Feed the Bulbs

First shoots of the season

Spring is in stealth mode. I thought it would takes weeks to melt all the snow, but it is slowly retreating, as if I wouldn’t notice. Chiseled ridges of sand flecked, icy snow are giving way to equally sandy and frozen grass. And something else. While filling the bird feeders yesterday, I was astounded to see the bobbing heads of snowdrops and the first hints of daffodils. Spring will come, after all.

Daffodil Shoots

It’s still amazing to me that these bulbs not only survive year after year, they go forth and multiply. We could still get more snow, but I know it won’t faze them as much as it will me.

I’m often asked when to feed spring flowering bulbs.  Hopefully the plants had plenty of time last spring to replenish the storehouse of food in energy. That’s why we’re always cautioned not to cut back the foliage until it fades on its own.

As the plants push up in the spring and eventually bloom, they will go through all their stored. resources. Although leaving the foliage in tact will help them feed themselves, they appreciate a little supplemental food. There’s no hard and fast rule of when to do that, but I prefer to wait until after they have finished blooming, while they’re working hard to plump up before going dormant again.

I like to sprinkle a high phosphorous, slow release organic fertilizer on the soil, when the buds are not quite open. Phosphorous takes awhile to work into the soil and bulbs have such a short growing season anyway, I like to have it accessible when they need it.

And speaking of spring bulbs, one of the first things up in my vegetable garden is invariably the garlic I planted last fall. I haven’t had a chance to check on them yet, because I have to chip away the ice in front of the vegetable garden gate. (I’m taking the lazy approach and praying for a warm rain.) This is some of last year’s garlic. 2013 was not a good year, in my garden. We had a general lack of heat and very erratic moisture. The bulbs were small, but still tasty. However I ordered new bulbs to plant last fall, instead of saving my own, which is always a disappointment.

Harvested Garlic

Just like flowering spring bulbs, garlic is going to need a boost – and then some. I’m sure we all have lovely, rich soil that is full of organic matter, but garlic grows fast and it gets hungry. A bi-weekly foliage feeding or monthly serving of a balanced fertilizer with a leaning toward phosphorous again, will help the plants develop lush green grow, that will support the roots. Start as soon as you see the leaves emerging, but stop in late spring, usually around mid-May, so that the plants can turn their focus from growing leaves to bulking up their bulbs. And equally important, if not more so, make sure your garlic gets regular water. Garlic does not handle stress well.

All this talk of sprouting plants has made me even more impatient to get outdoors. I wonder what will surprise me today?


  1. says

    Feeding spring-blooming bulbs was always something I wondered about but was never compelled to research — and now I don’t have to! Good tip on the garlic too: I was unhappy with my heads last year but attributed it to not enough water and a bit too much shade, but maybe they just needed a little more feeding too.

    • says

      I think a lot of bulbs never get fed, because we forget about them when everything else start popping. Daffodils and snowdrops can take neglect, but I really think I notice things like tulips and hyacinths living longer if I can remember to toss them a snack. Hopefully most bulbs are in beds that get some food eventually.

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