Tulips and Daffodils are Almost Done… Now What Do I Do?

By Pat Duncan, Master Gardener, SCMG

Daffodils and other spring bulbs put on a glorious show each spring, but what do you do once the flowers fade? Many home gardeners wonder about how to put spring bulbs to bed for the summer. Here are some FAQ’s:

Should I cut off the leaves? NO

The leaves should be left on the plant until they have died back. After the blossoms have passed their peak, clip off the flower heads & allow the green foliage to die back and turn brown. This technique lets the plant put energy into building a strong bulb for next season.

Can I hide the leaves while they finish dying down? YES
Browning tulip foliage can be unsightly in your garden. One method that I use to hide them is to braid or tie them into a ponytail. The braided pieces are easier to hide behind other plants coming up in the garden. Daffodils have tall leaves that last a long time and are a little easier to maneuver behind other plants. If possible it is best, to allow spring bulb leaves to complete their life cycle naturally for best bulb health.

Should I fertilize the bulbs? NO
Granular fertilizers applied to surface soil now won’treach the roots in time to do any good. If fertilizer is required apply it should to the area in the fall.

Can I move or divide the bulbs now? YES

Once the foliage begins to die down, spring bulbs have gone dormant for the summer and can be moved or divided. Use the wilted foliage to help guide you on how deep to replant them. Remember the larger the bulb, the larger the flower. Smaller bulbs may take a few years to grow to blooming size. If possible, apply a slow release organic fertilizer containing phosphorous in the hold.

Should the bulbs be dug up for storage? MAYBE
You may choose to dig the bulbs and store them until fall. Once again, wait until the foliage has died back before digging them up. Shake off the soil, allow the bulbs to dry well, remove crispy leaves and store the bulb in a dry location until fall.

How do I know if my bulbs need dividing?

If your bulbs produced lots of leaves and small or few flowers they should be dug up and divided. Healthy bulbs will produce side bulbs. The newer bulbs use up nutrients in the soil and produce leaves before they can flower themselves. Over time there are many roots and not enough nutrients left for both the mother bulb and the smaller bulbs, that’s when you seelots of greenery and not many flowers. That’s a sign that you need to dig up the bulbs and divide.