Caring for bulbs

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Storing bulbs © Ita McCobb

Storing bulbs

Proper care and storage can help increase the longevity of your bulbs and is essential practice for replanting certain varieties of bulbs. Storage is also a good way of dealing with bulbs you do not intend to plant immediately or ones you wish to stagger flowering.

At the onset of Summer start lifting finished Spring-flowering bulbs – that is, those bulbs whose foliage has turned yellow and stems and leaves have begun to shrivel. When dry, remove dead leaves, roots and loose skins, divide the bulbs where necessary and store them in shallow trays in a cool, dry, well ventilated shed or cellar. Destroy any diseased bulbs.  

Finish lifting Spring-flowering bulbs during the late Summer/early Autumn months.

Tulips (Tulipa) and bedding Hyacinths (Hyacinthus) need lifting and storing annually, whereas Daffodils (Narcissus) grown for cutting need lifting every 2 or 3 years and most other bulbs much less frequently.

Lift and dry non-hardy Summer-flowering bulbs in late Autumn following the same procedure as for Spring-flowering bulbs.

If you do not have shallow trays you can also store your bulbs in mesh bags or paper bags with a few holes in them (to provide air circulation). Place the bags in a cool place, ensuring that your bags of bulbs will not get squashed and that there is sufficient humidity to stop the bulbs from drying out.

Late Autumn is also the time to deal with non-hardy Summer bulbs such as Dahlias (Dahlia) and Gladioli (Gladiolus) that are unlikely to survive over the Winter. Dig these up and store them until you can replant them in Spring.

To do this, cut down the top growth of Dahlias (Dahlia) as they become damaged by frost then lift them carefully with a fork. Destroy any diseased tubers.  Stand the tubers in a frost-free, dry place to dry out, then place them in boxes and, if possible, dust the crowns with flowers of sulphur and cover with slightly damp peat. Store in a dry, frost-free shed, garage or cellar.

For Gladioli (Gladiolus), lift the corms, cutting off all but 1 cm of stem and store in shallow boxes in a dry, frost-free shed, garage or cellar. Destroy any diseased corms. 

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Double-petalled Fire-lily (Lilium bulbiferum) © Ita Mccobb

Caring for bulbs month

January

In January, plant Lilies outside in frost-free soil in mild weather. 
Check on condition of “forced” bulbs in containers, water if dry and move into a warm atmosphere any that are ready to bring on.
Give bulb containers a quarter turn each day to ensure even growth.
Look out for Summer-flowering bulbs and Gladioli corms beginning to appear for sale in garden centres.

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February

In February, plant Lilies and indoor bulbs that have finished flowering outside in frost-free soil in mild weather.  Pot plant stem-rooting indoor Lilies. When buds appear, feed them and move to a warmer atmosphere.
Bring indoors the last of the bulbs for indoor flowering as they become ready.
Dig up and divide bulbs such as Snowdrops and replant them while “in the green” (meaning while they are still green, i.e. immediately after flowering).
Buy or order Summer-flowering bulbs and Irises.
Towards the end of the month apply a general-purpose fertilizer to borders to encourage bulbs to flower well the following season.

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March

In March, in early Spring, spread an organic mulch around your bulbs to improve soil and growing conditions. Give your bulbs a high-potassium feed, such as tomato fertilizer, from early Spring until 6 weeks after flowering.
If you have indoor forced bulbs and they have finished flowering, you can now plant these outside. Deadhead fading Daffodils to preserve their strength and reduce the risk of mould (allowing the foliage to die back naturally).
Lift, divide and replant crowded Snowdrops that have been in the ground for at least 4 years. Replant Snowdrops “in the green”.
Plant out bulbs grown indoors that have finished flowering, placing them in clumps between shrubs so they will begin to flower again in 2 years.
Plant out Summer-flowering bulbs such as Gladioli and Lilies if there is no risk of frost and, in mild areas, the Gladioli-like Acidantheras (Acidanthera bi-color). In cold areas you can plant out “de Caen” and “St Brigid” varieties of Anemones for Summer-flowering.
Choose new varieties for late-Summer planting.

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April

In April, hand-weed beds of Tulips and Daffodils grown for cut flowers. Remove faded flowers from early-flowering bulbs. Continue to replant your Snowdrops “in the green”.
Continue to plant out any forced bulbs that have finished flowering.
Plant Arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) in pots and, if the weather is mild, plant them out in flowerbeds. Plant out hardy Summer bulbs.
Leave seedpods intact on Scillas, Grape hyacinths and other small bulbs so they can self-seed.
Divide Kaffir lilies (Schizostylis) that have formed clumps.
Towards the end of the month, plant out healthy dormant Dahlias tubers by positioning the tuber crown 7 or 8 cm below the surface and 75 cm apart. Keep any early Dahlias shoots well covered and protected.  
Control weed growth and aerate soil around Gladioli and give them a light top dressing of fish manure (guano). Check and treat any infected Irises. Irises for floral arrangements should be cut early in the morning.
Plant out Lilies and keep them clear of weeds – make sure not to damage young growth. Treat against infection if necessary. Remember to water bulbs during dry weather.

