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Tony Tomeo: Bulb foliage lingers after bloom

Bloomed bulbs take time to regenerate.

Daffodils, freesias, lilies, snowdrops and the various early spring blooming bulbs and bulb like perennials will be finishing soon if they have not finished already, leaving us with the annual question of what to do with the foliage after bloom. The plants will not bloom again until next year, and the remaining foliage might be unappealing without bloom. Much of it slowly deteriorates into summer.

Bulbs that were forced have probably exhausted their resources, so are not likely to recover. Formerly forced daffodils and narcissus can go into the garden, but after the foliage dies back, they will probably never be seen again. Regeneration is possible though. Forced hyacinths and tulips are not likely worth the effort. They do not get enough chill here to bloom reliably in spring anyway.

Daffodils and narcissus (and for those who insist on growing them, hyacinths and tulips) that bloomed out in the garden will need to retain their foliage long enough to sustain regeneration of new bulbs that will bloom next spring. As long as the foliage is still green, it is working. When it withers and turns brown, it is easy to pluck from the soil, leaving new but dormant bulbs in the soil below.

Some of us like to tie long daffodil, narcissus and snowdrop foliage into knots so that it lays down for the process; but this only makes it more prominent in the landscape than if it were just left to lay down flat. Freesias are experts at laying down, which is why they might have needed to be staked while in bloom. The foliage of many early spring bulbs is easier to ignore in mixed plantings.

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It is even easier to ignore if overplanted with annuals or perennials that are just deep enough to obscure the foliage. Shallow ground cover might work for some of the more aggressive bulbs. Bulb foliage will need to be tucked under. Flower stalks should be pruned away from bulb foliage, not only because they are the most unsightly parts (if not concealed), but also because developing seed or fruit structures divert resources from bulb development.

Horticulturist Tony Tomeo can be contacted at tonytomeo.wordpress.com.

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