Hopefully your spring is being brightened by gardens of beautiful crocuses, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. If so, here are some tips for maintaining the plants so you’ll be able to enjoy an encore performance next year.
Plants from spring bulbs flower only once a year. When the flowers fade and die there’s a tendency to cut them off at ground level. Resist the temptation. Instead, just remove the dead flowers and keep the green leaves and stems until they, too, turn brown.
It’s best to remove spent flowers before they go to seed so the plant won’t waste energy on this process. It’s better that their energy be directed to the bulb where food is stored until it’s needed to grow again next spring.
Retaining the green leaves even after you remove the spent flowers is necessary if you want the bulbs to grow again next spring. The leaves continue to make food through photosynthesis, and sends it to the bulb, where it’s stored until it’s needed to bloom in the spring.
When it’s time to cut back the dead leaves. I suggest you leave an inch or two of the stem sticking up so you know where the bulbs are. Don’t worry about those stubs attracting squirrels and other wildlife. Any animal who wants to feast on your bulbs knows where they are regardless of whether there’s a marker sticking up or not.
New bulbs don’t need fertilizer when first planted. They have plenty of food stored in them but they’d appreciate being fertilized in subsequent years. Some people dig up their bulbs after the foliage dies and store them inside until fall. When you replant them, put a little fertilizer in the hole before you replant the bulbs. If you leave your bulbs in the ground year round, you’ll want to sprinkle fertilizer on the ground in the fall. Don’t use bonemeal fertilizer, however. It’s too much of an attractant for dogs. They probably won’t eat the bulbs but will dig in search of an actual bone where they smell the bonemeal.
If you are one of the few who have such good topsoil that you don’t have to fertilize your other plants, your bulbs shouldn’t need fertilizer either. The role of fertilizer is to replenish essential elements in the soil, not to feed the plants. Plants make their own food through the process known as photosynthesis.