Bulbs not flowering? If your hardy bulbs like tulips, daffodils, or hyacinth are not blooming, there may be a few reasons. Use this troubleshooting guide to figure out what went wrong and how to get future blooms.
If you have flowering bulbs in the wrong location, you can transplant bulbs any time.
10 Reasons Hardy Bulbs May Not Flower
While these tips can be helpful for just about any type of flowering bulb, including spring and fall bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tuberous roots, we will troubleshoot hardy bulbs planted in fall that refuse to flower in spring.
Depending on your hardiness zone, this could be tulips, daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops, hyacinths, alliums, squill, or something else.
One common problem is poor drainage: bulbs do not like damp conditions and will rot if continually sitting in damp soil.
If the bulb produced leaves in spring but never bloomed, either buds never formed or freezing temperatures or wildlife got them or there is too much nitrogen present.
No buds = no blooms
Lack of sun is another easy one to detect. When the label says plant in full sun, they mean at least six hours of direct sun per day in spring to ensure blooming. Sometimes we mix a variety of bulbs together with different light needs but the planting site is only optimum for some. Everything may bloom eventually but some will outperform others.
Some flower problems have four legs: animals in the garden that eat (or steal) bulbs, foliage, or flowers. The foliage may have popped up just fine in spring but it just takes one snacking deer or rabbit to take all the buds from an entire garden bed and leave you bloom-less.
There are other possibilities that you’ll see below.
And while not all bulb blooming problems can be solved, it’s always good to figure out the cause in case there is something you can do differently next time.
1Bad Bulbs or Duds
Did you start with healthy bulbs?
First, let’s confirm that you started with healthy bulbs. At planting time they should be firm (not pitted or mushy), perhaps with some little roots at the base. And, to remain viable, most should not be exposed to temperatures below 39°F (4°C).
Gardeners love to boast that they just ‘tossed the whole thing in the ground’ and got prolific blooms the following spring—which is great, but what this really means is that conditions were optimum (or good enough) whether we thought about them or not. Nice when that happens but not really helpful advice for a friend who has different growing conditions.
If no leaves have come up, dig up a couple of bulbs and examine them for damage or disease. If they are in sad shape, dispose of them.
This is going to be rare if your bulbs come from a reputable source but it is possible to get bulbs that have not fully developed and are too immature to bud and bloom in the first year. They may however still produce flowers in their second year. So, if there is no sign of rot or disease, give them another year.
2Wrong Planting Depth
Did you follow the planting instructions for those specific bulbs?
Each type of bulb has an optimum planting depth. This may be two or three times the length of the bulb depending on the variety. Your bulb packet should tell you.
Planted too deep and it may take the bulb a long time to work its way to the soil surface.
Too shallow and it may not have the insulation needed to keep it protected from wet or cold.
Both are easy to check.
If you think freezing temperatures were an issue, next fall add a few inches of mulch to the soil surface during fall and winter to keep them protected.
3Wrong Planting Time
When did you plant your bulbs?
Getting the bulbs in the ground at the ‘right’ time can be tricky, especially if you have unpredictable fall weather like we do.
Some bulb sellers say warm spells after fall planting can trigger growth including buds, which the cold weather will eventually kill off, cancelling out a chance of spring buds and blooms. I’ve never had fall buds but I have had the new foliage—which normally resides just below the soil surface for the winter—pop up in direct sun locations during fall heat waves.
Probably the greater risk with early planting is the spread of fungal diseases that may travel with new bulbs. Did yours show any sign of distress or disease?
One helpful tip for good timing is to plant your hardy fall bulbs when the trees are dropping their leaves.
TIP: Aim for soil temperature of 60°F/16°C or cooler.
This could reduce the likelihood of fungal problems and allow time for roots to establish before winter.
4Not Enough Room / Crowding / Wrong Location
Is there room to grow?
If you have grown bulbs before, you know you can often pack quite a number in a small space and still get lots of flowers.
But, as bulbs multiply, there may eventually be so many that they are fighting for resources (light, water, nutrients).
If yours are packed in tight, it’s time to divide them when the current flowering cycle is done. Keep any baby bulbs you see. They will mature and flower in a few years.
Competition from other plants or trees can also compromise your bulbs. Keep the weeds and creeping perennials out and do not plant bulbs amongst shallow tree roots.
If there is not enough sun, for example, you can also transplant your bulbs to a better location.
5Too Much Water or Poor Drainage
Are they getting water without sitting in it?
Most bulbs like well-draining soil.
If you dig a hole in your garden and fill it with water, how long does it take for the water to disappear?
- Under ten minutes and it’s suitable for drought-tolerant plants.
- Up to 30 minutes is ideal for most bulbs.
- If it takes hours, the bulbs are going to get water-logged or have problems like basal rot fungus.
The workaround is to grow bulbs in large containers with potting mix and protect them from freezing over the winter months or plant them in raised beds with better soil.
6Not Enough Sun
Is there adequate direct sunlight?
Each type of bulb comes with its own planting instructions.
- Many require full sun which means at least six hours of direct sun per day from early spring onward.
- Some bulbs do best with dappled shade or filtered sun.
- Often we combine bulbs together and it’s not a crime: you will just get more blooms from the ones best suited to the conditions provided.
7Leaves Removed after Flowering
Were the leaves removed or cut back last year?
The secret to blooms next year is letting this year’s foliage (the green growth) complete its entire life cycle.
After a bulb flowers, the leaves gather energy for next year’s show. Once they are withered, that means their work is done, so no tidying up before then.
Removing this year’s leaves halts the production of energy for next year’s blooms.
8Too Much Fertilizer
Are your bulbs getting too much food?
Bulbs often come with instructions to fertilize the soil once a year in fall with a bulb fertilizer product. I am not a fan of this.
Too much fertilizer can disrupt the bulb’s growth or kill it off.
And bulbs should never be fertilized while flowering: the plant can’t deal with it at that time and it just damages the plant or leads to problems like fusarium bulb rot.
Fertilizer run-off from other sources can also be a problem: amendments added to grass lawn or other garden beds (from you or a neighbor) might also be affecting your bulbs.
Personally, I never fertilize bulbs in particular but instead just try and take care of the overall health of my garden soil.
Have there been extreme temperature swings?
This is common where I live: spring temperatures can change by 30 degrees (or more) within a day or days. That combined with melting snow or rain, and intense sun can confuse the bulbs. While this is toughest for tender bulbs, it’s not impossible that we see daffodils popping up after a few warm days in January only to be struck down by freezing temperatures just days later.
I’ve also had bulbs come up to the surface of the soil in winter after an intense freeze and thaw period: the ground heaves and spits them out.
You can’t reverse the damage done but you can provide mulch like straw or fall leaves to insulate the bulbs to help protect them.
Sometimes bulbs seem off to a good start in spring but a few blasts of cold and damp have them starting and stopping so often that they eventually fold.
Are your bulbs on the dinner menu?
With nature comes wildlife and they like a quick delicious meal just like we do.
I’m not really keen to refer to wildlife as ‘pests’ but hopefully they say the same about us sometimes so we’re even.
If the buds on your flowering bulbs seem to vanish one spring day, it could be that a deer or rabbit or another creature dropped by and ate them all. That happens every spring with the bulbs I planted to naturalize my lawn.
I figured out how to keep the squirrels from digging them up by placing framed wire mesh on the lawn for the winter but stopping them from eating the flower buds has no humane solution so I just accept it.
I’ll leave it to you to determine whether a wild critter may be enjoying your future blooms.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