or a shady spot in the yard?

Tulips are sun as well as shade lovers. But when planting your tulips this fall, don't be fooled by the patterns of sun and shade in the fall garden! Remember that come spring, when tulips bloom, all the deciduous, non-evergreen trees in your yard will be beautifully leafless. There's a lot of sun in a spring garden!

I've been told to plant bulbs in clusters--Why is this important?

Groups of bulbs make a much nicer show than individual 'soldiers marching single file.' To create greater color impact in the garden, plant clusters of same-color flowers together in blocks or 'bouquets.' Visually, you get more 'bang for the buck.' One trick: try positioning similar bulbs in a triangular planting pattern in the garden, with the point of the triangle towards the front and the long leg towards the back. The result: it will look as if you planted more flowers than you did. Generally, larger bulbs should be planted 3 to 6 inches apart, smaller bulbs 1 to 2 inches apart.

Is it true that bone meal is the best bulb food?

Once upon a time, bone meal was considered an excellent bulb fertilizer, but times have changed! Most bone meal today has been so thoroughly processed that much of the essential nutrients have been literally boiled out. Spring-flowering bulbs actually need no fertilizer for their first season of blooming. A healthy Dutch bulb will already contain all the food it needs to support one season of spectacular growth. Bulbs that will be left in the ground to naturalize will benefit from well-rotted cow manure or special bulb fertilizer when the shoots first appear in spring and again the following fall.
One other note about bone meal. Dogs and other critters can sniff it out and be tempted to dig!

Should I apply mulch? How deep? When?

Mulch is not required but it is often beneficial. Three inches is plenty. Wait until the ground cools down. Contrary to popular notions, mulching over bulbs is meant to retain soil moisture and keep the ground temperatures cool and stable, not to serve as a 'warm winter blanket' (except in the very coldest climates). Mulch just before the ground freezes. Applying mulch too early in the season, when the ground is still soft and warm, can invite infestations by field mice and other critters that like to burrow in to establish winter quarters (and no doubt dig up tasty tulip treats!)

Why can't I plant tulips in the spring?

Spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils must be planted in the fall or early winter to bloom in spring because they require a long period of cool temperatures to spark the biochemical process that causes them to flower.

When do bulbgrowers in the Netherlands plant their bulbs?

Growers in the Netherlands plant their bulbs in November. They can do this because winters in the Netherlands never really start until mid-December. In regions where the winter starts earlier, it would be advisable to plant tulips in October.

It's February and I just found a bag of bulbs that I forgot to plant. Do I save them till next year?

No! If they are still firm and plump, plant them now. Bulbs are living plants, not seeds they cannot wait, they will dry out. Either chill them in the refrigerator for use indoors as forced bulbs or somehow get them into the ground outside. Because they are so tough and contain a full storehouse of food, your bulbs will try their best to bloom no matter how late it is in the season. This is a case of 'nothing ventured, nothing gained.' Chances are you may still get some results, even if you plant them late.

Spring weather is often so erratic. What should I do if we get warm weather followed by a cold snap and my bulbs are already 'up'?

Nothing. Tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs are tough. They can usually take what Mother Nature dishes out. When the weather turns, don't dash outside to cover early-sprouting bulbs with extra 'weather protection.' A short freeze won't do lasting damage to young bulb shoots and buds, though it may 'burn' already open blossoms. Many, such as snowdrops, crocuses, and early rock garden narcissi are supposed to come up in very early spring, even peeking through the snow. An unseasonably warm spell may cause some bulbs to bloom earlier than anticipated, but in most cases won't result in damage.

What do I do with my tulips after blooming?

1. You can remove the flowers bulb and all and discard them. This is done by most avid gardeners who are constantly improving their garden design and the look and feel of their garden. It also guarantees fresh bulbs (because they plant new bulbs every year) in their garden and they can be sure of fresh strong flowers.

2. You can also choose to let the bulbs stay in the ground and have them bloom again next year. In this case you must allow the bulb to charge up its energy for the winter and to bloom again next year. This means that the leaves must stay on until they die down. The leaves will keep loading the bulb with sunlight and nutrients. After the leaves are dead you can cut them back and just leave the bulbs until next year when many will bloom again. High quality bulbs should come back for about 3 years, but they do get weaker year after year.

I would like to receive my spring bloomers (like tulips, daffodils, etc) in spring/summer. Is this possible?

No, it’s not. Spring bloomers have their life cycle and fresh bulbs are available in the period of August – November. In case you find for example tulip bulbs for sale in spring you can be pretty sure these are old harvest and not fresh. Don’t buy!

