Bulb Doctor

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Why haven't my daffodils flowered?

When bulbs, especially daffodils, produce foliage but no flowers they are often referred to as ‘blind’.  There are several possible reasons :-

  • Planting depth – A general rule of thumb for bulbs is to have twice the height of bulb soil on top.  A bulb that stands 2.5cm tall (1 inch) should therefore have 5cm (2 inches) of soil on top.  This should ensure that during dry summers the bulb has sufficient moisture to keep the embryo bud growing.
  • Foliage was removed too early –  It is essential that the foliage is left to die down naturally as this will feed the bulb and help ensure a flowering size bulb for next year.  Because foliage can look untidy as it dies down it is often removed too early or tied into neat knots.  It is important for bulb growth that this is not done.
  • Life cycle –  Daffodils in particular have a large flowering bulb, known as a mother bulb, which produce offsets, daughter bulbs.  These offsets are not of a flowering size but will produce foliage and flower once they reach maturity.  To aid this process it is important that the bulbs are fed with a low nitrogen fertilizer 10-14 days after flowering and twice more at 14 day intervals.
  • Overcrowding –  Part of the life cycle as mentioned will produce lots of offsets and if these have insufficient room and nutrients to reach flowering size the bulbs will produce foliage but no flowers.

How deep/far apart should I plant my bulbs?

Most bulbs benefit from planting so that the depth of the soil over the bulb is twice the height of the bulb ie: a bulb that stands 2.5cm tall (1 inch) needs 5cm (2inches) of soil on top, so the hole needs to be at least 7.5cm (3 inches) deep.  There are of course exceptions to the rule but these are few and far apart.

Planting distance will depend on use but in the border we recommend planting so that the space between is equivalent to the circumference of the bulb. If you are planting in containers then this distance should be halved.

Should I feed my bulbs?

Bulbs are no different to anything else planted in the garden so they need nutrients.  However too much nitrogen will encourage lush growth and make them susceptible to disease so a low nitrogen fertilizer with plenty of phosphate and potash is the ideal.

What is meant by the term naturalising?

This is the term used when bulbs are planted in grass/borders/woodland and left to do their own thing.  Planting is usually informal and very often the bulbs will self seed and spread.  If planted in grass/lawn it is essential to leave the foliage on the bulbs for at least 6 weeks after flowering to ensure that the bulbs renew themselves.

How late can I plant spring flowering bulbs?

Bulbs are plants and the best place for them is in the ground but very often they are planted after bedding plants have faded so time of planting will vary from year to year.

Try to plant your bulbs while the soil is still warm and not too wet.

Having said that, spring flowering bulbs have been planted well into December with excellent results. Later planting will still give a show but you may find that the flowers are a bit shorter than normal.

What are the best garden conditions for bulbs?

Most bulbs like a moisture retentive well drained soil and generally like a neutral pH of 6.0-6.5.  Bulbs do not like to be water logged but at the same time they do not like to be excessively dry.

My container planted bulbs have not flowered well this year. What went wrong?

Generally speaking we think of bulbs as frost hardy but when planted in containers the frost not only penetrates from the top but also sides and this can affect flowering.

During periods of prolonged severe frost it is important to either put the containers in a shed/glasshouse or to wrap the outside of the pot with insulation.

Should I dead-head my spring bulbs?

Commercial growers do not dead-head their daffodils as it is an expensive job with no appreciable return, however for gardeners it is not a long job and certainly makes things look tidy.

For tulips it is important to remove the petals once they have started to fall.  Old petals falling into the plant and onto the soil will encourage the spores of ‘tulip fire’ which will infect the soil in subsequent years, so they should be removed.

Everytime I buy daffodils they flower the first year but then I only get leaves the following year. What am I doing wrong?

Providing you are doing everything correct as regards planting depth etc there is a strong possibility that the soil pH is too low.  Daffodils do not like acidic soil.

They will flower alright the first year because the flower has already formed when you buy the bulb but the acidic soil will inhibit root growth and flower development for subsequent years.

I've recently planted some: Lillies bulbs, Anemone bulbs, Crocosmia Corms and Gladioulous. Looking towards the future, how do I look after these during winter?

Lilies – do not need lifting in winter so can be left in the ground Anemones – cover with a mulch (straw or dead leaves would do) during winter (leave them in the ground) Crocosmia – would need a good mulch in winter in all but the mildest areas but can be left in the ground Gladiolus – will over winter in the ground in mild areas but lift after flowering and store frost free over winter if in doubt. Re-plant from March onwards

I planted 15 Camassia alba bulbs in the autumn. They are all 18"high but no sign of flowers. Can they be blind?

Having just checked our own trial plot, it is only the earliest Camassia that are flowering and some varieties are barely showing their flower spike above ground level.  It is possible to see a flower spike in all of the Camassia leichtlinii Alba we have on our trial plot so please keep an eye on yours for the next week or so and I hope you will see the flowers coming.


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