Planting & Care
Frequently Asked Questions
I just received my bulbs, but I can’t plant them right away. How should I store them until I can get them in the ground?
First, open all crates and boxes so that air can get to the bulbs. Then put the bulbs in a cool, dry area with good air circulation. Temperatures between 50 and 60°F are ideal, but your bulbs should be fine within a range of 35–70°F.
I wasn’t able to plant my bulbs before the ground froze. Can I wait to plant them until spring?
No. The bulbs must be planted in the ground to establish a root system before the arrival of winter. If you have a January thaw, you might be able to get your bulbs into the ground before the soil freezes again. Do not wait to plant until spring. The bulbs will dry out and die over winter, and even if they somehow survive, they won’t grow and flower correctly if planted in spring.
Planting and Fertilizing Bulbs
I’ve never planted bulbs before. How do I do it?
There are two methods of getting bulbs into the ground. The first is to dig a hole for each bulb using a trowel, bulb auger, or other tool (see our selection of Planting Tools). Small bulbs can be planted three, four, or more in a single hole. This approach is best used for informal plantings or for minor bulbs such as crocuses, squills, and snowdrops.
If you’re planting large quantities of tulips, daffodils, or hyacinths in a bed, you may find it easiest to excavate the entire area to be planted, set the bulbs in place, and then backfill the soil.
Do bulbs need to be fertilized? If so, when?
The bulbs we ship already have next year’s flowers set inside them, so there’s no need to fertilize at planting time. If you intend for your bulbs to be long-term players in your landscape, you may want to fertilize them in early spring, when the shoots begin to push through the soil. We suggest that you have your soil tested first to identify any nutrient deficiencies and that you correct those deficiencies with an organic fertilizer, which will release nutrients slowly.
Caring for Bulbs After They Bloom
Do my bulbs need any attention after they finish blooming?
We recommend that you remove the spent flowers of tulips, a practice known as deadheading. Deadheading tulips prevents the bulbs from expending energy on producing seeds and instead directs that energy to bulb growth. The spent flowers of all other bulbs need be removed only for aesthetic reasons. For additional information on caring for bulbs after they bloom, see Bulb After Care.
After my bulbs flower, the leaves look fine for a while, then turn yellow and brown and finally dry up completely. Are my bulbs diseased?
After they bloom, spring-flowering bulbs store up energy for the following year’s display, then go dormant, usually within six to 12 weeks. They will not produce leaves and flowers again until the following spring. As they go dormant, their foliage yellows and withers and finally dries up. This is perfectly normal. See A Spring-flowering Bulb’s Growth Cycle for more information.
How long do I have to wait before I can remove bulb foliage?
You must wait to remove bulb foliage until it has yellowed completely. If you cut, tie, or fold the foliage while it is still green, you are depriving your bulbs of their means of producing next year’s flowers. The leaves are the food factories of bulbs (and of all plants). They have the ability, through photosynthesis, to transform sunlight into the energy they need to grow and flower. If you cut the leaves early, you are essentially cutting away next spring’s flowers.
I’ve heard that people who live in mild-winter climates in the South and California have to “pretreat” tulips before they plant them. I live in Los Angeles. What do I have to do?
Tulips (and most other spring-flowering bulbs) need a long cold period at temperatures between 35 and 45° F to bloom properly. In zones 7b to 10 in the South and in California, the soil temperature never drops below 45 degrees or it doesn’t remain there long enough. To have a good tulip display in these areas, gardeners and landscapers must prechill the bulbs in a refrigerator (not a freezer) for 6–10 weeks before planting them in late fall (late November – early January). For more on prechilling, see our Prechilling FAQ.
The first spring after I planted my tulips, they were perfect. The second spring I got only a handful of flowers. Can you tell me what’s wrong with my bulbs?
In all likelihood, there is nothing wrong with your bulbs. Most tulips flower best the first spring after planting. In subsequent years, flowering diminishes and eventually stops entirely. If you want a knock-out display every spring, consider digging and discarding tulip bulbs after they bloom and replacing them with new bulbs in the fall. For many gardeners, the cost and effort are well worth it. If you’d like to learn more about why tulips don’t perennialize well, see our article on Perennial Tulips—or type “why didn’t my tulips come back” into your internet search engine. You will see that many people have the same question.
