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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Tulipa, Planting, Narcissus, Bulbs

Bulbs in pots - when to plant?

Daffodils & tulips wilting in pots now, what to do with them? Can you put them in the ground right now, or should you wait till fall? Keep them dry, wet, what?


Yes, you can put them in the ground right now or you can lift them, keep them dry and plant them in the fall. Growing in pots is stressful to bulbs, so you may find fewer flowers next year.

Most tulips do not flower reliably each year, even if they were grown in the ground, so many people treat them as annuals (dig up and toss!) BUT some tulips do re-flower (Darwin Hybrids, Fosterianas and species tulips) so if you are not sure what you have, go ahead and replant. Both tulips and daffodils dislike summer water, so make sure you either plant them in a place where they will stay dry or make sure they are planted in really well-drained soil. Mixing gravel into the soil can help with drainage.

Date 2017-12-09
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Cold protection of plants, Frost, Bulbs

Do the many bulbs that are rising up to 8" out of the ground need to be covered since the forecast has temperatures down to 17 degrees F these next few mornings?


The bulb foliage should be fine as it is. Any flowers, on the other hand will probably turn to mush. If you're feeling protective or nervous you may want to cover up the foliage with burlap, cloth rags, sheets, etc. Once the clouds come back you can remove the protection.

Here is an article on predicting frost from Organic Gardening magazine.

Date 2017-09-27
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Winter gardening, Lilium (Lily family), Bulbs

I was recently given 6 Oriental lily (Lilium) bulbs - bare root. It seems much too cold (late February) to put these in the ground. They are currently naked in the garage, but would it be better to pot them until the ground is workable? I have not raised lilies before, other than daylilies.


Generally, it is good to plant bulbs soon after you get them, but if you need to wait (due to cold weather and unworkable soil), keep the bulbs somewhere cool, and keep them "in moist sand or peat moss until scales plump up and new roots begin to sprout" (Sunset Western Garden Book, edited by Kathleen Norris Brenzel, 2001).

The Gardener's Guide to Growing Lilies by Michael Jefferson-Brown and Harris Howland (Timber Press, 1995) confirms your thought that it is too cold to plant them out in the garden (I would wait until the threat of freezing temperatures subsides). According to the resource mentioned above, Oriental lilies will do very well in pots, so what you could do is pot them now, and if you decide you would like to move them into the garden when it warms up, you could either put them, pot and all, into the border, or gently remove them from the pot without too much root disturbance, and plant them in the soil.

Date 2017-05-26
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Tulipa, Narcissus, Iris, Bulbs

This is my first year planting spring flowering bulbs, which grew nicely. I cut the dead flower and the stalk once it died back, and now the foliage is yellow. What am I supposed to do with the yellow foliage? Pull it out? Cut it off? Just leave it alone? Also, will planting some annual petunias now hurt the bulbs I have planted in the garden? How close can I plant the petunia to the bulbs? I was going to try and hide the yellow foliage.


The answer will depend on which bulbs you were growing. For example, daffodil stems should not be cut back until at least 6 weeks after the flowers have faded, and you should never tie the foliage in knots or braid it (this is a common but ill-advised habit). You can leave daffodils in the ground to naturalize and spread.

With tulips, you also need to wait at least 6 weeks from the fading of the flowers before cutting back the leaves.

With hyacinths, you can pull away dead foliage and flower stems as they fade. When the top growth has died down, you can either leave them in the ground or dig up the bulbs, dry them off, and store them for replanting.

If you are growing iris, you can cut the dead flower stems to the base, and cut away dead leaves in the summer. If they are bearded iris, the fan of leaves may be cut back in the fall to about 8 inches above the base.

(Source: The Plant Care Manual by Stefan Buczacki, Crown Publishers, 1993)

You can certainly plant your annual petunias quite close to bulbs like daffodils and tulips and other bulbous plants which are quite vertical. Just don't plant right on top of the bulbs. To disguise dying bulb foliage, use perennial ground cover plants that keep their leaves over the winter, and that have stems soft enough for bulbs to emerge through them. Hardy geraniums (true geraniums, also called cranesbill) and creeping veronica, such as Veronica peduncularis 'Georgia Blue,' are good choices. You can remove dried leaves as needed, and they can be tidied or groomed in early spring.

