Landscaping & Nursery Information for Home Gardeners

Notes on the Care and Handling of Bulbs


Certain bulbs need dividing or separating in order to maintain a healthy, flowering stand. Crowded bulbs are less likely to produce a high quantity and quality flowers. When flower number and size starts to diminish, consider separating the bulbs and replant.

Bulbs planted at recommended depths initially require less dividing and resetting.

Spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and hyacinthsshould be divided in September or October. Granted, it is difficult to determine the location of the bulbs without staking or mapping them out previously. Care should be taken when digging to prevent damage to bulbs. It usually is easier to dig a large area and separate bulbs then trying to dig individual bulbs separately.

If bulbs are planted among trees, shrubs or perennials consider replacing the bulbs every three to five years instead of separating. This minimizes damage to the root system of the nearby plants.

Summer flowering bulbs can be divided in early April or late fall.

Some bulbs, including Surprise Lilies (Lycoris) may not appear to need dividing. However, plants will produce more flowers if divided.

When dividing or separating bulbs, carefully remove side bulbs from the main bulb. Replant at correct spacings.

The following table provides a guideline for dividing bulbs.

         Bulb                      Years to Divide
      Tulips                         3 - 5
      Daffodils                      3 - 6
      Hyacinths                      2 - 3
      Lilies                         4 - 6
      Surprise Lily (Lycoris)        3 - 5
      Iris (Bulbous types)           3 - 6
      Alliums                        4 - 8
      Crocus                         seldom needed
      Grape Hyacinths (Muscari)      seldom needed


Spring bulbs should be moved in the fall. Mark the plants in the spring for fall digging.

Remove as much soil as possible, but avoid removing the "skin" or dried layer surrounding each bulb.

If bulbs must be moved earlier in the year, remove as much soil as possible, store in a cool location or refrigerator until fall planting.


Fall bulbs left unplanted may be planted the following spring. However, the chances that bulbs will bloom that spring are next to zero.

Make sure the bulbs are planted in a well-drained, loose soil. Bulbs that grow and produce foliage should be allowed to grow as long as possible. Plants can be lightly fertilized with a water-soluble fertilizer. Remove foliage when it turns yellow.

Bulbs that fail to produce foliage after planting in the spring will probably rot during the year and should be replaced in the fall.

Unplanted bulbs should be stored in a cool, dry location for best survival rate. Bulbs should be firm and solid the following spring; if not, don't waste your time planting them.

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See also:
 Bulbs: alliums
 Bulbs: bed preparation
 Bulbs: colchicum
 Bulbs: fall flowering crocus
 Bulbs: fertilizing
 Bulbs: selecting
 Bulbs: spring flowering
 Bulbs: summer flowering
 Bulbs: dividing

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