After-Bloom Bulb Care



By Kim Toscano

Don’t be too quick to mow those daffodils. Learn how to care for bulbs after they bloom.

Bulbs are a most welcomed sight in spring, painting the landscape in dazzling purples, yellows, and pinks. Flower bulbs certainly put on a spectacular show, but once the blooms begin to fade, many flower bulbs quickly become something of an eyesore. What’s a gardener to do? Fortunately, after-bloom bulb care is quite simple. The key is to let Mother Nature work her magic.

When to Cut Back Bulb Foliage

The number one question gardeners have about after-bloom bulb care is when to cut back the foliage. The answer is simple – don’t. At least, not until the leaves die back naturally. After blooming, the foliage of most flower bulbs remains green for several weeks. Those green leaves are capturing the sunshine and storing the energy they gather in underground bulbs. Cutting back or mowing the fading foliage too soon will reduce nutrient reserves for next year, resulting in small, weak bulbs which will gradually decline and die out.

It is especially hard to resist mowing the foliage off bulbs that have become naturalized in lawn areas, but the foliage is important to feed next year’s flowers. Wait until the foliage dies back naturally before removing the dead material.

Hide the Dying Foliage

Most spring flowering bulbs bloom before much else is growing in the garden. This allows you to plant them father back in beds and borders behind perennials. As perennials emerge, they will hide or draw attention away from the fading flower bulbs. In fact, perennials do such a good job at hiding the yellowing leaves of bulbs you probably won’t have to cut them back at all. Just leave them to decompose in the garden.

The large, spreading leaves of hosta easily hide waning bulbs planted at their drip line. Peonies and lady’s mantle also work well, as does the grassy foliage of daylilies and the wide blades of bearded iris. Other favorite bulb partners include summer phlox, ornamental grasses, and fleece flower.

Mark Bulbs You Want to Transplant

There are times when it becomes necessary to dig and move bulbs in the garden. Perhaps they have multiplied to the point where division is necessary, or you are planning new plantings that require the bulbs be moved. Unfortunately, the best time to move bulbs is after they go dormant, when they are no longer visible in the garden. Taking the time to mark plants now and even identify the varieties will save a lot of headaches later. A simple marking technique is to use plastic knives. Clear plastic virtually disappears in the landscape yet is sturdy enough to stay in place. Write a description or the variety name on the knife with permanent marker. Taking a few moments to mark plants now will prevent you from losing your bulbs as the garden matures.