When planting bulbs in the fall it’s easy to forget how their foliage will look in the spring after the flowers fade. Let’s face it-ripening bulb foliage is not pretty, but since photosynthesis is the way the bulb makes and stores enough energy to bloom again the following season it is important that the foliage isn’t removed. Bulb foliage also shouldn’t be tied into bunches or flattened down to the soil surface either, because doing so will impede the process.
Unless planted in a bed dedicated only to bulbs, ripening bulb foliage is best hidden among the plants in a perennial bed or behind ornamental grasses. The foliage of bulbs planted between and behind perennials that reach a foot or more in height will be visible only until the surrounding perennials or grasses grow taller later in spring. From then on it will blend in and be much less noticeable.
If bulbs are planted in a bulb-only bed, their ripening foliage can still be hidden by planting taller annuals among them. Since most annuals have shallow root systems the holes don’t have to be dug so deep that bulbs are disturbed.
Another method of hiding ripening bulb foliage is moving the bulbs and “heeling them in” in another location. This is labor intensive and requires accurate labeling of the bulbs so they don’t get confused. A label that says “Red Tulips” won’t be much help when re-planting in the fall, so variety, height and blooming time should be noted.
To heel bulbs in first dig a trench about six inches deep and as wide in a sunny spot. With a spade or fork, carefully lift the bulbs from their current location, keeping the foliage intact, and replant them in the trench. When the bulb foliage is brown and pulls from the bulbs easily the bulbs can be dug up and dried, out of direct sunlight in a spot with good air circulation like a carport or porch. Once dry the bulbs should have all loose soil brushed from them before they are stored in a cool, dry place until fall planting. Any soft or damaged bulbs should be discarded. As I said-labor intensive!
Bulbs that are naturalized, which is a process in which handfuls of bulbs (usually daffodils) are tossed on the ground and then planted where they fall, also need time for foliage ripening, so naturalizing should be done only in areas that don’t have to be mowed until early summer.