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Learning to Grow: Leave foliage after spring bulbs bloom

Published: Friday, May 9, 2014 4:40 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, May 9, 2014 4:43 p.m. CDT
(Photo provided)
Early bloomers like crocuses, Chionodoxa (pictured), Galanthus and squill have blade-like leaves that die off quickly after blooming and disappear.

We all love the appeal of spring bulbs, especially while they’re blooming. But what do you do with the bulbs and leaves once they’ve bloomed?

Even though the flowers are gone, the foliage is working hard through the process of photosynthesis to store food in the bulb before its dormancy during the summer. Once the rain begins in the fall, the roots start reaching out for moisture to use through the winter and propel them into their blooming season.

Early bloomers like crocuses, Chionodoxa (glory of the snow), Galanthus (snow drops) and squill have blade-like leaves that die off quickly after blooming and disappear before you even notice.

If you’re adamant about moving or digging up these bulbs, you should wait until the leaves begin to yellow. Several of these early bloomers spread so you can try to move the bulbs back to your beds or simply mow over the foliage once the leaves are done.

Tulips, hyacinths and daffodils have larger, green foliage that continue to feed the bulbs up to a month, depending on the sun exposure. Many gardeners hide the leaves among fresh annuals or summer perennials, like hostas or daylilies, until they die off naturally. Other gardeners try fun things, like braiding the leaves, so the bulb can complete its process.

The important thing is to realize the photosynthesis process your bulb needs to generate next year’s bloom. If you fertilize, it should be done after blooming but well before the leaves yellow to be sure the bulbs takes in the nutrients before entering dormancy.

Once the leaves begin to yellow you can trim back the foliage and dig up your bulbs to replant in a new spot in the fall.

 If you dig up your bulbs, clean off all of the soil, inspect them for disease or damage and store them in a cool dry spot, ideally 55 to 65 degrees.

Do not divide or separate your bulbs until you replant them in the fall. I use a burlap sack, which allows for air flow, to store my bulbs but many people use a bin of peat or old newspapers. Be sure to label your bulbs and store like bulbs together.

To prevent overcrowding, daffodils and crocuses should be divided every five years. Proper care and storage will give you years of beautiful spring blooms!
• Jody Lay is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.

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