Flower Bulb Problems and Solutions

Why Bulbs Didn't Flower and Other Common Questions

March 11, 2021
Harvest Mouse and Tulip
Matt Gibson/Shutterstock

Wondering why your garden bulbs didn’t flower? Or, perhaps why your tulips are not coming up? See 20 tips on avoiding bulb problems, plus planting bulbs properly so that they bloom return year after year, delighting us with color in spring and summer!

Tips on Planting Bulbs

  1. Buy the right varieties for your area’s USDA Climate Zone. For reference, see our bulbs charts:

  2. Use top-quality bulbs. Check bulbs before buying or planting: Make sure they’re firm and free of corky lesions, mold, and soft spots. Otherwise, your bulb may have a viral disease before you even get home!

  3. Don’t plant your bulbs where you always see standing water in early spring. They like well-drained sites.

  4. Don’t plant in soil where disease hasn’t been a problem.

  5. Make sure your bulbs get full sun. Bulbs need at least a half a day of sun in spring while the bulb leaves are green. Midday and afternoon shade are needed in hot climates.

  6. Turn the soil over to a depth of about eight to ten inches. Add enough compost to make it loose and crumbly.

  7. Very important: Plant at the right depth!! As a general rule: Plant daffodils, fritillarias, hyacinths, and tulips, plant six to eight inches deep. Plant crocuses, snowdrops, Spanish bluebells, and other small bulbs 3 to 4 inches deep. 

tulips-4097398_1920_full_width.jpg

Tips on Bulb Pests and Critters

  1. Protect from critters! If you have a big problem with squirrels digging up bulbs, consider laying a wide wire mesh, such as chicken wire, directly on top of the bed, extending the surface about 3 feet from the plantings, then stake it down.

  2. Cover bulbs properly with soil so critters aren’t attracted to the planting site. Some gardeners claim that planting a bit deeper makes it harder for digging pests to find tulip bulbs. Also, always remove all debris such as dried bulb casings to avoid pests.

  3. Sprinkle egg shells or diatomaceous earth powder around your bulbs to keep slugs and snails away.

  4. If you spot aphids or other small bugs on the leaves, try knocking them off with a stream of water from the hose. If the problem persists, spray all sides of the leaves with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap early in the morning. 

squirrel-crocus-shutterstock_1470971426_full_width.jpg
Image: Squirrel eating purple crocus flower. Credit: James Hudson/Shutterstock

Tips on Bulb Plant Care

  1. Water your bulbs after planting to jump-start root growth. And keep bulbs mulched to conserve soil moisture and maintain a cool soil temperature. Wait until the ground is cold or frozen. Piling on mulch too soon provides nesting areas for pests to overwinter.
  2. Fertilize at planting and during spring growth period. Specifically, add a balanced natural organic fertilizer in the spring when the bulbs first appear and again after they have bloomed. We don’t think it’s necessary to add fertilizer to the bulbs as you plant them (though some gardeners do), but you need to help them recharge their food banks after they have bloomed.
  3. Cut off the spent flower heads after your bulbs have bloomed, but don’t cut off the foliage. The leaves help provide nutrients to what will become the next season’s bulbs.

Specific Bulb Problems and Solutions

  1. Bulbs being dug up? You can usually thank squirrels or chipmunks. They especially love eating the crocus, hyacinth, and tulip bulbs. As discussed above: Before planting, place hardware cloth, chicken wire, or other protective barrier over soil, and secure it in place.
  2. Bulbs simply disappearing and never emerging? Chipmunks, voles, gophers and mice plant daffodils especially like crocus and tulips bulbs. Plant in a chicken wire cage or consider planting daffodils, which animals find inedible.
  3. Are they emerging even though winter isn’t over? This is normal and due to a warm spell. As long as there isn’t a blossom, they’ll probably be fine. they should weather the winter fine. Be sure to mulch your beds.
  4. Are the bulbs’ leaves or buds or blossoms being eaten? You can once again thank squirrels and chipmunks but also deer and rabitts. The best solution is to plant daffodils. However, you could also use animal repellents.
  5. Just leaves, no flower bloom?  The usual reason is lack of chill hours. In warm climates, choose varieties with low chilling requirements, and chill bulbs before planting. Another reason is pulling the leaves before they faded completely. 
  6. Fewer blossoms than last year? Bulbs will decline if they experience overcrowding, poor soil fertility, or increasing shade. If overcrowded, dig and divide them the bulbs. 