Date 2017-05-05
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Lilium (Lily family), Bulbs

How do you remove the dead flowers from a Asiatic lily? Do you go to the main stem and cut it there or do you just remove the flower and leave the pod?


Here is what University of Minnesota Extension advises:

"Deadhead flowers as they fade, by breaking them off carefully. That way, none of the plant's energy is 'wasted' on seed production. Do not remove stems or foliage, though. They'll continue to put energy into the bulb as long as they remain green. Remove old foliage in late fall or early spring by cutting down the dead stalks."

Date 2017-01-18
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Squirrels, Wildlife pests, Bulbs

I am trying to plant some bulbs but they are being disturbed and eaten by the squirrels. Do you have any tips and tricks to protect my bulbs from being snacked on?


Here is a 2009 article by Sally Ferguson in the online archive of BC Living magazine on preventing squirrel snacking:

Q. How do I keep squirrels from digging up bulbs?
A. Squirrels can be terrible pests! They won't bother daffodils and other narcissi bulbs (which taste terrible to them!), but they find tulips and crocus in particular to be worth the effort to sniff out and dig up.
The only sure-fire way to protect tulips and crocuses and other tasty bulb treats from squirrels is to lay wire mesh such as chicken wire on top of the bed. The squirrels can't dig through the mesh and the flowers will grow neatly through the holes.
Bulbs are most vulnerable in fall immediately after planting when the soil is still soft and worked up. Digging then is easy! Squirrels often "chance" upon bulbs when burying their nuts in soft ground. Or they are attracted by "planting debris" such as bits of papery bulb tunics and other bulb-scented bits from the bulb bags. Don't advertise your plantings: clean up and keep those squirrels guessing!

Here's one neat trick that garden writer Judy Glattstein has found to work: after planting new areas, lay old window screens in frames on the ground, covering the newly-worked up soil. The screen weighs enough to foil the squirrel, but allows for air circulation and rainfall. Once the ground has settled, remove the screens and store for future use.

Another remedy that some find successful is to feed the squirrels during the fall and winter. The theory is that the local squirrel population, when offered a handy plate of peanuts or other easy-to-get treats will leave your bulbs alone. At the White House, the gardeners put up six peanut-filled feeding boxes to satiate the furry denizens there -- and reduced squirrel damage on bulb beds by 95 percent! Many gardeners claim success with commercial repellents, but these are often sticky and unpleasant to deal with, or wash away in the rain.

Home remedies include sowing cayenne pepper into the soil or on the bulbs before planting and scattering moth ball flakes on the ground. You will find advocates and detractors of both methods. A favorite Dutch remedy is to interplant Fritillaria imperialis. This tall dramatic plant gives off an odor that squirrels (and deer too, reportedly) find repellent. There is a book on the subject, Outwitting Squirrels, by Bill Adler, Jr. (1988 Chicago Review Press, Chicago, IL). It's aimed at owners of bird feeders, but you may find some helpful hints.

Date 2017-05-24
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Vegetative propagation, Lilium (Lily family), Bulbs

I have a question about what is the best time of year to transplant and divide Asiatic lily bulbs? Is it fairly easy to identify where the bulb should be divided? Also, someone told me to use a rooting solution on the divided bulbs. Is this necessary? Is late October too late in the fall to divide them?


Most sources say to divide lilies in the fall. You do not need to use a rooting solution on the divided bulbs. Sunset's Western Garden Book (2001) says the following: "If clumps become too large and crowded, dig, divide and transplant them in spring or fall. If you're careful, you can lift lily clumps at any time, even when they are in bloom."

