How to Transplant Bulbs
By: Brent, Co-Owner, Brent & Becky's Bulbs
While some people can go their whole life without ever having to transplant their bulbs, there comes a time in many gardeners’ lives where the need becomes apparent. Sometimes over the years, our yards change and suddenly we can’t grow where we once could. Other times, our bulbs may be clumping well beyond our expectations and are in desperate need of division. Whatever your reason may be for transplanting, here’s our guide on how to do it.
The best time to dig up our spring-blooming bulbs for transplanting is just when the leaves’ solar collectors have finished charging their ‘batteries’ (bulbs). They’ll begin to lose the chlorophyll and turn yellow, indicating that they’ve stopped ‘recharging’ and this is the perfect chance to get them while the foliage is still apparent. This way, you’ll still know where they are and won’t accidentally spear one as you dig them up.
When it comes to digging them up, I like to use a spading fork and I dig about 6 inches away from where the foliage is emerging to avoid nicking any bulbs. Insert it straight down, push down to the hilt, and gently pull back on the handle to loosen up the clump of bulbs. It’s also a good idea to hold the foliage at the same time - it just gives you a little handle to help gently urge them out of the soil.
Once they’re up, they are going to have soil on them, so just gently shake off as much as you can while being careful not to bruise them, which can open them up to fungus and rot. Remember: never wash bulbs. The only instance in which this is necessary is if you’re shipping them overseas, but only because it’s required (and we wish it weren’t). The soil is your friend. It contains lots of beneficial bacteria that protect the bulb, so you don’t need to remove it all.
Storing Spring-Blooming Bulbs
If you’re going to be storing spring-blooming bulbs to replant again in fall, you’ll need to think about getting them as dry as you can as quickly as you can. The best way to do this is to place them in an airy place in the shade. Bulbs in the sunlight can get a sunburn just as much as we can, so curing them in the sun is never a good idea. However, a couple of days in the shed or garage with a fan blowing on them is all they need to become sufficiently dry and harden off.
For storage, you’ll want to take off the old foliage that isn’t beneficial anymore and keep them in an area that is dry and has plenty of air. Old grapefruit or orange bags - the mesh ones - are ideal for hanging them where they’ll get plenty of air circulation. One big mistake that people keep making is they think all bulbs need to be stored cool. Well, they don’t. Spring-flowering bulbs are dormant in summer, which means that when they aren’t growing, it’s warm. Even though they’re dormant, this is actually when they begin to form their blooms, and it takes a certain amount of time, so if you start cooling them, the blooms won’t develop.
Some spring-flowering bulbs, like snowdrops or Galanthus, are thinner-skinned than others and are actually better to be dug, divided, and planted right back again. They tend to dry out really quickly in storage, making it difficult to store them. If you need to store them, though, the shorter the storing period, the better. Dig them up really late - remember to mark specifically where they are, as you won’t have the foliage to show you - and plant them back early in the fall.
Storing Summer-Blooming Bulbs
After you’ve dug them up, gently shaken off the soil, and dried them as well as you can, summer-flowering bulbs should be stored in a medium that will keep them from drying out over the winter, which is a longer storage period than during the summer. Like onions, potatoes, and other bulbs you find in the supermarket, you can’t store them for too long because they do breathe and give off their moisture, which will eventually dry them out. So, you’ll want to put them in a media, like a peat moss or wood shavings, that will allow them to breathe while helping them to preserve their moisture, and also cushions them from bruising.
Planting Sprouted Bulbs
When it comes time to plant again, the bulbs that naturally separate from their mothers - or the daughters, as we call them - can be planted separately if they can part easily. If they’re still physically attached, do not pull them apart or cut them off. This can damage the bulb and leave them more likely to catch an infection.
The general rule of thumb for planting bulbs is to plant them 3x their height deep - with some exceptions, of course. Lilies, for example, prefer to be buried at a depth of 4x their height. However, when you have a bulb that has already sprouted, you typically don’t want to cover the sprout.
If they’ve sprouted, dig a hole and plant them at their normal depth, but do not cover the sprouted leaves. If you absolutely need to, only cover them very lightly, as you don’t want to inhibit their continued growth. My best recommendation is to plant them in the hole, then, as the leaves emerge, fill in around them.
If you happen to forget about your bulbs and find them after the normal planting period, you’ll want to check if they’re still viable. If you pick it up and it feels hollow and light like a ping pong ball, it has dried out and can’t be saved. However, if they still have weight, plant them as soon as possible. They may have dried out so much that they’ve aborted this year’s blooms, but if they can put up leaves and grow, the solar collectors may be able to recharge the bulb well enough for next year.
Transplanting bulbs can seem like quite a daunting task, but it’s really just as simple as digging them up and planting them back, just with the right care. Remember to keep them dry during storage and get them in the ground as soon as you can once again, and you’ll be sure to have a garden of blooming bulbs before you know it!
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