Caring for Bulbs

Can I store bulbs in the refrigerator?

Often times, people seeking the best selection will buy bulbs before they're ready to plant them. If you must wait, you can keep bulbs in the crisper drawer so long as you avoid storing them with ripening fruit. They should be fine for several weeks or even months if properly handled.

Should tulips be deadheaded once the flowers start to fade?

"Deadheading," a term for breaking off flowers from their stem, has many positive benefits for tulips planted for multiple-year flowering. Deadheading once flowers start to fade prevents the development of seedpods, a process that diverts energy from producing new bulbs to producing seeds. It also prevents petals from falling into the leaf axils and allowing certain fungal diseases (Botrytis) to develop.

Don't my bulbs need water to survive?

Yes, but all it takes is a little. With some occasional watering from you, bulbs get all the water they need to blossom.

Is it true that bone meal is the best bulb food? 

Decades ago, it was. But modern processing has literally boiled out the essential nutrients. A healthy bulb actually needs no fertilizer to bloom its first season because the nutrients are naturally within the bulb. For bulbs that will be left in the ground to naturalize, apply well-rotted cow manure or special bulb fertilizer when shoots first appear in spring and again in autumn and you'll be good to grow.

Do I need to change how much attention I devote to my bulbs during a drought?

The best thing about bulbs is that they don't require much attention no matter the conditions. As long as you give your bulbs a healthy drink after planting, they'll grow up fine.

What should I do after tulips fade in spring? What about daffodils? 

You can leave daffodils (narcissi) as they are, but tulips should be dead-headed after flowers have faded. Simply clip off the faded bloom so they won't go to seed. Resist the temptation to bunch, tie, braid or cut the leaves as the plant dies back. Photosynthesis is turning the sun's energy into food and "recharging" the bulb for next spring. You can remove them once the leaves turns brown or six weeks after flowering. In the meantime, you can camouflage fading foilage by interplanting annuals or perennials. Leave room in the bed for these by planting bulbs in large clumps rather than full beds.

Do you recommend lifting tulips after bloom & replanting in fall to improve 2nd year blooming?

The mediocre results of this method are generally not worth the bother. Instead, select tulips that are considered good at coming back the next season. Botanical or species varieties and their hybridized strains generally do well. Consider hybrids such as the red 'Charles,' the pink-red 'Christmas Marvel' and the red 'Couleur Cardinal'; triumph tulips such as the pink 'Don Quichotte', and lily-flowered 'Aladdin' and 'Ballade'; and tall Darwin hybrids such as yellow 'Golden Parade', red 'Oxford' and orange-red 'Hollands Glorie'. Naturalizing tulips should be planted 8 inches (20 cm) deep in well-drained soil.

What's naturalizing about?

For bulbs indicated as naturalizing bulbs, it simply means that they're most likely to come up and flower again in future years. Successful naturalizing depends on soil composition, pH levels and drainage. And, of course, the bulb's specific growing needs. Keep in mind that after bulbs bloom in spring, wait a month or two to allow them to die back completely. This gives the plant the energy it needs to recharge for next year's bloom.

If bulbs sprout early during a mid-winter thaw, do I need to protect them? Will the next freeze kill the flowers?

Probably not. Although a hard frost may blight the buds or burn the tips of the leaves, they should still flower. Healthy spring-flowering bulbs know what they can be in for, and a return of extreme cold or even snow doesn't keep them from doing what's in their nature.

How long is "winter" to a bulb (when forcing)?

Maintain potted bulbs at temperatures of 38ºF (3ºC) to 48ºF (9ºC) for 12 to 16 weeks. For comparison, the recommended temperature for a refrigerator is between 34ºF (1ºC) and 40ºF (5ºC). Bringing them into the warmth will activate the blooming process, which takes a few more weeks on average.