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FAQ

Spring flowering bulbs

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

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    After tulip flowers have faded, "dead-head" them by clipping off the faded blooms so that they won't go to seed. Narcissi (daffodils) do not require dead-heading, just leave as is. The main requirement for bulb flowers in the post-bloom period is to leave the leaves alone so the plant can put its energy into "recharging" its bulb for next spring's performance. This "energy charge" is gained through photosynthesis as the plant uses the sun's energy to turn basic elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium into food. This food is stored in the bulb's "scales," the white fleshy part of the bulb, for use next spring. It is necessary to leave the green foliage exposed to the sun until it turns brown or six weeks have elapsed since blooming. Fight the urge to trim back or constrain the leaves during their die-back phase after looming. Don't bunch, tie, braid or cut bulb plant leaves during this period. Dealing with the fading foliage is basically one of those things that lovers of spring bulbs must deal with. The only management tip is camouflage. Try interplanting bulbs with annuals or perennials, or planting them strategically nearby so that the latter mask the declining bulb foliage as best as possible. As a planting strategy, plant clumps of bulbs instead of full beds. This way you will have a lovely spring show, and plenty of room to plant camouflaging companions. Avoid fertilising the annuals planted in the same bed until the bulbs have died back. Bulbs in spring, if they're fertilised at all, should only get a dose of fast-release nitrogen about six weeks before flowering (normally bulbs want a low nitrogen mix, but in spring it is the green-encouraging nitrogen that is called for). Fertilising bulbs too close to flowering time, when the bulbs can't metabolise the food, only encourages fusarium and other nasty things.

  • My tulips don't do well at al the second season of bloom. I've been told that lifting the bulbs, storing them for the summer and replanting them in the fall will improve their performance. Is this true?

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    This old-fashioned method is difficult, yields mediocre results and is generally a lot of bother. It is better to look for those tulips with a natural propensity for repeat performance. Botanical or species varieties and their hybridised strains are generally excellent garden performers and sometimes will even naturalise. Among hybrids, try: 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' should be good for more than one season. Others offering potential for a second season of colour include tall darwin hybrids such as yellow 'golden parade', red 'oxford', and orange-red 'hollands glorie'. When "perennialising" or naturalising tulips, plant them about eight inches deep and choose a well-drained spot in the yard.

  • Is it better to plant bulbs earlier or later in the fall?

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    Planting times vary, depending upon your climate zone, but as a general rule, earlier is better. Bulbs need to establish strong root systems, before the frosts of winter set in and the bulbs enter a new cycle in preparation for spring blooming. Remember to plant bulbs in an area that drains well and water newly planted bulbs to help those roots get going!

  • I've been told that the bigger the tulip bulb, the better the flower. Is this true?

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    Not entirely. It is true, however, that, as a general rule, the bigger the tulip bulb the bigger the flower. But bigger does not necessarily mean better. The bulbs of a species tulip such as tulipa tarda for example would appear quite tiny beside, say, a large darwin hybrid bulb such as "apeldoorn." but these small species tulips are some of the most delicate and lovely bulb flowers you can grow. They're quite hardy as well. Tulip bulbs are sold by calibre or size. Within any particular type or variety of tulip, the larger bulbs will fetch a higher price than the smaller ones. For big showy displays, the larger calibre bulbs are certainly worth the price. However, some excellent bargains are to be had by buying lots of smaller calibre bulbs for brightening up a marginal spot in the spring yard.

  • Do tulips prefer a sunny or a shady spot in the yard?

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    Tulips are sun as well as shade lovers. But when planting your tulips this fall, don't be fooled by the patterns of sun and shade in the fall garden! Remember that come spring, when tulips bloom, all the deciduous, non-evergreen trees in your yard will be beautifully leafless. There's a lot of sun in a spring garden!

  • What are 'botanical' or 'species' tulips?

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    Species tulips refers to those varieties which have not been bred or hybridised and remain essentially as they are found in nature. Botanical tulips are hybrids, but hybrids which remain very close to the original species. Neither of these terms refers to "wild" tulips. All tulips sold by the dutch, including the species and botanical tulips, are actually propagated and grown in holland. Species and botanical tulips are generally smaller than other tulips. They are especially prized for growing in rock gardens.

  • Which tulips are the most famous?

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    The most popular tulips of all are the red ones such as “apeldoorn” and “oxford”. These cultivars have been the front-runners for years and years – every shop always has red tulips for sale. But the most famous tulip by far has to be the “black” tulip, “queen of night”. Although this cultivar is not a true black – the colour is actually a very deep purple – it’s very close resemblance to black creates a magical effect. After centuries of breeding efforts to develop a truly black tulip, this is still as close as we’ve been able to get.

  • The fritillaria imperialis bulbs i bought have a really bad smell. Is there something wrong with them?

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    No, this is a natural characteristic of the bulbs and flowers of fritillaria imperialis. (a dutch nickname for the crown imperial is “stink lily”). But a useful side effect is that the scent of fritillaria imperialis keeps moles out of your garden.

  • Which bulbs can I plant outside?

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    Since spring-flowering bulbs can easily withstand even a fairly harsh winter, almost all of them can be planted outside. They even need a cold period in order to flower. The exceptions are hippeastrum (amaryllis) varieties and narcissus “paperwhite”. These should not be planted outside, but should be planted in pots and kept in a cool spot until december or january. At that time, they should be placed in a warm room where they will produce flowers.

  • Can you plant bulbs in any kind of garden and in every type of soil?

