Bulb rescue

zootjs(zone 5 MA)October 21, 2008


I was given some iris and daylily bulbs that descended from my grandfather's plantings, essentially just dug up in mid October, thrown in a plastic bag, and transported from southern NY (zone 6) to central MA (zone 5).

I donâÂÂt know anything about bulbs, but would very much like these to survive.

What should I do with them? Plant them now? Wait until spring? Divide them? Into how many parts? Do you wait for them to heal after dividing or just stick them in the ground? How deep do they get planted?

I thought you were supposed to wait until the leaves were dead before digging them up. (?)



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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Well, I can tell you how to plant them, etc. The part I don't know is whether they will survive your winter after being planted this late. Both are pretty tough, but typically they like a few weeks to establish before winter sets in. Maybe someone further north will chime in on that.

Daylilies are not true bulbs, but are often sold by bulb companies. Each fan can become one plant. Your top picture shows one fan, so don't try to divide it. To plant it in the ground, dig a hole about eighteen inches in diameter and one foot deep. Loosen the soil in the hole and work in some good compost or manure, etc. Scoop out about half of the soil and form a mound in the hole, with the top of the mound coming up to the level of the soil around the hole. Set your lily on top of the mound with the roots draping over the top and sides of the mound. Now refill the hole with the loose, amended soil. The roots should be covered and the base of the plant where the fan meets the roots should be at ground level. Firm it in, water well, and by all means, mulch: especially this late. Daylilies can also be grown in pots. Since it's so late, that might be a safer alternative. Plant your fan in at least a one gallon pot. Three gallons would be better. Use the same technique, except use potting soil, not yard soil or manure.

You need to know that for daylilies to perform at their best, they need to be divided every few years, depending on the variety. They get so thick and congested that they will stop blooming if you don't. To divide them, you dig up the entire clump, and pull, saw, or cut it apart with one to three fans in each division. Then replant as above. I usually pull my clumps into single fans and then put three or four fans into each hole about two inches apart.

Irises are planted somewhat similarly to the daylily. Dig the hole, amend the soil, make a mound. Now break off a nice, firm, fat, young looking rhizome (carrot looking thing) that has some roots hanging off it. Set the rhizome on its SIDE (any leaves will point straight up. Roots will be down.) on the top of the mound high enough that the upper half to third of it will be EXPOSED to the air. Again, drape the feeder roots down and over the mound. Firm, water well, and mulch??? In the deep south we don't ever mulch bearded irises because they will rot from wet. Again, your colder zone could be different. Irises can also be potted up.

Don't be disapointed if your plants don't bloom next year. As late as you are planting them, it may be two years. They'll be worth the wait.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 10:35PM
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zootjs(zone 5 MA)

Thanks, this is helpful.

Pots might be the answer. I could pot them now and then move them to the garden in the spring, after frost.

Regarding breaking apart the iris, does that clump of rhizomes look like, say, six to eight pieces or three? I'm not sure what my target size rhizome fragment should be.

Thanks again,


    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 11:30PM
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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana(zone 5/6)

How many of the rhizomes have leaves, or green showing on them? Each one with green on it will be a good rhizome.

There may be other extensions on those rhizomes, that show no green on them at all. Those are old 'mother' rhizomes. The mothers will never bloom again themselves, but may produce daughters off of the sides. If there are no 'good' fleshy roots on the mothers, they should just be pitched. The mothers that have fleshy roots yet no green on them, can be planted, and they may make daughters that will bloom in years to come. Others may have all dried up roots, and they should be cut off and discarded. Some mothers may just have what look like holes on the underneath side. That is where roots once grew. Those mothers should be cut off and pitched.

You might want to check out this thread...Unplanted Rhizomes: Have I Waited Too Long? found at the Iris Forum. It explains what might happen with your newly late planted irises, and what you can do to remedy any problems caused by the winter freeze and thaws and the irises not being well rooted in.


    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 12:51AM
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I would pot them up and keep them outside in the sun until the weather turns fairly chilly... I'd store them in an unheated garage for winter, and bring them back outdoors in spring. When you see new growth emerging from the potting soil, they can be transplanted to the garden.

Occasionally, I have potted perennials that I don't get in the garden before winter... I just store them in the garage until spring, allow them to grow a bit, and then plant them in my perennial beds. They should winter over just fine in the garage.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 9:34PM
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zootjs(zone 5 MA)

I water them in the pots, right?

    Bookmark   October 25, 2008 at 8:52AM
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ladychroe(z6 NJ)

I think they would be absolutely fine if planted now. The sooner they are settled in, the sooner they will go back to their blooming schedule.

I doubt you will kill them. I have some borer-chewed bits of iris rhizomes tossed on my compost pile that rooted and bloomed. They weren't even buried, just sitting on top. It's been years and they are thriving. Daylilies are even tougher.

Note: Don't put iris waste in the compost pile like I did... throw it out to avoid making a borer problem worse. Your plants look very healthy.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2008 at 11:49AM
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zootjs(zone 5 MA)

FYI, I decided to plant them in the ground and hope for the best. Thanks, all!

    Bookmark   November 26, 2008 at 10:58PM
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ladychroe(z6 NJ)

Thanks for the update... keep us posted on how they do next spring!

    Bookmark   November 28, 2008 at 11:44AM
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