Every fall, we gardeners take part in that annual ritual of blind faith by planting spring flowering bulbs. We are the ultimate suckers when it comes to any attempt to resist those absolutely intoxicating catalogs that arrive each fall. Catalogs filled with glossy images of glorious daffodils, hyacinths and tulips in nearly every color of the rainbow. So we order more and more, even if we aren’t sure where we will put them. Go ahead, admit it. You’ve done that more than once.

So now here we are, and many of those spring flowers have come and gone, but some of us are still waiting for the show to commence. So what happened?

There are a number of things that could have gone wrong that preempted your spring floral display. The first culprit we turn to would be the squirrels or chipmunks. Those little rascals have a real affinity for crocus and tulip bulbs. Others like daffodils they are not so keen on. And sometimes they don’t even eat the bulbs they dig up. Instead they plant them elsewhere.

A surprise appearance, these King’s blood tulips sprouted up through five inches of gravel this spring where an ornamental bed was removed to widen the driveway. Photo by Lynette Walther.

My neighbors have a great swath of yellow and red tulips each spring. I’ve never planted any in that color combo, yet each year a few more of them bloom in my front garden bed, compliments of the neighborhood squirrels. There are commercial solutions and potions to soak bulbs in before planting which may repel squirrels. Other options are to cover bulbs with hardware cloth or chicken wire or make a “basket” of the wire to contain the bulbs. They have a weave wide enough to allow foliage to sprout through, but which keep the digging animals from uprooting the bulbs.

There are three types of tulips that bloom at different times — early, mid-season and late. It is possible your no-shows are simply late-season varieties. Planting the three types helps us extend the blooming season by weeks.

Another problem for spring-flowering bulbs is trimming back spent foliage too soon. It is imperative to leave it intact until it is completely brown and pulls out easily. That foliage is still working throughout the spring to photosynthesize or produce sugars to feed the bulb so it can return and bloom next year. By planting bulbs near shrubs or perennials that will emerge as the season progresses, we can use their proximity to “hide” that spent foliage to keep the garden looking neat. But at the same time we are helping to produce next spring’s flower display.

The next problem might be one of your own making. Planting too shallow will result in foliage, but no flowers. Good rule of thumb is to plant at least five inches deep or about three times the height of bulbs if that is more than five inches. And now is the time to re-settle those non-blooming bulbs at a greater depth. Leaving foliage in tact, carefully dig up and then resettle bulbs.

Tulips evolved in mountainous areas of central Asia, often thriving in the rocky scree. Hot and dry summers and cold winters comprise their ideal growing conditions. This tells us that good drainage is essential. The wet spring we encountered this year might have rotted bulbs planted where water sat without draining off quickly.

Last fall we removed a bed of shrubs that was alongside the house, and doing so enabled us to widen the driveway. A layer of crushed rock, about five inches deep covered what had been a bed filled with small shrubs, a few perennials and some spring bulbs. I thought everything had been removed, including the King’s blood tulip bulbs that had been planted there. Apparently not, because to my surprise, this spring several of those tenacious bulbs sprouted through the gravel and a couple even produced blooms.

And lastly, there is a limit to how long you can expect those modern showy tulips to continue to put on a show each spring. Once you see nothing but lots of large, floppy leaves and no blooms, you know they will not be blooming any more. Three to five years would be the limit for most, but there are some old fashioned and species tulips that not only continue to bloom indefinitely if their conditions are met, they will actually “naturalize,” or spread like daffodils do.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. She is a member of GardenComm and the National Garden Bureau. Her gardens are in Camden.