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    Bulbs can be planted in any garden and/or every type of soil. The most important thing is that the part of the garden where the bulbs are to be planted must not become too wet during the winter. Water that remains in puddles several days after a rain will absolutely ruin a bulb border. About the only other exception involves the chequered fritillary (fritillaria meleagris) that will not grow well when planted in dry soil such as that found under a thuja. And, although heavy river clay makes it difficult to dig planting holes for tulips and narcissi, they will thrive in this type of soil.

  • Can I plant bulbs among the roots of perennials and shrubs?

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    Bulbs will thrive among the roots of perennials and shrubs. Bulbous plants emerge early, at a time when perennials and shrubs are not yet in leaf. This means that the bulbs will have plenty of light and space to create a lovely flowering display. Even so, it is sometimes more difficult to get the bulbs into the soil. The soil is often hard, and the roots can make digging the holes for the bulbs difficult. For these reasons, make the planting holes as small as you can and plant each bulb separately in its own little hole. To make things easier, you could try using a special bulb planter; this tool will also minimise the damage to the roots of the perennials and shrubs.

  • Which bulbs have the strongest smell?

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    Fritillaria imperialis and the allium species are the bulbs with the strongest odours. Chives (a. Schoenoprasum), ramson (a. Ursinum), onion sets (a. Cepa), shallots (a. Ascalanicum) and garlic (a. Sativum) all belong to the allium family. The scent of other members of this family is similar as well. The strong smell of fritillaria imperialis keeps moles out of your garden.

  • How can I keep mice and rats out of the garden?

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    Mice and rats are found everywhere, so it’s difficult to prevent them from entering your garden. The best way to discourage them, however, is to keep the garden tidy at all times – no piles of leaves left lying around and never any remnants of food or other refuse left about. Mice in particular can be discouraged by keeping seeds out of your garden. To do this, snip off all flowers as they fade and make sure that your bird feeder is high off the ground where it will be inaccessible for mice. This latter piece of advice, however, is difficult to follow since mice are such acrobatic little creatures.

  • Do bulbs have to be lifted after they flower?

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    Bulbs that you have bought for naturalising can simply be left undisturbed. These bulbs will come back year after year and even increase in number. As for other bulbs, never remove them from the soil right after they flower but wait at least until their foliage has died back entirely. In this way, you give the bulbs a chance to grow and store the energy they will need for next year. Not only is the lifting and storing of bulbs a difficult chore but it frequently leads to disappointing results as well.

  • How should I allow bulbs to naturalise?

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    You should let bulbs naturalise by not lifting them from the soil. After they bloom, the plants have to be given the chance to die back naturally so that they can store newly produced nutrients in their bulbs for flowering again next year. Many bulbs, however, are not suitable for naturalising purposes. This is why you should be sure to check the information on the packaging when you buy the bulbs to see they are suitable for naturalising. Naturally, you can always experiment with other kinds to see if they might be suitable for naturalising in your particular garden.

  • What are naturalising bulbs?

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    Naturalising bulbs are bulbs, corms and tubers that will come back and flower year after year. If information on the packaging indicates that the bulbs are suitable for naturalising, they do not need to be lifted from the soil. Naturalising bulbs will flower again next year and can even increase in number.

  • Are naturalising bulbs really the only kind that can be left undisturbed?

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    Bulbs indicated as naturalising bulbs will definitely emerge and flower next year. Other bulbs can be experimented with to see if they will naturalise in your garden. Whether this will be successful or not depends mostly on the composition of the soil, its ph level, and the drainage. You will often have several years of success with bulbs if you refrain from trimming their foliage immediately after flowering but wait a month or two to allow them to die back completely.

  • Which bulbs are best to use in the rock garden?

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    The majority of the commonly available bulbs, corms and tubers grow into plants that are too large for the rock garden. Some small specialty bulbs, however, are just perfect for rock gardens. Examples are chionodoxa luciliae “alba”, anemone nemorosa, winter aconite (eranthis hyemalis), small-flowering crocuses such as crocus sieberi subsp. Sublimis ‘tricolor”, fritillaria michailovskyi, narcissus bulbocodium and tulipa urumiensis.

  • I tried to force paperwhite narcissi in water and marbles according to your instructions. The bulbs grew, but never flowered. Any idea what might have been wrong? Even when I gave them extra sun light, they didn't bloom.

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    Narcissus tazetta (the paperwhite) can be bought in autumn in various varieties. 'Avalanche' - white with yellow flower 'Chinese sacred lily' - white with orange cup 'Erlicheer' - white with light yellow, double flowering 'Galil' - pure white 'Grand soleil d'or' - yellow with orange cup 'Nony' - creme colour, canary yellow cup All paperwhites are flower bulbs imported from countries with warmer temperatures than the netherlands. After receipt in july/august the bulb salesman will keep the bulbs at a temperature of 26°c or 78°f. Before export the bulbs need a period of 6 weeks 16°c or 60°f . This temperature is a necessity to change starch into sugar. The flower will be pushed up! If you buy the bulbs in november, you could try to cut open one of the bulbs lengthwise. In the center you will see a yellow bud. These are the leaves, in the middle of this bud you should see an orange spot which is the flower! After receipt plant them on the pebbles and fill the containers up with water just as the bulbs are for the first days with their bottom in the water. After they started rooting, you can lower the water level a re bit ! Put the container on the window-sill the under heat from the radiator should help to develop the growing. The lighter the spot , the shorter the leaves . The darker the spot the more lengthy leaves the plant will develop! We wish you all the success with your home forcing!