Caring for Spring Bulbs After Flowering

Spring-Blooming Bulbs

After your bulbs have finished blooming, it's best to remove the spent flowers. This will help the plant concentrate its energy on forming next year's flowers rather than forming seed heads. Don't worry about removing the flower heads of small bulbs such as crocus and scilla.

It is very important to leave bulb foliage in place for several weeks after the plant has flowered. During this time, the plant uses its leaves to create the energy it needs to form next season's flower inside the bulb. Once the foliage begins to yellow, it can be bent over and tucked out of place, or be trimmed off close to the ground using a scissor or knife. If you pull the foliage out rather than cutting it, make sure to wait until it has fully yellowed or you may damage the bulb.

Most spring-blooming bulbs will multiply and return each spring, providing more and more flowers every year. Some flower bulbs--such as tulips and hyacinths--are best in their first year and then gradually diminish in size. To ensure a terrific display each spring, you may want to replace these bulbs every year. This also gives you the opportunity to try new colors, varieties and combinations.

Most people leave their spring bulbs in the ground after blooming, and only pull out the ones that they plan to replace next fall. If you want to move or divide the bulbs in your garden and replant them next fall, you can do so once the foliage has begun to yellow. Save only the largest bulbs, discarding the smaller bulblets that sometimes form around the "mother" bulb. The bulbs should be kept in a cool, dry, dark place until you replant them next fall. Extra bulbs can be passed along to friends or family.

Summer-Blooming Bulbs

Most summer-blooming bulbs, corms and tubers are hardy only in the warmest climates. These include gladioli, dahlias, and begonias. In most zones, these bulbs must be dug up each fall before frost and stored indoors over the winter months.

Once the foliage of the plant has begun to yellow, which usually happen in late summer or early fall, you can dig down and carefully lift the bulbs from the ground. Gently clean off the dirt, remove any attached foliage, and label the bulb as to variety and/or color.

Most bulbs should be kept dry during storage. Lay the bulbs in a box and surround them with shredded newspaper, dry peat moss, vermiculite, sawdust or wood shavings. The bulbs should be allowed to "breathe" but not dry out completely. If you live in a dry climate or your winter air is very dry, you may want to nestle the box into a plastic bag, but be sure to leave the top of the bag open. Check the bulbs a few times during the winter to make sure they are not too wet or too dry. Store them in a dark, cool place such as a basement until you're ready to replant next spring.

Last updated: 01/29/2021