One rationale for lifting them when in bloom is provided in an article from the Wisconsin Regional Lily Society, no longer available online, but excerpted here:

"After three successive years of making this futile pact, I finally concluded that books were wrong! Fall isn't the time to transplant lilies. It's a job best done in mid-summer when they're in full bloom. This eliminates most of the guess work, since at this point, the plants are at their maximum height, making it nearly impossible to make the mistake of planting the tall ones to the front of the border, the short ones at the back. It also affords a crystal-clear picture of concurrent bloomers. In fall, no matter how carefully one does the job, when digging dormant bulbs at least one bold orange always manages to get itself placed directly beside the brightest pink. The clashing colors burn themselves into your retinas nearly as well as flashbulbs-blink quickly and the image reappears!

"The maximum size of the plants in mid-summer is another advantage. When autumnal plants have shrunk to a mere fraction of their former selves, it's too easy to misjudge your space placement. Who hasn't heard the disheartening 'crunch' of a spade slicing through the most expensive bulb in the bed? How it knows the price, I'll never know.

"Spring is the only time I'd actually refrain from moving lilies. The delicate new shoot is easily broken, and once gone, the poor bulb has only two options: It will either die or spend an entire year below ground, depleting its energy reserves as it forms a new shoot for the following spring. All the while it's caught in a perilous game of Russian roulette. Without aboveground parts to warn of its existence, it can never quite be sure when a spade might suddenly come slicing down. Crunch! -The second most expensive bulb gone?

"Certainly no plant will be thrilled at being dug up and moved in full flower, but if it's kept well watered and blooms are removed, almost any perennial will have recovered fully by the following season. One of the best gardeners I know says that the best time to move any perennial is when you have the time!"

Date 2017-01-06
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Garden Tip

Keywords: Bulbs, Amaryllis

Amaryllis bulbs are too beautiful (and expensive) to simply throw away after blooming. Starr Ockenga's book, Amaryllis (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2002) describes how to care for the bulbs so they will produce new flowers year after year. In a nutshell,

  • fertilize the bulbs bi-weekly with a balanced houseplant food after the flowers fade;
  • move outside to an eastern exposure after spring night time temperatures reach 60 degrees;
  • stop feeding and slowly cease watering towards the end of summer to induce dormancy;
  • cut off all foliage, green or yellow, and store in a cool place for three months;
  • start watering again to stimulate the new flower to bloom.

    Ockenga also describes growing Amaryllis in water, and suggests keeping the water level at the base of the bulb, and changing the water periodically or adding charcoal to prevent algae growth. If you plan to save your bulb, you may need to pot it in a container with soil. You may store the bulbs bare-root, rather than in soil, but when you do this, you should sprinkle them with water once a month to keep them alive. She says it is easier on the plants to store them in pots (in soil). If you have space, you can refrigerate your bulbs (not in pots)and store them at 45-50 degrees in aerated bins for at least 6 weeks. Don't store them near fruit, as ripening fruit releases ethylene gas which will cause your bulb to rot or produce misshapen blooms.

    Here are links to additional information:
    U.S. National Arboretum
    University of Illinois Horticulture Facts

    Date: 2006-02-27
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    Garden Tip

    Keywords: Schizostylis, Nerine, Eucomis, Crinum, South African plants, Bulbs

    For some people the bulb season starts with planting in the fall and ends with the late tulips of May. In fact, gardeners can have flower bulbs throughout summer and into fall. The most common and well loved summer bulbs are ornamental onions, lilies and dahlias, but there are so many more to try. A few of the lesser known summer bulbs include harlequin flower (Sparaxis tricolor), African corn lily (Ixia), and Mexican shell flower (Tigridia pavonia).
    Summer bulbs are available to plant in spring. While many are hardy in our mild climate, new bulbs shouldn't be planted until the danger of hard frost has passed. In other words, May is the time to plant summer flowering bulbs.

