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For Christmas, my daughter gave me some tulip, hyacinth and daffodil bulbs. Since they've been sitting around for quite some time in the local department store, they're in varying states and conditions. All show root growth and most have started to sprout, on the top or sides. Most still look fresh, and they're all firm to the touch, with no visible mold. Some, however, look what I would consider to be old and far beyond their prime!

It's been unseasonably warm in Massachusetts, zone 6a, and it's very exciting to have ground that's still soft enough to plant bulbs at the necessary depth on Christmas! I'd like to know how to prepare those that look really bad, to give me the best chance for success. My question is about bulbs in general, but in this case they're daffodils.

  • The outer layers are thick, dry and dark brown. Should I peel them away, or is there reason to believe they may be protecting the healthy part of the bulb?

  • The tops are shriveled, but I can see some green down inside. Should I pinch off the dead parts, or would that risk damaging the healthy section?

  • The roots are brown, cracked and dry, with no evidence of green. Should I cut those off, or hope that the water I give them during planting will either re-hydrate them or encourage new ones?

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that I planted the bulbs before having time to finish this post! I tried a variety of methods with those daffodils, and will just have to wait and see. An answer to the question will still help me though, and hopefully others.

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  • The outer layers are thick, dry and dark brown. Should I peel them away, or is there reason to believe they may be protecting the healthy part of the bulb?

Only remove them if they are hanging loose from the bulbs. The ones wrapped around the bulbs are protective and should not be removed.

  • The tops are shriveled, but I can see some green down inside. Should I pinch off the dead parts, or would that risk damaging the healthy section?

Don't touch the green, but you can trim away excess dead foliage, especially if it's long. I usually trim to 1" of the bulb, unless there's green.

  • The roots are brown, cracked and dry, with no evidence of green. Should I cut those off, or hope that the water I give them during planting will either re-hydrate them or encourage new ones?

The old roots are dead and will not revive. New roots are put out from the basal plate after planting. You can trim the roots off close to the plate. The dead ones don't get in the way of the new ones unless there are a huge quantity, but it can make them easier to handle.

Basically, removing the dead stuff makes for easier handling, but most bulbs are resilient, and as long as you don't cut into the live, they should be fine (and in most cases, even if you do cut into the live, they will grow).

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Plant them as is, do not try to mend the bulbs. At best the bulb just needs some moisture from the surrounding soil. At worst, the bulb simply won't grow.

If you are concerned about disease, you can throw the sad looking ones out, but don't bother trying to mend them, you'll do more harm than good.

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