What is a bulb?
A bulb is a rounded part of the stem. Like seeds, many flowering plants can be propagated through bulbs. Unlike seeds, we have to wait comparatively more for seeing bulbs developing into beautiful flowers. Bulbs are mostly perennials.
Types of bulbs
Winter bulbs: Winter bulbs are hardy bulbs. They require a long cold period to break their resting period (Dormancy) and are planted in fall (September- mid-November). They spend their winter in the soil and blooms in the spring season (February- March). Some of our favourite winter bulbs are Daffodils, Hyacinth, Tulips, Irises, Crocus, and Allium.
Spring bulbs: These are tender ones and are planted in the spring (January- February) to obtain vibrant blooms throughout the summer season (April-June). Lilies (Football lily, Eucharis, Nerine, Crinum), Gladiolus, Elephant ear and Caladiums are most common spring bulbs. Spring bulbs are not cold temperature loving, so plant them only after the danger of frost passes.
Planting technique of bulbs:
- Prepare the soil mixture for bulb planting. A Well-drained mixture of 50% garden soil and 50% of foliage potting mix is good for bulbs planting.
- Add some pebbles at the base for drainage purpose, after that add potting soil.
- You can divide the bulbs into pieces for multiple propagations, while dividing, make sure each dividing piece has a portion of a basal plate (root portion) attached.
- If bulbs are planted too deep, flowers will bloom late or not at all. If planted too shallow, new growth may become exposed. So, the best way to overcome this is to use the thumb rule i.e plant the bulb 2 to 3 times as deep as the bulb is tall and space them thrice their diameter.
- Plant the bulbs in soil with the pointy-end up and with the roots down. If not sure about the top and bottom points, plant it on its sides. While planting, keep the tip of the bulb half-inch above the ground.
- Add a layer of soil and a light layer of mulch to cover the bulb.
- Water the bulbs to get them properly adjusted in the soil. Flowers appear usually between 3 to 12 weeks.
- Light: Plant the bulbs in a sunny location, where it could receive 6-12 hours of bright sunlight.
- Water: Water only when the top one-inch layer of soil feels dry to touch. Reduce watering once the leaves start to wilt. Avoid overwatering, as bulbs may get infested with fungal infection.
- Fertilizers: Add Epsom salt after one week of potting the bulb to enhance healthy flowering.
- Special tip: If your bulbs have sprouted, you can still plant them.
After-care:After blooming, cut the flower stem back but leave the foliage attached till it changes into the yellowish shade and wilts away (8-10 weeks). Ensure the proper time to cut back the foliage to avoid weak blooms of the bulbs in the following year.
- Winter bulbs: The bulbs that require a cold environment can be dug and stored during the warm climate. However, during winter, they can be kept in the ground as they will multiply.
- Spring bulbs: Bulbs can be left in the ground with a layer of mulch over them during warm climate, but in the cold season, they will need to be dug up, so that they could be extracted from the soil and stored until the following spring.
Digging up of bulbs:
- Remove a couple of inches of the stem above the soil level.
- Get the bulbs out of the ground after loosening the soil around it.
- Dust off the soil from the bulb and roots.
- Place them over a clean paper under a cool, shady place to dry them off for a few days. Some bulbs are poisonous, so keep them away from pets and children.
- Store them in a cool, dark, and dry place.
- Check bulbs monthly for any signs of mould or rot.
Forcing bulbs indoors:
- A bulb is a storage part having lots of carbohydrates for growth and root formation. It is itself enough to produce foliage and flowers indoors for a certain period of time. You can also grow winter bulbs in water by forcing it for early spring blooms.
- Choose large, healthy bulbs. For growing them, you first have to provide a chilling period (cold) to break their dormancy(resting) period. Place the bulbs in a paper bag and keep them in a refrigerator at 4 °C for fifteen weeks to break their dormancy early. Avoid keeping them near fruits and vegetables.
- Hyacinth, Crocus, Tulips, Daffodils, Iris and Snowdrops are some winter bulbs that can be grown indoors for early spring blooms.
- In the case of spring bulbs, you can try this method with Amaryllis lily. Spring bulbs do not require a chilling period.
- Choose a vase, which is at least tall as the flower stalk will grow. Specific vases which are designed like an hourglass will look amazing for growing bulbs in water as they will support the bulb and only its root portion will stay in the water. This will prevent the rotting risk of bulbs.
- Pour water in the vase and add some decorative stones at the base. Arrange the bulbs with the pointy-end up and with the roots down.
- Add water whenever necessary when roots will start forming. Periodically turn the vase/container so that stem doesn’t bend towards the sun.
- Your bulbs will start blooming in about 2 to 3 weeks after their chilling period is over.
Is it possible to reuse forced bulbs?
Winter bulbs that have been forced are usually discarded. This is because, during the forcing process, they lose their strength. However, Daffodils are vigorous bulbs, there are chances that they could bloom again when planted outdoors. After blooming, remove the flower stalk and plant them outdoors in the soil. Water regularly until the foliage turns yellow and wilts away. Afterwards, remove the bulbs from the soil and dry them for 1 to 2 weeks then store in a cool and dry place.
Shashi Agarwal & Shalini Sharma