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Ornamental onion (Allium christophii)  © Ita McCobb

May

In May, continue to deadhead fading Daffodils and Hyacinths. Give Daffodils and Tulips a liquid feed or a sprinkling of bonemeal. Plant out Autumn-flowering bulbs, now and through into August.
Continue to plant out Dahlias, particularly those started in pots. Plant out Crinum bulbs in south-facing spots or in containers. Deadhead Irises. Check Lilies for signs of disease.
Remember to water bulbs during dry weather.

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June

In June, start lifting, clean and store finished bulbs. Destroy diseased bulbs.  
Plant out “de Caen” and “St Brigid” varieties of Anemone corms for Autumn- and Winter-flowering. Continue to plant out Dahlias. Plant out Lilies. Deep-plant, stem-rooting Lilies covering any roots that appear above ground with soil.
Continue to plant Crinum bulbs either in the garden or in containers. Plant out Arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) or put pots outdoors for their Summer rest.
Constantly check Gladioli, Irises and Lilies for problems. Cut back Irises that have finished flowering and if necessary feed poor soil with general fertilizer. Check Lilies for signs of disease.
Water all bulbs if dry, paying particular attention to those in containers.

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July

In July, continue lifting and storing Spring-flowering bulbs. Plant Autumn-flowering bulbs. Plant Irises purchased from nurseries or garden centres. Dig up and divide existing Irises that are creating clumps and prepare them for replanting. Deadhead Lilies.
Keep an eye on any tall plants such as Dahlias, Gladioli and large-flowering Lilies that may need staking.
Water all bulbs if dry, paying particular attention to those in containers.
Order catalogues for Spring-flowering bulbs.

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August

In August, finish lifting and storing Spring-flowering bulbs. Continue to plant Autumn-flowering bulbs.
Keep a careful eye on bulbs in the garden and those you have in storage, checking constantly for disease. Destroy diseased bulbs.  
Prepare ground for planting Spring flowers by removing weeds, breaking up clods of earth and applying fertilizer, especially potash.
Water all bulbs if dry, paying particular attention to those in containers.
Order your bulbs from catalogues or buy from the garden centre. Plan where you are going to plant them.

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Great-lakes iris © Ita McCobb

September

In September, start to plant out Spring-flowering bulbs, especially Daffodils and Snowdrops (but not Tulips). Tulips should be stored somewhere cool and dry, ready for planting out in November.
Plant hardy Summer-flowering bulbs such as Lilies, decorative Flowering Onions (Alliums) and Montbretia (Crocosmia). Plant new Irises for flowering in May or June.
Plant or re-pot bulbs in bulb fibre for indoor displays to flower between Christmas and Easter. Typical bulbs would be Arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) and Amaryllis-type plants.
Ensure indoor bulbs fill their containers with roots before they are placed in “forcing” conditions.

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October

In October, complete planting Spring-flowering bulbs. Plant out bulbs that you stored in July.
Lift, dry and store non-hardy Summer-flowering bulbs. Check on condition of “forced” bulbs in containers and water if dry.
Cut down the top growth of Dahlias and lift and store tubers. Lift Gladioli and store corms. Trim back Irises.

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November

In November, plant Tulips and Hyacinths outside in frost-free soil.
Check on condition of “forced” bulbs in containers and water if dry. “Paper white” and “Soleil d’Or” varieties of Narcissus can be moved to warmer environments such as indoor rooms.

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December

In December, plant Lilies outside in frost-free soil. Hoe beds of late-planted Tulips.
Check on condition of “forced” bulbs in containers, water if dry and bring into a warm atmosphere any that are ready to bring on. Give bulb containers a quarter turn each day to ensure even growth.

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References: Ita McCobb; Jennifer Hope-Morley; Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press; Collins Tree Guide, Owen Johnson, William Collins; The Wildflower Key, Francis Rose (revised by Clare O’Reilly), Frederick Warne, The Gardening Year, Reader’s Digest; Botany for Gardeners, Third edition, Timber Press; David Austin Roses; Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, London; Missouri Botanical Garden; International Botanical Congress (IBC); The Royal Horticultural Society Gardeners’ Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers, Christopher Brickell ed., Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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