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Top Tips for Spring Bloom Success NEXT Year!

Spring Bulb Care: Just the other day I was walking by some hospital grounds and saw a huge display of bright glossy green daffodil leaves with one lonely daffodil flowering off to the side. I didn't need the classic Sherlock Holmes hand lens to deduce the destroyer of this display; it was premature removal of the green leaves the season before.

The month following the fade of the flowers is the most crucial time in the life of daffodils, tulips and other Spring bulbs. "Leave the leaves" and you allow the underground plant parts to use those leaves as solar collectors to power the growth of the following year's flowers. If you cut the leaves off to {quote} "clean up the garden", you prevent those potential flowers from ever being 'born'. ('Clean your laundry; not your landscape!')

Note: It IS acceptable to 'deadhead' the actual flowers after they stop looking good; in fact, it's beneficial! Pinching off the faded flowers makes the garden look MUCH neater and removes any seed heads that might sap energy from the forthcoming plant-to-be.

Note Note: In some cases, you'll just be pinching off a faded flower, but some stems will have a 'bulbous' round-to-football shaped bulge just beneath that former flower. These baby bulbs should be removed as well, but you can then try your hand at breeding them! Pick an out of the way area for your 'nursery bed' and have it ready by the Fall. Then plant your tiny treasures in the bed around Halloween. If you're lucky, greenery will emerge in the Spring. Let it grow, apply some compost to the bed and allow the greenery to naturally turn brown. Then do nothing. Try NOT to water the bed; these plants receive very little water over the summer in their once-native climes.

The following year, significantly larger leaves should appear in the Spring as the underground bulbs increase in size. One or two more seasons should bring flowers.

But back to the top: resist the temptation to remove the green leaves of Spring bulbs prematurely and a fully formed flower will grow in the center of the underground bulb, just waiting to pop out for you next Spring.

Teachers: This is a fun show and tell. Obtain a quantity of daffodil bulbs right around the time the kids are being rounded up kicking and screaming to return for another exciting semester of school and have a bulb ready for every child--and one for yourself.

You won't be planting yours. Instead, you will produce a sharp knife and a cutting board, cut the bulb down the center lengthways and show the kiddos the fully formed flower inside. Then explain that September through November (earlier in cold climes; later in warmer ones) is the perfect time to plant the rest of the new bulbs, which will bloom before school lets out for the summer.

NOTE: You don't have to wait forever to snip off the dying leaves in summer. You can carefully remove them as soon as they begin to fade and lose their lush green color. You don't have to wait until they become a fire hazard, as off-color leaves aren't performing the amazing task of photosynthesis.

Feeding: Feed your bulbs as soon as those new green leaves appear in the Spring, because this is when they will be actively growing next year's flowers underground. Tossing bulb food in the planting hole when newly purchased ones get planted in the Fall has always been a mystery to me, as that bulb is done growing a new flower and will now go dormant. You should never feed a dormant plant. And the scent of the food could attract mice, moles, shrews and other bad actors during the winter months of slim pickins.

NOTE NOTE NOTE: If you wish to do any of this as a school or educational project, stick with daffodils as they are toxic to vermin like mice, voles and Evil Squirrels. They aren't harmful to us, but pests avoid them; unlike tulip bulbs, which are nutritious and delicious.

Spring Blooming Trees and Shrubs: Similar to Spring bulbs, plants like azaleas, rhododendrons, flowering crabapples, forsythia and cherry blossoms start preparing for the following Spring's show shortly after their flowers fade in late Spring. That's the time these plants can best utilize a gentle feeding (of compost!!) to encourage good bud formation for flowering next year. This is also my favorite time of year to prune out dead, diseased and crowded limbs because you can see what you're doing.

Note that I did NOT include Spring blooming 'caliper pears' like Bradford and Cleveland in that list. They are structurally weak trees that fall apart in heavy storms, the flowers stink like rotting meat and they have become highly invasive since they developed the ability to produce little pollinated fruits, which we were assured would never happen. (Cue: Jeff Goldblum: "Nature finds a way".) New Plant Buyers: PLEASE don't be tempted by their low low price; they're cheap because they're cheap. Get a NICE tree instead.

If you feel that any of your Spring blooming trees and/or shrubs need pruning, do it as soon as possible after the flowers fade.

Prune NOTHING in late summer. NOTHING!

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