Caring for Spring-blooming Bulbs

A couple of small patches of daffodils in my yard bring me joy each spring. A few years back, I purchased a few pots of declining plants at the local box store in late spring and plunked them in the yard. They didn’t look like much then, but I knew they had potential. The blooms have cheerfully rewarded me right on cue each year. Daffodils are perfect for lazy gardeners like me, with their reliability despite little to no maintenance.

The daffodils have cheerfully rewarded me right on cue each year.

The daffodils have cheerfully rewarded me right on cue each year.
Stephanie Turner, ©2023, Clemson Extension

The hardest part about being successful with spring-blooming bulbs is leaving them alone. Once the blooms have faded, the foliage still has a job to do. Cells in those bright green leaves are preparing sugars to fuel the bulb’s growth. Generally speaking, the larger the bulb- the larger the flower. Don’t come along in the name of cleaning up and remove any of those leaves until they are senescing. (That’s just the fancy word for fading or dying off.) The leaves will turn yellow and flop over, signaling they are through with photosynthesis. The plant breaks down and recycles the chlorophyll and gleans any nutrients it can before breaking ties with that leaf.

If your spring-blooming bulbs are overcrowded, they may not flower as prolifically. Once the leaves have died back, dig and divide clumps of bulbs for replanting. Find a sunny spot with well-drained soil to plant the newly separated bulbs. Plant them at a depth that is approximately three times the width of the bulb. Space the bulbs apart at least as many inches as the bulb is wide. For example, if the bulbs are two inches wide, plant them six inches deep and two to three inches apart.

Plant summer-blooming perennials next to or in front of clumps of spring-blooming bulbs to provide interest and distraction from the fading leaves. Amsonia, daylilies, carex, oriental lilies, and others will attract the eye away from fading foliage or even camouflage it a bit. Take care to give each plant adequate space so that the perennials are not smothering or completely outcompeting your spring bulbs.

Perform a soil test for recommendations specific to growing bulbs in your landscape. For established bulbs, the best time to fertilize is when they emerge in the spring so they will have adequate nutrients when they are actively growing. Thankfully, daffodils require little fertility and naturalize easily. I love a plant for which I can say ‘Less is More.’ For more information about growing spring-blooming bulbs, see HGIC 1155, Spring-Flowering Bulbs.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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