Everything you've ever wanted to know about flower bulbs

The world of flower bulbs is awash with countless colours, textures, varieties and fragrances. That's why spring- and summer-flowering bulbs are so popular. What's more, they can be remarkably care-free. Here's what you should know about planting and selecting the best variety for your garden.

Everything you've ever wanted to know about flower bulbs

For novice gardeners, flower bulbs are a pleasure to discover for their many colours, varieties, types and fragrances. For experienced gardeners, they are reassuringly beautiful and incredibly versatile in the garden, which explains why they are so widely used.

Spring- and summer-flowering bulbs

A flower bulb is like an underground storage structure for certain types of plants. Bulbous in shape with a simple root system, flower bulbs come in a seemingly infinite number of varieties.

  • Spring-flowering bulbs are usually planted in the fall. In contrast, summer-flowering bulbs are planted in the spring. Their care is similar in both cases.

Whether spring-flowering or summer-flowering, flower bulbs can be short, medium or high.

  • This height indicates their final flowering height, which gardeners predict and use to create garden landscapes in which the various mixed flowers don’t overshadow one another.
  • Planting bulbs that will produce flowers of varying heights give the garden vertical interest and create an "undulating" effect.

The life cycle of flower bulbs

All bulbs go through four basic steps in their life cycles.

1. Dormancy
This is the period during which they are kept alive by their underground storage structure.

  • It is the key stage that they develop roots and grow their internal stems.

2. Growth
This stage occurs in response to air temperature. In spring-flowering varieties, the bulbs are especially dependant on the warming weather.

  • During growth, the bulbs draw on their reserves and produce new shoots that emerge from the ground.

3. Flowering
This process takes place after all the nutrients have been depleted in the underground, nutrient-storing portion of the flower.

  • Flowering is the "showiest" stage of the bulb's growth cycle, when we typically find them most attractive.

4. Storage
This final step coincides with the growth period of the foliage and continues up until the foliage has completely yellowed.

  • The storage period is when the bulbs build up the nutritional reserves that will allow them to start up again the following season.

Types of flower bulbs

andBulbs grow in an array of types, all serving the same purpose: nutrient storage under the ground. Depending on the kind of flower they will become, bulbs include:

Classic bulbs
Classic bulbs are round in shape and consist of several protective layers, much like an onion.

  • Amaryllis, Daffodil, Dutch iris, hyacinth, muscari and tulip are good examples.

Corms have the appearance of a bulb and are formed by a central stem that is wrapped in scales, not unlike garlic cloves. Examples include:

  • Gladiola and crocuses have corms.

Tubers are easy to recognize by their thick underground stems.

  • Anemone is an example.

Composed of stems that continue to grow horizontally underground, rhizomes send out lateral shoots on the ground.

  • Certain irises, calla lilies and lily of the valley spread in this manner.

Tips for planting bulbs

Care of flower bulbs is fairly straightforward. Some advice to heed includes:

  • Keep bulbs in a cool, dry place and protect them from exposure to the air.
  • Make sure soil is well drained and rich in organic matter.
  • Follow the general rule of planting flower bulbs at a depth equal to two-and-a-half times the height of the bulbs.
  • Do not plant bulbs when there is an immediate danger of frost or if the ground is soaked.
  • Keep bulbs in good light by planting them in full- or half-sun.
  • Use mulch to help protect the bulbs from changes in temperature, to decrease evaporation, and to help stave off weeds.

With a generous flowering period that extends from the early spring until late autumn, depending on variety, flowers grown from bulbs are faithful and colourful companions in the garden all season long.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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