Fertilizing Bulbs – Learn About Feeding Bulb Plants In The Garden

By Heather Rhoades

Image by Brandon Blinkenberg

There is a secret to having bulbs that produce spectacular flowers year after year and, luckily, it is a very simple one. It is called fertilizer.

Fertilizing is something that many gardeners do regularly in their gardens, whether it be with compost or with chemical fertilizers. But for some reason, poor bulbs do not get this kind of loving attention from their garden owners. Keep reading to find out more about feeding bulb plants in the garden.

Using Fertilizer on Bulbs

Many of us just assume that because hardy bulbs come back for us year after year that they need no special attention. While it is true that bulbs can survive without fertilizer, they thrive when given this little bit of extra attention.

You should be fertilizing bulbs twice a year for best results. Fertilize once at the beginning of spring, before the plant puts out its flower. Then fertilize again in fall, after the first frost has hit your area. Fertilizing in spring will help your bulbs start to store up food for over-wintering, while fertilizing in fall will help them produce better flowers in the spring. Does this seem a little backwards?

The fertilizers take a little time to be taken up in the bulb. Fertilizing bulbs in the spring ensures that the fertilizer will be there after the bulb blooms and is ready to take up nutrients for the next year. Fertilizing in the fall allows the fertilizer to be available in the cold months when the bulb first starts to put up the small green shoots that will become your spring flower and foliage.

How to Fertilize Flower Bulbs

If you prefer using a chemical fertilizer, you can buy special bulb fertilizer. But, as it is a specialized fertilizer, bulb fertilizer can be expensive. If you have a large area or would prefer to save some money, you can just make sure that the fertilizer you buy has the nutrients that your bulbs need. Make sure that the fertilizer you purchase has these three nutrients: nitrogen, potash and phosphorus.

  • The nitrogen helps to ensure that the bulbs put out healthy foliage, which in turn helps them to collect more energy from the sun.
  • The potash will help the bulb fend of disease and help them live longer.
  • The last, phosphorus, is the most important. The bulbs need this to help multiply and, more importantly (at least to a gardener), produce bigger and more color vibrant flowers. Make sure that when you buy your fertilizer, its phosphorus number is the highest. The phosphorus number is the one in the middle on the fertilizer number (e.g. 5-10-5).

If you prefer to use compost, this will work just as well and will help to condition the soil too. You may want to consider adding some bone meal to your compost, to add an extra boost of the all important phosphorus.

By taking a little bit of time, twice a year, for feeding bulb plants in the garden, your bulbs will reward you with a spectacular display of flowers, year after year after year.