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What to Do With Flower Bulbs After They Bloom | Almanac.com

What to Do With Flower Bulbs After They Bloom

Tulips Deadheading
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When it's fine to remove flowers and leaves

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The bright cheery display of spring bulbs brings color back into our lives. But when the show is over, we are left with unsightly fading foliage. What’s a gardener to do? Here’s how to care for flower bulbs after they bloom (and when to remove the leaves).

From the earliest crocuses to daffodils to tulips and alliums, the flower bulbs that you planted back in the fall can go on blooming for much of the spring. But as springtime turns to summer, the flowers slowly fade and the leaves start to flop to the ground.

Crocuses are one of the first welcome sights signaling spring.

Do NOT Remove the Leaves

It is fine to deadhead (pinch or snip off) the dying blossoms but that tired foliage is feeding the bulb for next year’s flowers so hold off on cutting those leaves down if you want flowers again next year! 

The green leaves need to absorb the sunshine to photosynthesize and manufacture the starch and sugar that the bulbs rely on to push out those big showy blossoms next spring.

Deadheading Flowers

Deadheading after a flower fades is a good practice; if a flower is not deadheaded and produce seeds, it stores less energy to form a flower for next season.

  • Tulips: Remove the dead blooms immediately after the flower fades if you want a good bloom next year. Just pinch off the dead flower. Same goes with grape hyacinth.
  • Daffodils: It’s not necessary to deadhead but it certainly helps so that the plant doesn’t waste energy by making seed heads, returning that energy to the bulbs to prepare them for next year’s blooms.

When you deadhead the flower, you can actually cut the stem or stalk at the based on the plant; just avoid the leaves!

Do NOT Tie Up the Leaves

Some overly fussy gardeners (with too much time on their hands) go to great lengths to gussy up the plants by tying up the leaves, folding them into neat little packets, or even braiding them.

It might look better but it makes it harder for the leaves to absorb the sunshine they need to photosynthesize and convert the energy into food to feed the bulb for next year’s bloom. Just let the leaves mature and die back naturally.

The flowers are stunning but after they bloom, you’re often left with yellowing leaves.

If your bulbs are growing in the lawn, it can be a little trickier since you need to hold off mowing the grass around them while their foliage matures. 

It is tempting to mow over the bulbs right after they are done flowering but you will be short-changing next year’s blooms.

On the plus side, the tall grass will help hide the dying bulb leaves and it is a good excuse to take part in No-Mow May for at least part of your yard.

Tidy is overrated! Left to blossom and mature naturally, this stand of bulbs is messy but charming!

Hide Foliage With Other Plants

If the yellowing stems bother you, rest assured it will only continue for about 6 weeks. Some gardeners will trim the top half of the leaves off. We prefer to simply “hide” the stems by interplanting the bulbs with early-blooming perennials or cold-hardy annuals.

  • Leafy perennials such as hostas are great cover-ups for bulbs that have been planted in a shady spot.
  • Other great candidates to grow with bulbs are: peonies, day lilies, saliva, lupines, coral bells, sedum, and ornamental grass.
  • You could also divert attention from fading bulb foliage with flowering plants that are short but early to bloom, such as creeping phlox, candytuft, and dianthus. 
The pink and blue flowers and speckled leaves of the lungwort will provide cover for the fading foliage of the grape hyacinths.

If your flowers didn’t bloom this season or you think that your bulbs are overcrowded, a good time to divide them is as the foliage begins to yellow and die. See our bulb care tips.

Also, consider fertilizing your bulbs. Even though the best time to fertilize is when bulbs first pop up in the spring, you can still feed them after they bloom as they build bulb strength. Fertilize lightly when the flowers fade using a fertilizer made for bulbs that is high in phosphorus (the P in N-P-K) or use bone meal, bone char, or rock phosphate. 

A good time to fertilize your bulbs is when they first emerge in the spring.

Just remember: If the leaves are green, leave them be! 

See our individual growing guides on daffodils, tulips, and other bulbs for more information.

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

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