Shades of Green

Red Tulip

Flowering Bulbs

Bulb is a general term used for plants which have a food storage organ which allows them to grow and flower quickly once the ideal conditions are available. There are four types of "bulb": true bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes.

Daffodil Lily Crocuses Iris Lilys Tulips

Shades of Green Ltd
2483 Westfield Rd
Saint John, NB, E2M 6L4

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How to Grow and Care for Flowering Bulbs, Corms, Tubers and Rhizomes

By Linda Peppin

The Gardener can find a huge and colourful selection of bulbs for every season of the year. Most are fully hardy but some, such as Cannas, need to be lifted for the winter. Dahlias dislike wet conditions so many people also lift these to avoid the worst of the winter weather. Below are a few examples of the bulbs which can be grown in each season.


Daffodil, Scilla, Tulip, Iris, Chionodoxa, Anemone


Allium, Galtonia, Lily, Canna, Gladioli, Dahlia


Colchicum, Amaryllis, Nerine, Cyclamen hederifolium, Eucomis. Sternbergia


Cyclamen coum, Winter aconite, Snowdrop, Hippeastrum, Hyacinth

Some tips when buying bulbs:

  • Buy early and plant immediately
  • Always choose plump, large bulbs
  • Ensure the outer skin is intact and clean
  • Do not buy bulbs already in growth
  • The growing point should be firm
  • Squeeze the bulb to check it is firm
  • A good bulb is even in colour with no blotches
  • Buy snowdrops "in the green"*

Planting bulbs:

  • Ensure soil is free draining
  • Add well-rotted compost to sandy soils
  • For naturalisation, plant in autumn
  • Plant tulips four times their own depth
  • Most bulbs prefer a sunny site
  • Ensure bulbs are planted pointing upwards
  • Dig heavy clay soil and add coarse grit
  • Add organic matter to the soil when resting
  • Plant most bulbs three times their own depth
  • Plant rhizomes just below the surface
  • Plant snowdrops "in the green"*
  • Most bulbs are suitable for containers


  • After flowering the reserves of the bulb are built-up from the leaves. Do not remove them until they dry out
  • Lift and divide clumps after a few years
  • After flowering feed with tomato fertiliser at half the strength used for tomatoes
  • Mulch during the resting period
  • Division should be done in the resting period

Storing bulbs:

  • Most bulbs can be stored
  • Check every few weeks and remove any which are rotting.
  • Clean off soil and remove foliage/roots. Ensure bulbs are clean and dry, dust with fungicide. Place in paper bag and label. Keep cool and dry.

Forcing Prepared Hyacinths:

  • Buy as soon as possible
  • Plant in a bulb fibre compost, close together with the tips just showing above the compost
  • Water so the compost is damp
  • Place in cool, dark place
  • When the bud is visible bring into the light
  • A cool room is best


  • Bulb Blindness: Buds fail to flower.
Caused by overcrowding and a lack of nutrients. Lift and replant in a fertilised soil.

  • Basal Rot: A brown stain around the scales of the bulb.
There is no cure, dispose of safely.

  • Bulb Flies: To avoid, pull soil over the neck of the bulb as the leaves die down.
  • Storage Rot: Discard rotting bulbs to avoid spreading. Dust with fungicide.

The Bulb Gardening Year


  • Replant pot-grown bulbs bought for an instant effect
  • Plant snowdrops and snowflakes bought "In the green"*
  • Check for any signs of grey mould and spray with a fungicide to reduce infection
  • Stake tall bulbs
  • In late spring, plant out tender bulbs like gladioli and begonias
  • Deadhead flowers to concentrate energy into the bulbs
  • In late spring, clear away yellowing foliage to eliminate the homes for slugs and snails
  • Store container bulbs in a cool out of the way place
  • Feed potted bulbs with liquid fertilizer
  • Water indoor cyclamen as they get new leaves. Feed every two weeks


  • Lift and divide overcrowded clumps as the leaves die down
  • Collect dry seed in paper bags and store in a cool dry place
  • Clear away dying foliage to tidy the border and avoid the spread of disease
  • Rake over holes left in the soil by old bulb stems to lessen the chance of insects laying eggs in the tunnel. Mulch the whole area
  • Plant out pot-grown summer and autumn-flowering bulbs to fill gaps in the border
  • Re-pot winter and spring bulbs
  • Tie gladioli and tall dahlias to stakes for support
  • Buy new bulbs from your local garden centre or order from bulb catalogues


  • Plant commercial bulbs
  • Prepare heavy or compacted soil for planting by digging deeply and adding grit. Sprinkle a general-purpose fertilizer into the planting hole, and plant the bulbs at the required depth
  • Early autumn, plant containers with specially-prepared bulbs to flower in midwinter
  • Mark the location of your bulbs with labels to avoid disturbance later
  • Lift dahlias and gladioli and prepare for winter storage


  • Clear away any old foliage that might impede fresh growth. Mulch the site
  • Add a general purpose fertilizer to the surrounding soil
  • Store bulbs in a box in a cool, frost free place and check regularly for disease
  • Move groups of bulbs. Dig up the clump and place in the new position
  • Sow commercial bulb seed
  • If leaves show signs of disease lift the whole plant and dispose of it
  • Bring forced bulbs into a cool place to flower
  • Order late summer flowering bulbs

* "In the Green": Plants are lifted just after flowering with the leaves still intact. Ensure they never dry out. Plant back at their original depth. The papery sheath around the bulb should just be visible.

Linda Peppin runs The Gardening Register which is an easy to follow, informative website covering all aspects of gardening. For more gardening related articles visit her site at

The articles on her website must not be copied or used elsewhere.

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