Bulbs are perennial plants that spread and return to flowering each year. Successive plantings of snowdrops, tulips, iris, daffodils and hyacinth can produce flower blooms in the garden from early spring to fall. Bulbs are easy to plant and easy to care for once their simple needs for space and care are understood. They provide the garden with the element of surprise as they poke their heads above the ground each season.
Flowers such as tulip, crocus and daffodils store food in the bulb portion of the plant. During the growing season, green leaves and flowers provide nutrients that are stored in the bulb during winter’s dormancy. Many bulb plants do best when dug up each winter and re-planted in the spring. Bulb plants reproduce by increasing the size of the bulb. Proper spacing between bulbs ensures they have enough room to mature and spread.
Iris grows on rhizomes, which are a swollen root that also functions as a food storage area. Rhizomes are often grouped together with bulbs in garden centers and their care is very similar. Tuberous plants also are sometimes referred to as bulbs. Tuberous begonias and Canna also reproduce as the underground tubers expand. Spacing is important for all of these bulb-type plants.
The Missouri Botanical Garden recommends that “bulbs should be planted in drifts of three or more to avoid a rigid look.” They grow well with six to eight hours of sun per day or in the partial shade provided by tall deciduous trees. Most bulbs bloom in early to mid-spring before leaves grow back on the trees. Bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, are often planted in entryway landscape beds to create a mass of spring color.
Crocus and grape hyacinth snowdrops can be the first flowers to bloom in early spring. Their bulbs are small and should be planted with three to four inches of space between them. Japanese iris is a bulb-type iris that also needs four inches of space. Daffodils do best with six to eight inches between bulbs, and tulips should have four to six inches of space. Bulbs bought in garden centers are labeled with the correct planting depth and space requirements.
Allow foliage to turn yellow and die back on bulb plants. Nutrients are being stored in the bulb for next year’s growth. Do not cut off fading leaves or hold them together with ties. The leaves require sunlight as they go dormant. As bulbs spread and reproduce, they need to be divided and replanted. Tulips, daffodils and iris can be divided every three to four years. You will know they need more space by the decline in flower production.