Which bulbs have the strongest smell?

Fritillaria imperialis and the Allium species are the bulbs with the strongest odours. Chives (A. schoenoprasum), Ramson (A. ursinum), onion sets (A. cepa), shallots (A. ascalanicum) and garlic (A. sativum) all belong to the Allium family. The scent of other members of this family is similar as well. The strong smell of Fritillaria imperialis keeps moles out of your garden.

What are 'botanical or 'species' tulips?

Species tulips refers to those varieties which have not been bred or hybridized and remain essentially as they are found in nature. Botanical tulips are hybrids, but hybrids, which remain very close to the original species. Neither of these terms refers to 'wild' tulips. All tulips sold by the Dutch, including the species and botanical tulips, are actually propagated and grown in Holland.

What are the oldest tulip varieties still available?

Tulipa tarda, circa 1590s.  T. tarda is native to Turkestan.
Tulipa 'Keizerkroon', c. 1750.
Tulipa clusiana, c. 1802. While the actual red-and-white-striped species tulip T. clusiana is no longer commercially available, its new 'identical cousin' is! Red-and-light yellow-striped T. clusiana 'Cynthia' (1959) this six-inch tall hybrid readily naturalizes to come back year after year.
Viridiflora Tulips, c. 1700 . Green tulips! 20th Century Viridifloras: 'Groenland' (or ‘Greenland’), pale pink with flames and blushes of rose and pale green; 'Spring Green', creamy white with blush green; and ‘Pimpernel’, purplish-red with green featherings.

My tulips don't do well at all the second season of bloom. I've been told that lifting the bulbs, storing them for the summer and replanting them in the fall will improve their performance. Is this true?

This old-fashioned method is difficult, yields mediocre results and is generally a lot of bother. It is better to look for those tulips with a natural propensity for repeat performance. Botanical or species varieties and their hybridized strains are generally excellent garden performers and sometimes will even naturalize (multiply).

I have deer in my garden. Which bulbs can I plant?

When the deer population in your area is high, you better not plant tulips. There are however enough other bulbs you can plant and enjoy. Think about:
Daffodils, Hyacinths, Muscari, Scilla, Fritillaria, Allium, Anemone, Chionodoxa, Colchicum, Crocus.
An option is to plant some tulips between deer proof varieties. The smell of the deer proof bulbs will very likely discourage deer to start digging.

Are there bulbs that scare off mice and/or rats?

Unfortunately, no bulbs have the capacity to really scare off mice or rats. There are a few precautionary measures that can be taken to keep these pests from eating your bulbs, however. First, plant the bulbs deeply enough and cover them properly with soil so that mice and/or rats are not attracted to the planting site. Secondly, cover the border where the bulbs have been planted with some finely meshed wire netting. Lay out this netting so that it more than covers the border and then insert the edges slightly into the soil.

How do I keep squirrels from digging up bulbs?

Squirrels can be terrible pests! They won't bother daffodils and other narcissi bulbs (which taste terrible to them!), but they find tulips and crocus in particular to be worth the effort to sniff out and dig up. The only sure-fire way to protect tulips and crocuses and other tasty bulb treats from squirrels is to lay wire mesh such as chicken wire on top of the bed. The squirrels can't dig through the mesh and the flowers will grow neatly through the holes.
 
Another remedy that some find successful is to actually feed the squirrels during the fall and winter. The theory is that the local squirrel population, when offered a handy plate of peanuts or other easy-to-get treats will leave your bulbs alone. At the White House, the gardeners put up six peanut-filled feeding boxes to satiate the furry denizens there -- and reduced squirrel damage on bulb beds by 95 percent!

A favourite Dutch remedy is to interplant Fritillaria imperialis. This tall dramatic plant gives off an odor that squirrels (and deer too, reportedly) find repellent.

Many gardeners claim success with commercial repellents, but these are often sticky and unpleasant to deal with, or wash away in the rain.

I notice lots of tiny insects coming out of my summer bulb flower bouquet. What can I do about this?

When tiny insects emerge from a bouquet composed of summer bulb flowers, this does no harm to the flowers but it’s certainly not pleasant for you. These insects have emerged from eggs that were laid there earlier and will usually have disappeared within a couple of days. One way to deal with this problem is to spray the bouquet with a mixture of dishwashing detergent, water and a dash of methylated spirits; another way is to place the bouquet outside on your garden table until the insects have flown away.