Hort Q&A: When to cut back spring bulbs

Carla Smith, horticulture educator
Pottawatomie County Extension Service
Tulips at the OKC botanical gardens.

When can I cut back my spring bulbs? We are starting to mow the lawn and they are in the way.

Easter weekend I travelled to the OKC Myriad Botanical Gardens to see their tulip gardens. It was just amazing to see bed after bed filled with beautiful vibrant spring colors! You can view photos on our Pottawatomie County OSU Extension Facebook page, if you like.

As spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, etc. finish blooming, if possible, allow the foliage to turn yellow and die back. The leaves should be easily removed by just tugging on them when they have completely died back. Allowing the leaves to remain on the plant until they turn yellow allows the photosynthesis process in the green leaves to replenish the bulb with plenty of energy for next year’s blossoms. Removing them too early robs the plant of food needed to produce spectacular blooms.

In Oklahoma, most tulip bulbs are treated as annuals, meaning they are replanted every year. The high heat and humidity along with heavy clay soils makes it difficult to maintain most tulips as a perennial plant in the garden. A gardener interested in a challenge could dig them up after the leaves have turned yellow and store them in a cool, dark area and then replant them in the fall.

Daffodils are one of our most reliable species that is perennial in Oklahoma and typically needs little care. Locating daffodils in an area such as a perennial border or shrub and groundcover area where they can be left to die back after flowering is best. Occasionally they will need to be thinned out to encourage vigorous growth and lots of blooms.

Daffodils are one of my personal favorites, partly due to their reliability and being one of the first flowers of spring. I recently transplanted and divided some that were gifted to me years ago by a dear lady who loved to garden. Mary Shepherd loved to share her flowers with whoever stopped by her yard, as cut flowers, starter plants, and sometimes in a flowerpot. Many gardens not only hold beautiful flowers, but wonderful friendships and memories as well!

Giving your spring flowering bulbs a light feeding after flowering, but before leaves turn brown will help in developing stronger plants. Bone meal and blood meal are great products for bulbs.

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Tulips at the OKC botanical gardens.