    A good little primer on these plants is called Summer-Blooming Bulbs, edited by Beth Hansen (Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, 9.95). Chapter topics include botany, care, design and a mini-encyclopedia. Contributing authors Brent and Becky Heath, owners of the top American bulb nursery (Brent and Becky's Bulbs), suggest a few summer bulbs that will come back every year without lifting in Pacific Northwest gardens:

    • Crinum lily (Crinum 'Bradley')
    • Pineapple lily (Eucomis autumnalis)
    • Guernsey lily (Nerine bowdenii)
    • Crimson flag (Schizostylis coccinea)
    A great majority of summer blooming bulbs (and other swollen-root plants) come from the Cape Province of South Africa. To learn more about these wonderful flowers invest in the Color Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs by Manning, Goldblatt and Snijman (Timber, $59.95).

    Date: 2007-04-03
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    Garden Tip

    Keywords: Tulipa, Narcissus, Bulbs

    What to do with a flower bulb once the flower is gone? It depends! For daffodils, remove the seed head, but let all the foliage turn yellow before you remove it. Braiding the foliage is not recommended because the toxins in the leaves can cause contact dermatitis. If a clump is getting crowded dig and separate the bulbs once the leaves have started to wither. Thin out the small and damaged bulbs and replant the rest. Or store the bulbs, unwashed, in a dry shaded place until September.

    For tulips, it's a bit more complex. Most showy, large-flowered tulips don't rebloom well, so should be treated like an annual- dug up and tossed. However, Darwin Hybrids, 'Apeldoorn' is one example, do rebloom the following year. These should be allowed to yellow and wither naturally and their seed heads removed. They can be divided when the foliage withers. If you don't know what you have, play it safe and leave your tulips for another year. If the show is disappointing then dig them up and toss.

    For a fun tour of the world of bulbs try Lois Hole's Favorite Bulbs (Hole's, $1995), a book packed with photos, trivia, growing advice and design tips.

    Asters, chrysanthemum, salvias and ornamental grasses are a few perennials that emerge and distract the eye when bulb foliage is yellowing.

    Date: 2007-04-03
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    Garden Tip

    Keywords: Bulbs

    Gardeners must forgo instant gratification when buying spring flowering bulbs in the fall, but a few dollars spent in September promise flowers for years to come. Here are the rules for buying good bulbs, with exceptions noted:

    • Bulbs should be heavy for their size and larger bulbs give bigger or more numerous flowers, although some tulip and daffodil varieties are naturally small in stature.
    • Bulbs should be firm and clean looking, but a little bit of the blue-green mold may be ok if it wipes off easily and the bulb is otherwise firm and heavy.
    • The papery skins should be whole, except on tulips and crocus where some sloughing and cracking is ok.
    • The bulb should not be "growing" yet (i.e. roots or stem should not be elongated.
    • The sooner you purchase and plant, the better. Bulbs languishing in a heated store will start to grow, which can lead to rot and decay.
    • What about those bulbs on sale in mid December or the bulbs you forgot about until early January? Go ahead and plant them, but the flowers may be on short, distorted stems this spring. The exception is lilies that never truly go dormant. Buy and plant these as soon as they are available. Don't waste your time or money on bargain lilies.

    Date: 2007-04-03
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    Garden Tip

    Keywords: Bulbs

    There are pros and cons of buying pre-bagged "bargain" bulbs. On the plus side discounts are generally offered on bulk purchases leading to a better impact of massed flowers in the garden. On the other hand, buying pre-bagged bulbs doesn't allow for inspection for disease or choosing the largest sized bulbs. Also, only the most popular cultivars are sold this way so you wont find the choice or the rare pre-bagged!

    Date: 2007-04-03
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    Garden Tip

    Keywords: Forcing, Bulbs

    If you feel emboldened after successfully growing a pot of paperwhites, why not keep the indoor flower display going through winter. For inspiration and good instructions read Forcing, etc: the indoor gardener's guide to bringing bulbs, branches and houseplants into bloom by Katherine Whiteside (Workman, 1999) Included are details on forcing bulbs and flowering shrubs, in addition to techniques for propagating house plants and tender perennials like coleus. The color photos will stimulate your enthusiasm.

    Date: 2003-01-15
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August 01 2017 12:36:01