What do you do with spring bulbs after they bloom?

Gardening is one of the most hopeful activities anyone can engage in, and planting bulbs in fall with the anticipation of flowers the following spring may be the purest form of hope gardening has to offer. Those first spring crocus, daffodil, hyacinth and tulip blooms lifts the spirits after a long winter.

Now that they have bloomed, what do you do next? Well, that depends on what bulbs you have. Most spring bulbs grow as perennials in plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. These plants spend most of the year dormant, blooming and growing for a few weeks in spring. Proper care after flowering keeps the bulbs healthy so they can flower for many years.

Daffodils (Narcissus) are one of the most popular spring bulbs for very good reasons. They are long-lasting perennials that will give many years of blooms. They are also resistant to deer and voles because all parts of the plant contain a poison. The most important thing for the health of the plant is to let the leaves remain on the plant for six weeks after bloom or until they turn brown. This allows the energy from the leaves to build up the bulb for next year’s bloom. I know this is tough because the foliage can become unsightly, but resist the temptation to tie the leaves in knots, secure them with rubber bands or braid them. The bulb needs these leaves to photosynthesize and produce food for the bulb. If you object to the appearance of yellowing leaves, try interplanting bulbs with perennials or summer annuals for camouflage. Daffodil bulbs can become overcrowded and should be divided and replanted every 3-5 years. Division can be done after the foliage has browned.  Bulbs can be replanted immediately or stored in a dry, cool area for replanting in the fall.

Tulips (tulipa) are technically considered a perennial, but in Virginia tulips act like annuals and gardeners will seldom get repeat blooms. Tulips need cold winters and hot, dry summers. Virginia winters are not cold enough, and the summers are humid. Some species tulips (not hybrids) will act as perennials. Also, voles like tulip bulbs and will seek them out for a snack. If you want tulip blooms every year, plant fresh bulbs every fall.

Crocus (Crocus vernus) grow from bulblike structures known as corms. Each corm contains all the nutrients that a plant needs and each survives for only one growing season. New flowers emerge from new cormlets that form from buds on the old, dying corms. Using the right cultural practices helps to ensure that the cormlets are large and vigorous enough to produce abundant blooms. You might be tempted to cut their foliage back before it withers. But, like daffodils, as long as the leaves are green, leave them alone and let them continue to manufacture food to power the developing corms. The good news is that the modest, grassy leaves are not eyesores. Corm plants benefit from an annual fall application of bone meal mixed with water-soluble, granular fertilizer. Repeat the application as soon as the first shoots emerge in spring. Don’t feed a crocus while it’s in bloom as this may encourage corm rot to develop. You should not water crocus during their dormancy because it may increase the risk of corm rot. Fall rains trigger new root growth. Crocus eventually decline from overcrowding and benefit from division every three to five years. Divide at the same time that you cut off the dying leaves. The developing cormlets may drop from the lifted corms, or you can remove them manually. Replant the largest cormlets and they’ll bloom the following year.

Hyacinth (Hyacinthus) and Grape hyacinth (muscari) care is very similar to daffodils. They also contain a poison so are not attractive to deer and voles. Hyacinths are prone to gray mold and bulb rot when kept too wet, so go light on watering.