BULBS - When To Cut Back???

bobby1973July 4, 2006


is it true that you should wait a few weeks after your planted bulbs are done flowering before you proceed to cut the stems down to the ground? i've heard that this is recommended in order to allow the foliage of the plant to transport energy back down to the bulb - but other people have told me that this practice isn't necessary and that i can go ahead and cut back the stems as soon as the plants are done flowering. any thoughts on the matter?

thanks so much!


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username_5(banned for no reason)

What kind of bulb?

It is usually the foliage of the plant that feeds the bulb, not the flower or stem.

When you asked about cutting stems I couldn't think of any reason why this would affect plant health which is why I ask what kind of bulb. Maybe there are exceptions where the stem itself is a primary or at least important means of photosynthesis.

Nevertheless as a general rule you can cut stems whenever you wish, but leave folliage to die back on it's own time schedule whenever possible.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2006 at 11:43PM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

If you are growing the bulbs for one season only because your local conditions don't favour having the species/variety as a perennial - cut them back as soon as they've finished flowering, or just dig them out.

If they're seriously in the way and the foliage is not part of the 'next picture' - try growing in pots, plunging the pots for the flowering season - then moving them to a 'bed out the back' where they can finish the season and go dormant. You can usually do this safely with bulbs grown in the ground, too, if they are in full leaf - so long as you dig a hefty chunk of dirt along with the roots. You can backfill the holes with compost for the next crop.

Another option is to plant them in clear patches among plants that will bulk up rapidly once spring gets into full flush. That way the clumps of green have some masking, and will fade into invisible as the next show gets into full swing.

When the leaves have begun to be 'limp' - even if still green, you can either tie the old, soft foliage into a neat 'knot' ot cut it back. I tend to leave the foliage to fall naturally and take it away in my early summer clean-up. (I have this wild belief that it protects the bulbs from narcissus fly infestations.)

If you've planted bazillions of bulbs in the lawn then the grass species and seedheads, along with any meadow flowers in the mix, will cover the old leaves until it's time to mow and tidy up (after the wildflowers have seeded, of course.)

About the only bulb-y things I'd cut back (ruthlessly) are Agapanthus, because they're near to unkillable in my zone, and bearded Iris after flowering - trimming young pieces I'm transplanting.

I guess I'm not a greatly tidy gardener, as such. ;-)

    Bookmark   July 4, 2006 at 11:51PM
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well the bulbs that i'm specifically talking about are tulips and asiatic lilies. my asiatics have pretty much dropped all their flowers, but i'm going to wait to cut the main stem down to the ground as long as possible. i'm more concerned about my tulips, which had their first showing this past spring. i immediately cut them down to the ground as soon as they dropped all their petals. now i'm worried that i didn't give the foliage sufficient time to transport energy back to the bulb. should i be concerned about how they'll bloom next spring because of this?

thanks for your helpful advice everyone!


    Bookmark   July 6, 2006 at 11:27PM
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meldy_nva(z6b VA)

Both of those depend on the green leaves to help provide nourishment, which is stored in the bulb to let it survive until the next period of bloom. While cutting off the green leaves may not actually kill the bulb, the bulbs likely will not have enough strength to bloom next year, if they survive the winter. You don't need to dig them up, but don't expect a great show of flowers next spring. Your page doesn't note what state you are in (zone 6 covers a lot of territory), but much of the US has soil which doesn't drain well enough to suit tulips, which can add to the survival problem. You might want to add more bulbs this fall, just to ensure having blooms next spring.

One way to handle to the dying-stems problem is to overplant the area with annuals or perennials which start to grow just as the tulips bloom, and soon get big enough to hide the dying leaves. Overplanting with daylilies is one easy and attractive solution. I trim my front-bed's lily stems to about half their height because they are in with nepeta and rudbeckia - both a bit too slow-growing to hide the tallest stems; other lilies are left until they die, hiding behind annuals. In all cases, the soil is extremely well-drained. If your bulbs are happy, they will reproduce, giving you more blooms next year and the year after :)

    Bookmark   July 7, 2006 at 7:36AM
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thanks for sharing meldy! great advice:) i think i'll do as you suggested and just overplant the area with extra tulip bulbs (just to be on the safe side).

    Bookmark   July 7, 2006 at 10:56PM
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