A lack of bloom often speaks to a lack of soil fertility. In the spring, when plants are growing, spread an inch of compost. Or apply a low-nitrogen bulb fertilizer. You’ll get bigger, better blooms!

    See our individual Bulb Growing Guides.

    2022_gardening_calendar_spring_ad_1.png

    Reader Comments

    Leave a Comment

    Bulb Planting Success

    Some years back, I planted a couple of dozen tulip bulbs and my (beloved) chipmunks dug down to them and ate each one near immediately! hm...
    Then a light"bulb" lit over my head and the thought of sprinkling chili powder (or red pepper powder) onto and around the placed buld before filling came to mind so, I bought a large container of such for next years attempt and it worked like a charm!
    Not one bulb loss but, I had a few surprised chipmunks! Every bulb grew with grand success. :)

    Tulips/narcissus

    I just received Tulips and Narcissus in Verdi NV 89439 which should have been planted
    Oct-Nov. 2020
    per my zone 5-7 recommendations. Its still very cold especially in pm-am. Should I plant now OR put in the refrigerator (how many weeks)and plant later after last frost?

    Gladiola Bulbs

    I am never quite sure how to handle the flowers after the bloom- which they did beautifully this year. I cut off the flowers when then died but this year have left the foliage. How long do I leave it? Do I then cut back to the soil and leave it til next year? Can I plant other flowers near or on top?
    Thanks

    Daffodils

    A friend is regrouping her flower garden and dug up bunches of daffodils and gave them to us. I see that litterateur is saying to plant /transplant in the fall, it is the beginning of spring now. What do I need to do to keep these bulbs until the fall?

    Daffodils

    The Editors's picture

    It’s best to plant them now. They need time to gather energy while they still have foliage.

    Do daffodils have more than one bloom per bulb?

    I've picked some stems from my daffodils as instructed. Will the plant have another bloom or does each plant only have one bloom and then "die?"
    Thank you!

    after the bulbs have bloomed

    After my bed of tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils is done blooming, I leave the foliage, as advised - but it looks so sad. What can I plant over the bulbs, preferably perennial, so that the garden doesn't look so neglected?

    covering bulb foliage after bloom

    Catherine Boeckmann's picture

    That’s a great question. The foliage of most bulbs (especially daffodils) must remain to renew the bulb. But you could try adding a leafy perennial or fast- growing annual to the area.

    I like to plant daffodils in the same space with day lilies. As the daffodil foliage matures, the day-lily foliage grows up to fill in the space.

    Many people like to add small hostas in front of daffodils or other spring bulbs; the timing works out perfectly.

    Another idea is to plant annual seedlings, such as impatiens, zinnias, marigolds or snapdragons. Or, how about fast-growing Storm petunias to cover large beds of bulbs. 

    One reader recommends planting poppies with tulips. However, some people treat tulip bulbs as annuals. Instead of producing offsets at the sides of the mother bulb, the mother bulb flowers one season and produces a daughter bulb plus some other smaller bulbs. The old bulb is gone now and the smaller bulbs do not truly amount to much in the garden setting. 

    Some folks just dig them up when done and replant the bulbs in the fall. 

    bulbs

    I gave my parents for Easter some daffodils. What should they do with the bulbs until the fall?

    storing bulbs

    The Editors's picture

    Just store the bulbs in a cool, dry, dark place so that the bulbs don’t freeze, sprout, or rot. A utility closet is often a good place. Some people put them in box and cover with soil. Then, plant in the fall!

    planting multiple daffodils

    Does every daffodil bulb have to have its own hole? Last fall, I dug a big round hole and placed the daffodil bulbs at least 3 inches apart, but they aren't blooming and foliage is sparse. Is that my fault or were they not good bulbs?

