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What to Do When Spring Bulbs Start Growing Too Early

Advice on spring bulbs

By the team at DIY Gardening

Welcome to another entry in our new blog. This guide was created by Hannah Miller, a keen amateur gardener who plants hundreds of new spring bulbs each year in the autumn.

So you’ve planted your spring bulbs and quite unexpectedly, well before their due date, they’ve made an appearance?

Are you seeing growth above ground between October and January?

Don’t worry!

Just read our quick guide below.

Is It Normal to See Bulbs Growing in the Autumn or Winter?

Yes! And some bulbs are well known for being unruly and making an early appearance:

  • Daffodils
  • Alliums
  • Muscari (Grape Hyacinth)
  • Anemone
  • + many more

Narcissus bulbs

Narcissus bulbs growing in our trough in mid-November 2020

What Causes Bulbs to Start Growing Early?

Bulbs don’t know the difference between the seasons beyond detecting sunlight, soil temperatures and moisture levels.

Given the right conditions, they’ll start sprouting.

In fact, bulbs start growing the moment they are put into the ground, but in ideal or “normal” years, they go into a winter dormancy before breaking the surface.

I don’t know how old you are, but when I was a child, I used to walk on the ice that formed over my local lake. My mum once told me a story about how her friend once drove his old car across the same lake. It’s been many years since I’ve seen ice thick enough to support any weight.

My point is this; our winters here in the south of the UK aren’t as cold as they once were.

Winters are warmer, wetter and shorter so we shouldn’t be surprised when bulbs take longer to go into dormancy or come out of it sooner than expected.

Blue garden pot

This pot contains dozens of bulbs four layers deep. Some have sprouted through the winter pansies – November 18th 2020.

Will Early Growth Damage or Kill the Bulb?

There are two parts to the above-ground growth:

  • The leaves
  • The stems

It’s quite normal for the leaves of many bulbs to start growing in autumn and winter. Once the cold sets in, the growth will halt or wilt and the bulb will go back to dormancy.

The bulb should be just fine and will grow normally again in the spring when the ground temperatures warm up.

The stems are a slightly different matter; most stems grow several weeks after the leaves have appeared and can be more sensitive to cold temperatures.

If your spring bulbs have produced buds or even gone into full bloom in autumn, then they may not bloom at all next spring or the bloom will be weaker.

What to Do If You See Spring Bulbs Growing in Autumn or Winter

If leaves of the usual suspects (daffs, grape hyacinths, anemones, alliums etc.) are appearing early, perhaps soon after planting them; relax, you don’t need to do anything.

You might be tempted to mulch the surface with new compost, hay or bark etc. but be warned this could increase the ground temperature that will, in turn, encourage more growth.

Your best bet is to leave them alone.

If you see lots of stems and perhaps even buds, you have a couple of options:

  • Do nothing, see what happens and put it down to experience. I’ve never had an issue with bulbs dying due to early growth and you probably won’t either.
  • Wait until the first frost and then mulch the surface with hay, compost or bark. This will protect the stems from the cold, but by waiting until the first frost, the mulch shouldn’t encourage more early growth.

Products We Think You’ll Like

Fine compost bark mulch

1) Fine Compost Bark:

  • Perfect for mulching over bulbs planted too shallow.
  • Particles up to 10mm.
  • Degrades and rots down over time.
  • Super fast and free delivery.
Straw mulch

2) Straw Mulch:

  • Popular mulch for flowerbeds, troughs and pots.
  • 100% organic.
  • Helps keep slugs and snails away.
  • Breaks down over two years.
  • Free delivery.
Fine small bark

3) Mini Bark Mulch:

  • Small but long-lasting pine bark chips.
  • Not so big that they stop bulb sprouts.
  • Decorative too.
  • RHS endorsed and free delivery.

How to Stop Bulbs From Sprouting Early Next Time

The ideal spring bulb planting time will depend on the bulb, the location in the UK and the weather.

For us down here in Surrey, most spring bulbs can be planted in November.

For those of you living in more northern locations, you can get them in from late September to late mid-October.

Choosing the best time to plant spring bulb isn’t easy, especially if you’re layering several varieties of bulbs at various depths. 

Just do your best to pick a time when the ground isn’t too warm and cooler weather is forecast.

You’ll need to make sure the bulb is planted at the correct depth and if in doubt, place them slightly deeper as bulbs planted too shallow may need lifting and splitting more frequently.

If you’re new to gardening, don’t forget that compost and freshly turned soil will compact over the winter due to rainwater, gravity and insects etc. If your soil or compost is very fluffy (aerated), we suggest you plant the bulbs a little deeper or mulch over the top if you’ve already planted them.

Should You Cut Off Any Leaves or Stems? 

No, if you cut off any buds or stems, then the bulb may not flower in the spring, although it probably will grow just fine again the following year.

The leaves of most bulbs use the energy from sunlight to feed nutrients into the bulb, so it’s best to let nature do its thing and only cut off the leaves once they’ve wilted.

 Bulb Fibre:

Packed with nutrients but also well-aerated, this bulb fibre by Miracle-Gro is perfect for mixing into your pots or ground soil. We also recommend using grit to help with drainage.

Bulb fibre

 Monthly Feed:

We apply good quality blood, fish and bone pellets to our garden borders and pots every 4-5 weeks from March through to October. We’ve been delighted with the results so far.

Blood fish and bone

 Bub Starter:

According to the RHS, Mycorrhizal fungi helps the bulb’s roots to grow both deeper and stronger. This improves the nutrient uptake and creates a healthier plant and bulb.

Bulb starter

 RHS Planner:

Perfect for newbies and seasoned gardeners alike, this RHS month-by-month planner helps you choose plants and tells you when and where best to locate them in your garden.

RHS Planner

Explore More of Our Content Below:

The Best Soil and Compost Mixes

Everything you need to know about compost, soils and potting mixes for a variety of garden plants including bulbs. Start Here

Say Goodbye to Garden Pests

Check out our guide to garden pest control, from deterring cats, foxes and squirrels to getting rid of pesky slugs, wasps and mosquitoes. Start Here

Visit Our Blog

Explore our gardening blog where you’ll find plenty of hints and tips created by Danny and Hannah here at DIY Gardening. Start Here

This guide to growing spring bulbs was created by the team here at DIY Gardening

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