Are there things I can do to encourage my tulips to bloom well for more than one spring?
Here are three things you can do.
1) Fertilize the bulbs when the foliage pushes through the soil in early spring. Don’t overdo it. A light scattering of a low-nitrogen fertilizer, preferably organic, is enough.
2) Remove the spent flowers as soon as the bulbs finish blooming. Snapping off the top 3 inches of the flower stem prevents seed formation and focuses energy instead on bulb growth.
3) Allow the foliage to wither completely before you remove it.
4) Avoid summer irrigation. Tulips prefer to be dry during their dormancy.
Do tulip leaves and flowers need to be protected from late frosts?
Most spring-flowering bulbs, tulips included, are very frost hardy. They are rarely injured by late cold snaps. Unless you have observed frost damage on tulips in your area in the past, there should be no need to protect your bulbs.
After my tulips go dormant, there will be a big bare space in my garden. Can I plant something on top of the tulips?
Most certainly. The tulip bulbs sit below the reach of most plant roots, and they benefit from upstairs neighbors that take up extra moisture in the soil (tulips like to be dry during their summer dormancy). The ideal companions are vegetables and annual flowers, because they can be planted after the tulip leaves yellow and they can be pulled up in fall, making way for the reappearance of the tulips the following spring.
I live in the Deep South and would like to grow Daffodils. I haven’t had much luck with the big yellow daffodils I see in catalogs. Are there daffodils that will perform well for me?
Many of the daffodils we offer can do well in the South. We have gathered them together on our Daffodils for the South page.
Can I grow Daffodils in Southern California?
Yes. You can grow many of the daffodils we offer, and you won’t need to refrigerate the bulbs as you would those of tulips. The place to start is our Daffodils for the South page. Most of the daffodils that do well in the South also do well in Southern California.
I’ve seen terrific photos of Daffodils growing wild in a field. Can I have that look on my property?
In principle, yes, but there are a few things to keep in mind before you get started.
1) Daffodils rarely produce viable seeds in North America, which means that achieving that wild look means planting lots—probably thousands—of bulbs. You may want to start with several hundred bulbs in one area and add to your planting every fall.
2) Planting in unprepared soil can be rough going. The task will be especially slow and difficult in rocky soil. You might want to consider investing in our Step-on Daffodil Planter. It won’t allow you to break up rocks, but it can get through hard soil and muscle past small roots.
3) To have a natural-looking planting, you must plant the way nature plants and avoid straight lines and predictable patterns. Articles on naturalizing daffodils often recommend that you toss handfuls of bulbs out onto the ground and plant them where they lie.
4) Daffodil foliage takes a long time to yellow and wither, and there’s nothing you can do to hasten the process. You’ll have to wait at least two months before you can cut the grass, by which time the grass will have grown very tall.
Last year I planted a hundred daffodils in my backyard. They bloomed beautifully, but the flowers faced the neighbors’ house instead of ours. Why?
Daffodil flowers face the prevailing direction of the sun. If you plant them in a sunny location and you view them from the south, they will tend to look away from you. To make sure you can see your daffodils, plant them to the north of the point from which you will view them, or plant them against a background such as a house or a hedge.
Daffodil foliage seems to take forever to disappear. A friend of mine folds up the leaves and wraps them with rubber bands, which at least keeps things neat. Does this harm the bulbs?
Yes. The leaves must have access to sunshine to store up the energy needed to produce next year’s flowers and foliage. Folding the leaves reduces the surface area exposed to light. To get a perennial display from daffodils, you have to allow the foliage to wither unmolested. Here’s an easy formula to remember: This spring’s leaves = next spring’s flowers.
Bulbs for Difficult Sites
I have a very shady yard. Can I plant bulbs? Which ones?
Spring-flowering bulbs already have next year’s flowers nestled inside them when they are delivered to your door. So no matter how shady your planting site, you are pretty much guaranteed a good display of blooms the first year. If you want your bulbs to flower well in future years, you need to plant them where they will receive ample sunshine until their leaves wither in late spring.
