Dealing with blind bulbs

Posted: Thursday 27 February 2014
by Kate Bradbury

Three years ago, I was given some Narcissus ‘Tete-a-Tete’ in bloom. This year only one flower came up. The rest are 'blind'.

Tete a Tete

For my 30th birthday three years ago, James Alexander-Sinclair sent me a pot of Narcissus ‘Tete-a-Tete’ in full bloom. It looked beautiful, and the bulbs have flowered in time for my birthday every year since. This year only one flower has come up. The rest are ‘blind’ – that is, they have plenty of foliage but no flowers.

If bought from a reputable garden centre or nursery, all bulbs bought and planted in autumn will flower in their first year (or at least they should). But they may lose their flowering potential in subsequent years. There are several reasons why this might happen, but it mostly boils down to the bulbs not having enough nutrients to produce a flower. Reasons for this could include dry soil, which causes the foliage to die down prematurely; congested bulbs, which have to share nutrients; premature removal or knotting of leaves after the initial flowering; and pests and diseases.

Bulbous plants have evolved to store energy from the previous growing season so they have the means to bloom early in the year when few other plants are able to. After flowering, the leaves of the plants continue to photosynthesise, converting the sun’s energy into valuable nutrients, which are stored in the bulb, ready to work their magic the following spring. If the leaves are removed or tied together, or the bulbs are congested, then the plants don’t create or store as many nutrients as they need to, and the bulbs don’t flower.

I know exactly why James’s ‘Tete-a-Tete’ are all but blind. I grow them in a pot and, while I let the foliage die down naturally and top-dress the compost every year, it’s time I made a bit more of an effort. My garden is shady, so there’s not much sun to shine on the leaves. Once the one flower has faded I will transplant the bulbs into a bigger pot with fresh compost, and move them to the front of my flat, which gets more sun. I’ll also add a liquid feed of potash-rich comfrey solution every two weeks, which should give them an added boost.

There are other blind bulbs in my garden, but I think I’ll just hoof them out and donate them to a friend with a sunny garden and a thirst for a challenge. Sun-loving bulbs will always go blind in my plot. But my little pot of ‘Tete-a-Tete’ is special – fingers crossed I’ll have my birthday flowers again.

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