Caring for Your Spring Bloomers

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Spring Bloomers Thrive in Wyoming

Many a Wyoming gardener is familiar with the challenges of growing and maintaining a flower garden in our home state.

So you may be surprised to learn that the harsh Wyoming climate is particularly well-suited to growing spring bulbs.

The reason? Many spring-flowering plants originate in Iran, Iraq and Mongolia—places with a similarly dry climate. Just about all spring bloomers perform well in Wyoming. (The possible exception is jonquils, which tend to prefer warmer climates.)

In order to ensure that your spring bulbs continue to produce year after year, you’ll want to give them a little TLC right now. Here are some tips:

After the Bloom

It’s important to remove spent blooms of large-flowered bulbs–such as tulips and daffodils–as soon as they fade. This way, the plants’ energy will be channeled into forming large bulbs and offsets, rather than producing seeds. (Tulips and daffodils produced from seed are not very robust.)

However, it’s fine to allow smaller bulbs—such as grape hyacinth or squill–to self-sow through seed. This allows them to form increasingly large drifts.

Above all, resist the temptation to remove the plant’s foliage while it’s still green. Spring bloomers depend on the green leaves to nourish the bulb as well as next year’s flower buds. (These form during the summer.)

Instead, cut or pull the leaves off only after they have turned yellow. Many gardeners choose to tie down or braid the leaves to get them out of the way for the next blooming plants. This is a mistake. Tying and or braiding reduces the amount of sunlight the leaves receive, thus hindering growth. It’s best to let them die back naturally.

For crocuses and snowdrops naturalized in a lawn, it is safe to mow the green leaves. However, it’s important to wait at least six weeks after blooming before you mow.

Spring Fertilization

In addition to fertilizing your spring bloomers at the time of fall planting, major bulbs should also be fertilized twice in the spring:

  1. In early spring when the shoots emerge and
  2. After flowering, to fuel foliage and bulb growth for next year’s flowers. Work the fertilizer shallowly into the soil and water.

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Phosphorous-rich fertilizer is recommended at fall planting time, but you’ll want to switch that up to a balanced nitrogen-based fertilizer in the spring. (Alternatively, you can apply a slow-release “bulb booster” to plantings in the fall.)

Freezes and False Starts

On those occasions when Wyoming experiences a winter warm spell, the leaves of spring bloomers may suddenly poke above ground. This causes some gardeners to worry that later snow or freezing temperatures will kill their bulbs or destroy the flowers.

No need to fret: Spring foliage and flower bulbs usually can withstand freezing temperatures without harm. The only times these flowers may suffer injury is if their brittle stems are broken, or the temperature changes are too abrupt.

Failure to Thrive

Are you disappointed in the way your spring bulbs have performed? There are several possible reasons for failure to thrive:

If No Foliage

If no foliage appeared this spring, then either the bulbs were eaten by critters or they rotted from excessively wet soils. Dig around in the area to determine the cause. If it’s critters digging up and eating your tulip or crocus bulbs, you might try planting daffodils and allium. Animals don’t find them nearly as appealing.

If No Blooms

If you have foliage, but no blooms, there are a couple of possible causes:

♣ Bulbs were too small when planted. (With bulbs, bigger is better.) Give them another years or so, and they should become big enough to flower.

♣ Planting area is too shady. Most spring bulbs need at least 6 to 8 hours of sun while the leaves are intact.

♣ Too much competition has stressed the bulbs. Close proximity of evergreen trees and fast-growing plants can cause too much crowding and shading. Consider replacing these with hostas and ornamental grasses, as they are better bulb companions.

♣ Poor drainage in planting area. Spring bulbs prefer dry soil during their summer dormant season. Bear in mind, if your spring bloomers share a planting area with summer-flowering annuals, the regular watering of the annuals may be too much for the dormant bulbs.

♣ Bulb viruses can cause a loss of vigor and eventual death of your plant. These viruses often appear as yellow streaking or mottling on the plant’s leaves. The viruses can be passed to other bulbs, so the best remedy is to dig up and destroy virused bulbs.

♣ After growing many years in the same location, bulbs can become too crowded to bloom. Dig them up, divide them and replant after the leaves yellow.

Have some extra spring bulbs left over from last fall? You can still use them to enjoy seasonal blooms indoors! Here’s how:

Spring Bulbs as Annuals

Some spring-flowering bulbs are best treated as annuals because the size and quality of their blooms decline in subsequent seasons. Hyacinths and many tulip species would fall into this category. For these plants, you may wish to plant fresh bulbs each fall.

On the other hand, if long-term tulips are your goal, look for species that are labeled “for perennializing,” such as Fosteriana (Emperor tulips) Greigii, and Kaufmanniana. With proper growing conditions, these should present a great display every spring.


Better Homes & Gardens

Univ. of Illinois Extension

The Flower Expert

Univ. of Wyoming Extension

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