    Planting Daffodils

    The Editors's picture

    As long as you gave them each their own “personal bubble” of 3–6 inches, they shouldn’t have been too crowded. Our guess is that it’s some other factor that’s causing your daffodil woes. Perhaps they were planted too deep or in a wet area? Check out our Daffodils Growing Guide to see if you can diagnose your problem.

    Dafodils

    I have had daffodils in the same place for about 10 years. Should I dig them up and separate them or just leave them?

    Dividing Daffodils

    The Editors's picture

    We would just divide daffodils if they’re not blooming well. If they’re not blooming well, they’re getting too crowded together. Then dig and divide, or replant in a sunnier location. After replanting, let the foliage die back on its own, and they should bloom for you next spring.

    Daffodil planting time

    I bought a small pot of daffodil flowers that are blooming. I'd like to plant them in my garden area after they finish blooming. We're are in New Mexico, about 7,000 feet elevation, semi-arid, alkaline soil, last spring frost is late May. When to put them out in the ground? Thanks.

    Daffodil Planting

    The Editors's picture

    Plant them when the ground is no longer frozen. You may want to give them a layer of mulch as well, so that they don’t dry out too much during the summer. Don’t expect them to bloom again this year, as they’ll likely spend their energy putting down roots instead. 

    Daffodils and Hyacinths

    How long should I wait after the daffodils and hyacinths are down flowering before I can cut back the leaves?

    When to cut back foliage

    The Editors's picture

    Leave the bulb foliage alone until it dies back (dries out and becomes almost papery). You can cut off the flowers once they have faded.

    Daffodil

    I plant daffodils about 18 years ago no flowers , never no even one ! Now after all those years I got this huge surprise with beautiful strong yellow flowers!!!!! I am in Michigan, we had a lot of rain. But 18 years is a long time, can somebody tell me what happened. I would like very much to know . Thanks

    Daffodils

    The Editors's picture

    What a lovely surprise!  These daffodils are not from the bulbs you planted 18 year ago. Are these wild daffodils? These daffodils spread by seed on their own. When it is wet, the seeds will stick to the feet of animals and can get spread over great distances. Last week, we were in a forest and surprised by some groves of daffodils!

    daffodils

    My daffodils came back very pale. How do I get them back to their original gorgeous deep yellow

    pale daffs

    The Editors's picture

    You have stumped us! We do not have an answer or explanation for this, nor advice, except to suggest that you click here on your state and when the state page comes up, contact your local cooperative extension and ask someone there: http://www.almanac.com/content/cooperative-extension-services

     

     

    Is it good to have some

    Is it good to have some compost mixed in soil while planting bulbs? I live in North Georgia. Is it too late to plant bulbs here?

    You're fine. Late October is

    The Editors's picture

    You're fine. Late October is when folks start planting bulbs in Georgia. You can often plant as late as December but the later you wait, the harder it is for the bulbs to establish themselves before winter.

    I Keep planting sunflower

    I Keep planting sunflower seeds and they never come up. What am I doing wrong.

    Sunflowers grow best in

    The Editors's picture

    Sunflowers grow best in locations with full sun; they prefer long, hot summers to flower well. Though they're not too fussy, sunflowers thrive in slightly acidic to somewhat alkaline (pH 6.0 to 7.5). If possible, put seeds in a spot that is sheltered from strong winds, perhaps along a fence or near a building. A light application of fertilizer mixed in at planting time will encourage strong root growth.

    I live here in Chicago is it

    I live here in Chicago is it too late to plant bulbs for this summer? I planted some canna lilies I got about 2 weeks ago and they are coming up but I wanted to plant more in my girlfriend's yard. Would it be too late?

    You can plant more summer

    The Editors's picture

    You can plant more summer bulbs, but do it quickly.

    I want to split my hosta and

    I want to split my hosta and replant them in different areas, can I do that now (May 12) or do I need to wait until the fall?

    Splitting Hosta

    I live in New England (Ct.) and I've always split mine in the Spring when you just see the "nubs" popping up and replanted without issues.

    Pages