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Growing Tender Ornamental and Flowering Bulbs

 General Information

The general term “bulb” refers to any plant with a swollen or thickened storage organ from which a stalk grows up and roots grow down. This can include corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots and many bulb beds will include samples from each group.

Soil Preparation & Fertilization

Proper soil preparation is important for any bulb planting. An ideal soil is porous enough for good drainage and able to hold enough moisture for good growth. Soils heavy in clay drain slowly, while sandy soils do not hold enough moisture. Adding organic matter helps improve both of these soil types. Spread 3 to 4 inches of the organic matter over the soil area and work it in to a depth of 9 to 12 inches. If using ground bark or sawdust as organic matter, it is essential to add a high nitrogen fertilizer to replenish the nitrogen required for the decomposition of woody material. Fertilizer, such as bone meal or bulb food, may also be worked into the soil along with the organic matter to add needed plant nutrients. It can also be applied before and after flowering to help build up the bulb for the next season.


A growing bulb needs moisture. To insure deep root penetration, be sure to water the bulbs thoroughly and not just sprinkle the soil surface. A mulch of marsh hay, clean straw or other weed-free, non-packing material can help keep the soil from drying and discourage weeds. Continue watering past the blooming period until the leaves yellow and dry naturally.

To improve vigor of a bulb, remove the flower stalks once they have finished blooming. Do NOT remove the leaves until after they die back, as they provide food for the next year’s bloom. To tidy up the bed during the ripening process, leaves can be pulled together, folded over and tied with a rubber band.

Winter Protection

Bulbs that are not winter hardy must be dug and stored for winter. After ripening, dig the bulbs carefully and dry them for a few days in a ventilated area. Remove any soil that still remains and dust them with a good fungicide to prevent disease and rot. Keep bulbs in a cool, but frost-free area until it is time to plant again. Space bulbs so that they are not touching during storage. Use perlite, vermiculite or peat moss as a packing material.

Growing Tips