Can You Plant Old Bulbs?


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Flower Bulbs

Whether a gardener happens to find some bulbs in a garage or shed that were forgotten, receives some bulbs from a friend, or buys an outdated package of bulbs, it is often questioned whether or not the bulbs are too old to be planted. I’ve done some research on bulbs and have found some good information that will hopefully help with any bulb situation.

So, can old bulbs be planted? Yes, if the bulb is still firm and plump it will most likely be able to be successfully planted. However, if the bulb smells bad due to rotting, is squishy or mushy, or is dry and shriveled up then the bulb should not be planted and can be thrown out.

Maybe you discover that some of your bulbs are still good and some of them are bad. Let’s read on to learn more about bulbs in general, how to check them more in detail, and how we can store them to be sure they stay in a good condition for planting.

Are My Bulbs Still Good?

Let’s first get a quick understanding of the definition of a bulb. Unlike seeds, bulbs are living plants. It is technically a short stem that has leaves that provide it the energy it needs during dormancy (winter).

Some of the most common types of bulbs that are most familiar are lilies, tulips, amaryllis, daffodils and garlic.

So like we said before, maybe you have come across some old bulbs and are wondering if they are good enough to be planted. Here are some checks you can make to find out.

  • Squeeze the bulb. If it is mushy or destroyed by gently squeezing it, then the bulb is no longer good. On the flip side, if the bulb has completely dried out and it is shriveled up and brittle when squeezed, then it is most likely no longer good.
  • Check the bulb for mold. If the bulb has mold, then it should be thrown away.
  • Smell the bulb. If it smells rotten or foul in any way, then it probably should not be planted.
  • Check if they float! Fill a bucket with water and throw the bulb in the bucket. If it floats, then this is likely an indication that bulb is rotten inside and lighter than a good healthy bulb. I highly suggest throwing away any of the bulbs that float.
  • Cut the bulb open. I would recommend doing this only with a large collection of bulbs that were all stored together where one can be spared by cutting it open and dissecting it. Cut it down the middle, the long way. If the stem/flower bud in the middle looks brown and dried up, then the bulb will no longer be good. This may indicate that the whole collection of bulbs is likely in the same condition.

Now that you know different ways to check if bulbs are still good, you may be wondering how to properly store your bulbs in the future in order to keep them healthy during dormancy. Let’s read on to find out!

How to Store Bulbs Before Planting

Various reasons exist as to why bulbs would need to be stored before planting. Maybe they were received them from a friend, bought from the store in the middle of winter, or had to be dug up and saved because they were not hardy enough to survive in extremely cold winters.

In general, bulbs should always be stored in a cool and dark place. They should not be placed in an area that gets any sunlight whatsoever. Do not put them on top of a refrigerator or any other appliance that might warm them. An optimal location is a garage or basement that will stay above freezing but not too warm. Bulbs should stay at a temperature somewhere around forty degrees Fahrenheit. Remember, bulbs would naturally just stay in the ground without freezing and survive just fine, so they need this natural cooling period in order to be ready to bloom in the spring.

As far as containers to store bulbs, I would suggest storing them in a cardboard box and layering them with newspaper in between each layer. This will help them to stay dry, dark, and help prevent their temperature from fluctuating too much. Bonus tip: this is also a great way to store any type of root vegetables for the winter, such as potatoes, onions, carrots and turnips!

Should I Plant Bulbs in the Spring or Fall?

The two main categories of bulbs are spring flowering bulbs and summer flowering bulbs.

Spring flowering bulbs should be planted in the fall and are considered to be cold hardy in most zones. This means that they can survive a deep freeze. However, if you happen to get your hands on some bulbs after the ground has already frozen, you can still plant them if you want to do a little work to open up that frozen ground. The other option is to try to store them for the winter and plant in the spring. However, the success rate in this situation may be lower as they may not flower the first year as desired.

Some common spring flowering bulbs are:

  • Tulip
  • Daffodil
  • Dutch Iris
  • Crocus
  • Scilla

Summer flowering bulbs are generally not as cold hardy as spring flowering bulbs. Depending on the variety, summer flowering bulbs should probably be planted in the spring. Also, these bulbs may not survive a hard frost, so it is generally recommended that these bulbs be dug up in the fall, stored for the winter and replanted in the spring.

Some common summer flowering bulbs are:

  • Begonias
  • Lilies
  • Dahlias
  • Freesia
  • Shamrock

We have been discussing mostly flowering bulbs, but remember that we also mentioned garlic. Garlic is generally recommended to be planted in the fall if more mature garlic bulbs are desired by the summer. Garlic needs time to develop its roots in the fall and winter before working on its bulb development in the spring. If garlic is planted in the spring, fully developed bulbs may not arrive when desired, but the growth is still able to be utilized in the kitchen. The green leaves can be used as chives would be used and the flowers of the plant can be used as garlic scapes in cooking.

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Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.

Song of Songs 2:12

Related Questions

How long do bulbs last? If stored correctly in a cool and dark place, bulbs can last up to twelve months.

Should you soak bulbs before planting? Yes, tunicate type bulbs (those that have a papery like covering) can be soaked in warm water for up to twelve hours. This can help the bulb absorb water and start the root development process quicker once planted in the ground.

Can I plant bulbs in pots? Yes, you can plant bulbs in most any containers with a good potting mix. The bulbs should be planted four to seven inches deep, depending on the variety. If they are spring flowering bulbs being planted in the fall, I recommend moving the pot or container into a garage or basement. Even though these bulbs are cold hardy, the ground is better insulated than a pot or container, so a bulb in a pot would freeze before a bulb in the ground. A bulb may not survive outside in a container as well as it would in the ground.

How deep do you plant bulbs? In general, most bulbs should be planted four to seven inches deep. A good rule is to plant the bulb two to three times as deep as the length of the bulb.




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Corey Leichty

Hi, I’m Corey and I love using gardening as a way to provide food for my family, learn life lessons alongside my wife, Andrea, and teach life lessons to my two sons. Do you have gardening questions? Not finding what you are looking for? Please feel free to Ask a Question (Click Here!) and I will get back with you as soon as I can!

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