discount bulbs - totally worthless?

greentiger87June 16, 2012

I love gardening, but I know very little about bulbs. Please enlighten me.

Is there any point at all to buying the heavily discounted "spring" bulbs that are on clearance now at the big box stores? I'm always so tempted when I walk by... I love buying things on discount in the off season. But for bulbs in the South, it strikes me as odd that they'd sell them at all after the weather warms up. I'm in Houston, Texas.

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I'm a little confused by your terminology, so in order to clarify, I am going to assume you actually mean "summer" flowering bulbs sold in spring for spring planting and summer bloom - thing such as glads, cannas, dahlias, tuberous begonias, callas, etc.

The term "spring" bulbs is confusing to some people -- it is used to describe bulbs planted in fall which bloom in spring, narcissus, tulips, crocus, alliums, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, etc.

If they have held over "spring" bulbs such as tulips, daffs, and hyacinths from the fall of 2011, those would be almost completely dead and worthless by now. Definitely pass on those.

If you are referring to summer blooming bulbs such as glads, dahlias, cannas, callas, etc., generally they still have quite a bit of life in them through June or early July, although it varies from species to species and also depending upon how they were handled in the store -- if they stuck them out on the patio in the sun to bake, they may be toast. Some things hold in the packages better than others -- I would probably pass on lilies and anemones and ranunculus at this point, the former no doubt has grown and died already in the bag, while the latter two are just rather short-lived and don't store all that long. But most things will be fine to plant now, ASSUMING they are still healthy, not rotten, not blasted, not buggy.

It is also a big plus if they are packaged in clear plastic so you can see if they are in good shape. On the flip side, if they are in opaque bags or in boxes that don't open, most of the big box stores, to my knowledge, will take returns for a certain number of days even on clearance products. I've bought calla bulbs a couple of times at Lowe's that were in dark green bags, and proved to be rotten upon opening them, and they took them back both times without any hassles.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 6:05PM
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I agree, if the bulbs you are speaking of are 'old' spring flowering (fall planted) then yes, pass on them; they would require you to hold them over for fall planting and since they've been sitting for a time, it is much better to buy when they become available AT PLANTING TIME.
As a matter of timing, if you interested in spring floering bulbs I suggest ...right now, this minute---go to your calendar hanging on the wall, or maybe on the fridge, turn the page to October/November...and write across the page in magic marker....BUY BULBS, PLANT BULBS...
Its always been a mystery to me why, every spring, somebody will write in this journal..."I forgot I had bulbs stored for planting from last fall, can I still plant them?"

The answers are vague---sometimes you can get away with it...sometimes you all depends on where you are, what condition the soil is in, if its completely frozen...or in some other condition that still warrants taking a chance. But, the best time to plant ANY BULB
is immediately after you buy it.

In the spring, don't be afraid to pick up 'bulbs on sale'.
They're usually smaller versions of the most popular...tulips, hyacinth and so on. They are most likely two year bulbs and haven't got to large size which commands the higher prices. But these smaller bulbs are just as good, they just take an extra year to produce the bigger blooms.

Summer bulbs right now are sometimes 'on sale'....they've been sitting, maybe not the popular ones that most people buy but still viable. What blooms you don't get this year, will be that much better next year.

Test before you buy. Feel the bulb, if it shows lots of scars, cuts or abrasions, pass on them.
If they still feel firm, with very little abrasions or scars, they're probably still a very good buy.
Besides....if the price is right, don't be afraid to take a chance. Experience can be enlightening.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 2:29PM
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Carolinaflowerlover NC Zone 7b

I bought some freesia bulbs on clearance, and they seem to be coming up quite well. I haven't had any luck with phlox bare root, though. I have had very little luck with lily of valley bare root. It's kind of hit and miss, but if the store will take it as a's probably worth a try.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 9:33PM
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They package a lot of perennials now in the same manner as bulbs, things like phlox, astilbe, daylilies, peonies, Siberian iris, etc. Some have thicker, storage roots that let them survive a while in those bags. Others don't, and really can't hang on longer than a month or two in the bags. Caveat emptor, I guess, but I do think that the manufacturers who package in opaque, usually green, bags, aren't doing us any favors, because it helps a lot to be able to see if the residents of the bag are alive in there.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 7:01PM
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its my opionion to go ahead and buy them, check them first and if there still alive get them and plant them.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 7:32PM
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Thanks everyone for your advice (and anyone else who wants to chime in). I'm not sure if things are just different in the south, or what.. but it seems that the big box stores sell both "spring flowering, fall planted" and "summer flowering, spring planted" bulbs starting in the spring here. And these aren't left overs from the past fall, they're newly arrived merchandise.

In any case, I'll take your recommendations what varieties are still worth planting... and will definitely be ordering bulbs online this coming fall.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 8:09AM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

IF Tulips, Daffodils, Hyacinths, Crocus you'll just be wasting your money. Buy and plant in fall. Does not matter what part of the US you are in. Only Down Under ;) plants in spring.

Glads, Freesia, Lilies, Iris are often only available in spring and can be planted in spring. By now many are dried up.

Honestly, many packaged bulbs and perennials from big box or discount stores are incorrectly labeled and also dead before you buy them.

You should gently squeeze them inside the packages to make sure they are firm not mushy.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 2:36PM
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kristiepdx(8b, sunset 6)

The discount bulbs at my local big box stores are dried to a crisp. At the bottom of the box I can see were somebody ripped a bag open to inspect and they are dry and brittle. Peonies like little dry brittle sticks. I suspect the bulbs and dahlias are the same. Dead or not dead?

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 6:28PM
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Well, for the most part, I'd say the vast majority of things are getting to the "dead" side of the ledger. Dahlias are one of the longest to survive due to the fact that, unlike many bulbs which are stored carbohydrate, much of the volume of a dahlia's tuberous root system is stored water, so they can hold out longer. Since it is now July and many of these bulbs have been in the stores since late Feb. or early March, it's probably about time for the retailers to hang it up. If anyone is interested perhaps they could ask if they would give a super deep discount like 90% off, worst the store could do is say "no".

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 7:14PM
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Carrie B(6B/7A)

I agree that spring flowering bulbs would be toast, and that you might (or might not) take a chance with summer/autumn flowering bulbs & perennials.

I did want to chime in on the question of spring flowering bulbs being sold in the spring in the south, rather than the fall. My understanding is that, in warmer climates - parts of the country without an adequate cold-stratification period for some bulbs (some daffodils, tulips & others) those bulbs are sold in the spring "pre-chilled."

So, if one lived in Florida, parts of California & Texas, perhaps, those bulbs would be sold pre-chilled in the spring, and then would be planted as annuals, since the winter would not get/stay cold enough (or for long enough) to give the bulbs what they need to return & flower in the following springs.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 9:26PM
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I just took advantage of this at my local home depot. I got a bunch of potted perennials that looked like death, and I saw the discount bulbs and couldn't help myself... I do serious damage in a garden center =). I got astilbe, peony, lilly of the valley, freesia, rudbeckia, and two types of dahlias. Can I plant these now? I also know that I have to dig up the dahlias in the fall as well for indoor storage. Should I plant these now or wait on them? First time dealing with bulbs, but if i have as much luck with bulbs as I do with death row perennials, my yard is in for a treat!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 3:15PM
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Yes, you need to plant them now. They can't be stored for next year.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 3:22PM
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Including the dahlias?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 7:18PM
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