Don't Mow Bulb Foliage

Ozarks Gardening May 15, 2009
Jim Long

Don’t Mow the Bulb Foliage!

I’ve noticed as I get older I like mowing the lawn more than I did just a few years ago. Evidently getting older causes me to find the lawnmower increasingly appealing. Over the past thirty years on my farm I have pushed the boundaries of mowing farther and farther into the woods. I blaze trails between the walnut trees with the mower, I’ve opened up little meadows where new stands of wildflowers have sprung up. And over the years I’ve also noticed in local retirement areas, when men retire from a lifetime of corporate work, they turn to the lawnmower for something they can still control. Apparently no longer responsible for lots of employees, no longer looking after the day to day working structure, it is to the lawn the retirees turn. It’s their new territory, their new domain and they can totally dominate the greenery with a powerful lawnmower. That’s just my observation and I think I may be fitting into that category myself.

One of the pitfalls of being lord over a patch of green lawn is an inclination to mow everything down that doesn’t seem essential. Recently I’ve been noticing lots of retirement age men on riding lawnmowers, mowing down the irises, the yellowing daffodil leaves and the aging tulip tops. To someone who is used to overseeing the structure of a business, it probably seems logical that since the flowers have bloomed on those plants, then it’s time to get rid of the leftovers and move on to other things.

The fact is, those yellowing tulip leaves, the frazzled and not very attractive daffodil foliage, actually serve an important purpose. Think of it this way - spring bulbs have just one chance to have a meal. The foliage after blooming is there because the bulbs need to store up enough strength for ten months until it’s time to bloom again. If the foliage is cut back shortly after blooming, year after year, the bulbs will quit producing flowers. Leave the foliage alone until it turns brown and shrivels up. Once the foliage is dead, the bulbs have stored up enough energy for next year and you can mow down whatever is left of the tops. But avoid the urge to mow the foliage while it is still partly green and give the bulbs a chance to have their last meal of the year.

Right now, while you can still see where your bulbs are, and as they leaves die down, is a great time to divide the bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and similar spring bulbs, all benefit greatly by being dug up and divided every three or four years. Mix in some bone meal or bulb fertilizer in the soil and spread the bulbs farther apart. You’ll have considerably more blooms in the coming years by doing so.

Iris, on the other hand, should be dug and divided in late August or September. You can tie a ribbon on the colors you want to move, but let the foliage grow all summer long. Then divide the clumps, laying them shallowly in the soil, adding bone meal, late in the summer. But don’t mow iris leaves now, it practically ensures sparse blooming next season.
Readers have asked so here’s the formula once again for stopping the bothersome bugs that riddle the leaves on hollyhocks and keep them from blooming well. Start spraying now, repeating weekly as the hollyhocks put up shoots and begin to bloom. Don’t spray in the heat of the day (which is true of most any kind of spraying).

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 Tablespoon canola oil or horticultural oil
1/2 teaspoon of dish soap
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 gallon water

Mix the ingredients, pour into a sprayer, shake thoroughly, and spray the tops and bottoms of the hollyhock leaves.
Check what’s happening in my garden this week at http://jimlongsgarden.blogspot.com/. Happy gardening!