True flower bulbs are underground structures that store and protect a plant throughout cooler seasons. Flower bulbs contain a blossom as well as leaves that will burst through the ground during the growing season. This miniature plant is protected by layers of leaves called scales that contain nutrients. Additionally, bulbs have lateral buds around their bases that can develop into offsets called bulblets. Offsets can be used to produce new plants (and cultivate new bulbs).
Bulbs can be produced either from seeds or from offsets. When they are cultivated from seeds, it can take several years for a plant to form. This is because the bulb must develop first. Bulbs that are created from offsets often develop much more quickly. In that case, cultivators dig up older bulbs that have flowered already and split the offsets from the original bulb. The offsets are planted and, once in the ground, develop into full flowering bulbs.
Once plants have flowered, growers harvest the bulbs by digging them up in the fall. The bulbs are split from their offsets. The mature bulbs are stored in a cool, dry place until they can be replanted. The offsets are usually replanted so that they can develop into bulbs. Growers can generally tell that the bulbs have developed offsets by the way that the plant appears. A plant that has a bulb that is crowded by offsets will appear smaller than it has in previous growing seasons.
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