Many early-flowering bulbs, such as crocuses and snowdrops, are able to satisfy most of their light requirement before deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in fall) leaf out in spring. The higher the lowest branches are above the ground the better. Almost nothing will grow beneath a low-branched conifer (a pine, spruce, etc.), but if the limbs start well up the trunk, these early bloomers can get by. For a listing of bulbs that succeed in shade, see our Shade-Tolerant Bulbs page.
And what about tulips and daffodils? Tulips will flower in a shady location, but they will lean to the light and may be knocked down by a heavy rain. Daffodils will tolerate shade better than tulips but need lots of sunlight, even after the trees leaf out, to store the energy they will need to make next year’s flowers. If they are in too much shade, they may go blind (make leaves but fail to flower).
Are there any bulbs that grow in wet soil?
Spring-flowering bulbs require well-drained soil, especially during their summer dormancy. If the soil stays wet, they rot. There are only a handful of exceptions. Among the bulbs we offer, Snowflake and Camassia are the best choices for a damp spot.
My soil is very dry, especially in the summer. Should I avoid planting bulbs?
To the contrary. If you have dry soil, chances are good that you will succeed with bulbs. Most bulbs need ample moisture in fall, when they are making new roots, and in spring, when they bloom and store up the energy they’ll need to grow and flower the following spring. In the summer, when they are dormant, they prefer to be dry. If your soil stays dry in fall or dries out early in spring, you may need to irrigate your bulbs. Otherwise, plant and enjoy the show!
I’ve seen pictures of paperwhite bulbs growing in nothing but stones. Is that difficult to do?
It’s not hard at all; the only tricky part is watering them. Begin by choosing a bowl or some other container that holds water (we recommend you use a container made of a transparent material until you gain experience growing paperwhites this way). Put a 2- or 3-inch layer of stones or pebbles (marble chips work well) in the bottom. Set the paperwhite bulbs on top (pack them in—it’s OK if the bulbs touch). Then cover the bulbs up to their shoulders with additional stones. Now add water—just enough to reach the base of the bulbs. If the bottoms of the bulbs sit in water for an extended period, they may rot.
Set the container in a cool (50-60°F), dark place until the bulbs begin to sprout, usually in two or three weeks. Check the level of the water occasionally and add more as needed. The bulbs will soon produce lots of white stringy roots. When the bulbs begin to grow, set the container in a sunny window and watch (and sniff) as the bulbs yield lots of strongly scented, pure white flowers. Just remember to keep topping off the reservoir below the bulbs. When the bulbs are growing and flowering, they drink a surprising amount of water.
Can I plant paperwhites outdoors?
Paperwhites are much less hardy than other daffodils—they can’t survive where winter temperatures drop below 10 degrees F. For most people, that means paperwhites should be discarded after they bloom. If you live in Zones 8–9 in the South or zones 8–10 on the West Coast, you can plant paperwhites in the ground in the fall as you would other spring-flowering bulbs. You can also plant them in pots for indoor bloom and transplant them into the garden after the danger of frost has passed in spring. Note: Paperwhites that are forced to bloom indoors may skip a year or two before they begin to bloom again outdoors.
What do I have to do to get my amaryllis bulb to bloom again next winter?
After your amaryllis blooms, remove the flower stems—NOT the leaves—and continue watering as before. Begin fertilizing with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer. When all danger of frost has passed in spring, move the pot outdoors to a shady location and increase the exposure to sunshine day by day over the course of about ten days, until the plant gets full sun (six hours or more of direct sunlight per day in the North; partial shade is fine in the South). You can either leave the bulb in its pot or transplant it into the garden. (If you keep the bulb in its pot, you may need to move it into a larger pot if you find that the potting mix dries out rapidly.)
When the weather cools in the fall (many gardeners wait until the first frost blackens the leaves), dig the bulb from the garden or knock it out of its pot, and cut the leaves off just above the top of the bulb. Then place the bulb in a cool (55°F is ideal), dark place such as a basement for 8-10 weeks. At the end of this rest, pot the bulb (leaving the top third exposed) and water it. If your amaryllis fattened up over summer, it should reward you with one and perhaps two flower stalks during winter.