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Solutions to Common Bulb Troubles

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Flower bulbs add color to gardens with minimal effort and upkeep by the gardener, but every now and then they may require some attention. Nonblooming bulbs? Disappearing bulbs? Something ate your bulbs? No worries. With a little troubleshooting, you can bring your bulbs back to glory.

Bulbs ready to be planted.

Bulbs ready to be planted.

1. Challenge: My daffodils grew perfect foliage, but they did not bloom.

Solution: The top three reasons why daffodils cease to bloom are: 

(1) They are not getting enough sun. They need at least a half a day of sunshine to produce flowers. If trees and shrubs have grown to shade your daffodils in the time since you planted them, consider moving them or trimming the overhead plants.

(2) They are hungry. It helps daffodils to apply a 5–10–10 fertilizer at planting time, when they leaf out and while they're in bloom. 

(3) They are too crowded. Daffodils will increase over time, creating clumps that compete for food and space. To remedy this, wait until the foliage turns yellow (late spring to early summer), then dig up the clumps and separate individual bulbs. Replant single bulbs about six inches apart and six inches deep.

2. Challenge: My tulips bloomed beautifully the first year, but in subsequent years they produced only leaves or didn't come up at all.

Solution: The method in which many hybrid tulips are produced often means they will not return after their first year. Summer growing conditions can also prevent tulips from thriving. 

The best bets for repeat performance are wild, or species, tulips; Darwin hybrids; Fosteriana tulips; Single Early tulips; Single Late tulips. 

The best site for tulips is well-drained soil that remains dry over the summer. If these conditions can't be met, or you would prefer to grow fancier types of tulips, it's best to treat them as annuals.

3. Challenge: I planted tulip and lily bulbs, but they got eaten by critters in my garden.

Solutions: Here are ways to protect bulbs when you plant them and when they sprout:

To prevent the digging of newly planted bulbs: Cover the ground with bird netting, wire mesh, a window screen or burlap for a few weeks, until the smell of freshly dug earth subsides.

To prevent animals eating the bulbs: Use mesh with half-inch holes to make a bulb cage. Place the bulb(s) in the cage, then plant. 

To prevent burrowing to the bulbs: Line the planting hole with gravel.

To stop animals eating new growth when it emerges: Protect the area with a temporary fence of chicken wire; sprinkle blood meal around the shoots; or spray the growth with Liquid Fence or your favorite repellent.

Recommended related reading:

50 Beautiful Deer-resistant Plants by Ruth Rogers Clausen: All kinds of plants are covered in this book, which also includes design and care tips.

The Ultimate Guide to Deer-proofing Your Yard and Garden by Neil Soderstrom: This book covers not only deer, but small mammals too, including rabbits, squirrels, voles and more. Soderstrom includes input from experts in all regions of the United States and offers plant recommendations as well as ways to repel and exclude troublesome wildlife from the garden.

Image credit: Frederique Voisin-Demery/CC BY 2.0