Old bulbs: plant them when the ice melts

I just “found” some bulbs I had forgotten about. Can I plant them now?

— Pauline

First, check your bulbs to be sure they are OK. They should be firm. If they’re soft, mushy or dried out, throw them away.

If they are OK, you can plant them as soon as the ground thaws out enough to dig. It’s obviously late to be planting them this time of year.

Bulbs need to do some growing in the fall before things freeze for the winter. They root out and start sprouting (though they usually don’t emerge from the soil). Denying them this “head start” can screw up or sometimes even kill the bulb. Most of your bulbs should survive, though they may not bloom for you this spring or the blooms may be malformed or much smaller or shorter than they should be. These effects are usually limited to this year; next year they should be normal.

As I mentioned before, plant them outdoors as soon as you can work the ground. The earlier you plant them, the better off the bulbs will be. You may lose some, and the others may behave a little strangely this year, but in the long run they should be OK.

My paperwhites have just stopped blooming and they were beautiful. It is possible to save them for next year?

— Ed

It is difficult to save paperwhites from year to year unless they have been treated in a specific manner during the forcing process.

The problem is that most people force their paperwhites in water. This works fine for getting and enjoying the blooms and it’s kind of interesting seeing the roots growing in the water. Unfortunately, that water doesn’t provide the nutrients the plant needs to build itself up for the following year. The plant has been growing and blooming from stored reserves of energy in the bulb that were built up last year.

The upshot is that the bulbs needed to be planted in potting soil. This provides an environment that can support longer term plant growth and where you can fertilize them with a houseplant-type fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro.

I suppose you can try to grow them hydroponically, but that is a difficult process, requiring specialized fertilizer mixes and the know-how of how much and when to feed them.

If the plants have been growing in water, transplanting them now into potting soil usually doesn’t work because the shock of the transplanting interrupts the ability of the plant to build up its reserves at a critical moment.

If it were me, I would throw away the bulbs this year. It just isn’t worth the time, expense and effort to save them, especially since they’re not cold hardy enough to plant outside.


Last fall I noticed our redbud tree produced five small seed pods. I was wondering if I plant the seeds would a tree grow from them?

— Priscilla

Redbuds can be prolific producers of seed pods and the seeds inside are usually quite viable.

The seeds need a period of cold treatment called stratification. They need about three months of temperatures below 40 degrees to germinate well.

You can store the seed in Zip-lock bags in the refrigerator or freezer and plant them in the spring.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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