Dividing and Moving Spring Bulbs

outside at a botanical garden with yellow tulips and cypress trees behind it

Most gardeners know you are not supposed to remove bulb foliage until it becomes limp and starts to brown. This period is thought of as unsightly, but necessary to see the beautiful blooms next year. However, this time is the perfect opportunity to divide or relocate your bulbs. Once foliage starts turning brown, the bulbs have stored enough energy for next year, so grab your shovel.

First, bulbs need to lifted out of the ground, so use a shovel and dig into the ground a 3-4 inches away from the edge of the foliage. Make sure you get underneath the bulb, and do not accidentally cut into it. Gently shake or brush off excess soil. If the bulbs are in a tight clump, twist individuals while pulling to disentangle them. If a bulb is mushy, throw it away.

You can replant the bulbs where you want them immediately or you can store them until fall. If you plant them immediately, simply dig a hole to the same depth, place the bulb, hold the foliage up while you backfill the hole, and water well. Storing bulbs requires a bit more cleaning and drying. Place the bulbs on a flat dry surface with a newspaper underneath. Leave them to dry for a week until the leaves are brown and crispy. Give the bulbs are quick rub down to remove excess soil that may have dried. Store the bulbs in a ventilated container in a cool dry place during the summer, then take them out in fall and plant them at the proper depth.

Many bulbs need to be divided every 7-10 years to remain healthy, notably tulips and hyacinth. If you notice your bulbs aren’t flowering a profusely as you remember, it is probably time to divide your plants. Daffodils very rarely need to be divided for health reasons, but garden redesigns often call for bulbs to move around to fit their space better.

Prepared by Lindsey Smith, Collections Curator