Larry Hodgson has published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings available to the public. This text was originally published on June 4, 1988 in the newspaper Le soleil.
The flowers of crocuses and daffodils have faded and the last tulips are losing their petals. So, with a few exceptions (such as alliums, which are just beginning to bloom), the spring bulb season is already over. These bulbs, which are becoming more popular every year, are nevertheless perennial and will be back to decorate your gardens and flowerbeds for a long time to come, if you know how to take care of them properly.
The most important thing is to let the foliage “mature”. Indeed, the bulbs continue to store energy reserves as long as the foliage is still green. It is therefore not necessary to cut it before it has turned yellow. However, faded flowers should be removed to prevent them from setting seed, which would reduce subsequent blooms. Finally, do not hesitate to fertilize the soil around the bulbs with a balanced organic fertilizer (with rather equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) or compost to help these greedy plants to replenish their reserves.
You can use a granular fertilizer that is lightly soaked into the soil at the base of the leaves or a liquid fertilizer. For naturalized bulbs in the lawn, the compost you use in the spring will be sufficient to keep them healthy.
To Pull or Not to Pull?
Many people still think that hardy bulbs should be dug up every year and replanted in the fall. In fact, most bulbs work best if left in the same spot for several years. It is only after a few years that the bloom of most bulbs deteriorates. This happens because the original bulb has split into many secondary bulbs and there is not enough space for each one to grow well.
In this case (daffodils, crocuses, small bulbs, etc.), dig up the bulbs (about every 5 to 10 years) when the foliage has yellowed and replant the larger ones immediately in the desired location (the smaller ones can be planted in a less conspicuous location, as they won’t bloom for a year or two). Other bulbs, such as most tulips and hyacinths, degenerate after only a few years and it is not worthwhile to recover them. Simply cut the foliage off immediately after flowering to destroy the bulb and replant with new bulbs in the spring.
Hide the Foliage
It’s true that the foliage on most bulbs is unattractive once the flowers have faded and even ugly when it starts to degenerate, which is towards the end of the month. But, instead of removing the bulbs outright, it’s easier to hide their foliage. This involves planting perennials in front of and around the bulb foliage, being careful not to damage the bulbs when planting. It is not essential that the foliage be completely invisible: simply drawing the eye to other flowers will make you forget the bulbs are there.
Sometimes it is necessary to move bulbs that are still in good condition. In this case, dig up the bulbs carefully, taking care not to damage their delicate roots too much, and transplant them to the desired location or, if that part of the garden is not available (it may already be occupied by annuals), to a less visible part of the garden: next to the vegetable garden, for example. After transplanting, lightly pack the soil and water well. If the bulbs are to be replanted in their permanent location later, wait until the foliage has yellowed, then dig up the bulbs again and keep them, dry, until planting the following fall.
What About Mowing?
Bulbs naturalized in lawns pose another dilemma. Should we sacrifice the equality of the lawn to let the bulbs mature? Yes… and no! Some naturalized bulbs, such as narcissus, have tall but sparse leaves. It is therefore essential to avoid cutting them with the mower until the foliage has started to yellow. The lawn in this area will then be taller than normal and, after the first mowing (probably in July), more sparse. Fortunately, if treated properly, it will be back to its former glory in no time.
As for small, low foliage bulbs (crocus, scilla, etc.), their foliage disappears fairly early and only a portion is affected by the mower anyway. You can then set the mower to its highest cutting level and cut off the leaf tips without greatly affecting the next year’s bloom.
That’s it! By treating your fall bulbs well now, you can guarantee a beautiful spring garden for many years to come!