Transplanting Spring Flower Bulbs

Denise from Green Bay is moving and would like to take along some of her tulips and daffodils. She would like to know when the best time is to dig the bulbs and transplant them.

Once the flowers have faded on tulips and daffodils, cut back the flower stem, but leave the foliage. The bulb receives nutrients from the leaves through photosynthesis that it stores for growth next year. If the foliage is cut back before it dies, the bulb is robbed of the nutrients needed to survive in following years and it will eventually shrivel and die.

Once the foliage dies back in the late spring or early summer, the roots will also die back and the plant will enter a dormant period. This is the ideal time to transplant the bulbs. Once the fall rains start, the roots come out of dormancy and begin to reabsorb moisture, so do not wait until fall to transplant.

If tulips or daffodils need to be moved, it is best to dig them with a spading fork to avoid damaging any of the bulbs. Discard any shriveled, soft, or undersized bulbs. Clean the dirt off of the bulbs and spread them in a single layer to dry. Once they are dry, store them in a cool dry location, ideally at 60-65, but never below 50 or above 70. If there are just a few bulbs, store them in a mesh bag hung by a string from the ceiling in a basement. Larger quantities should be spread out on a screen or tray so that air can circulate around them. Inspect them periodically and remove any that show signs of decay.

In Denise’s case, if the move is taking place before the foliage dies down, she can try to dig up the plants immediately. Just dig the entire plant, making sure to get under the bulb and not disturb the root. Put the plant in a flower pot and keep it watered well until the foliage dies back on its own. Once the foliage has died, proceed as above.

Tulips and daffodils can be replanted in the fall, in late September to mid-October. Plant them at a depth 2-3 inches times the bulb diameter, or about 8 inches for most tulips and daffodils. Remember that planting these flowers in clusters rather than straight lines will give a more pleasing effect in the final landscape. Mix in some bonemeal at the root level when planting to encourage root development and help the plants thrive. Water well after planting and set back and await the beauty of your endeavors!

Carol Shirk
Certified Master Gardener

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