Living Columns & Blogs

Ask a Gardner: Why aren’t my bulbs blooming?

Tulips bloom at the DeGoede Bulb Farm and Gardens near Mossyrock, in April 2006. To succeed with bulbs, be sure they are meant to grow in this climate.
Tulips bloom at the DeGoede Bulb Farm and Gardens near Mossyrock, in April 2006. To succeed with bulbs, be sure they are meant to grow in this climate. Associated Press

Question: I planted many, many bulbs the last two falls but a good number failed to set blooms. What could be causing this?

Answer: There are two main reasons for bulbs failing to flower. One is the over-application and a high level of nitrogen: you get lovely, lush foliage, but no bloom.

The second reason for no blooms is planting bulbs that are meant for other climate zones. You’d be surprised to learn that bulbs sold locally can be from places as far-flung as Turkey or the Steppes of Russia. At best, these bulbs can only be counted on in our climate for one year.

When you buy your bulbs in the fall, make sure they are locally grown or grown in similar climates.

Question: I love to watch birds that come to my yard and want to know more ways to attract them. I’m always wondering why some people have hardly any birds visiting, and others seem to be overrun with all the colorful and interesting birds I want to see in my own garden. Why?

Answer: Attracting birds to your yard is easy: S-W-F. In other words, provide shelter, water and food. Shelter is best if it is multi-layered trees and shrubs, and maybe even nesting boxes of the correct sizes, placed in the correct places. The Internet is loaded with information about bird houses.

Provide water in the form of a birdbath or even a small pond. Be sure to regularly clean and fill whichever container you provide. Make an instant pond by turning a garbage can lid upside down, burying it in the ground up to the rim, and placing a rock inside to allow small birds to safely drink.

Food is best when available from a wide variety of fruiting or berried trees and shrubs, augmented with a seed feeder and a suet feeder. Shrubbery and trees serve multiple uses for birds, providing safety, nesting and food.

Different birds eat different things. If you provide a hummingbird feeder (and who can resist these charmers?) be sure to keep the solution fresh and the container clean. The health of the birds can be adversely affected by a contaminated sugar solution.

It’s fun to keep a record of the birds that visit. Jot down the dates of the first visit and see how it tracks from year to year.

If you see a bird you can’t identify from bird ID books, the local Audubon Society can help. Who knows? You might spot a rare bird. It’s happening more often with the changing climate.

Fascinating plant facts

▪  Only 3 percent of the plants cultivated in 1900 are still available today.

▪  Wheat seeds provide more food for the world than any other plant or animal.

Tips for Gardeners

Some gray, rainy day, tackle your tool shed, gardening bench or wherever you store tools and gardening equipment. It will make gardening a more pleasurable activity.

A. Clean all tools and sand off any rust.

B. Oil all cutting and digging tools.

C. Wipe tools with fine steel wool.

D. If tools need sharpening, buy the appropriate tool, available at any nursery.

E. Keep string trimmers from excessive breaking by spraying the line with mineral oil.

F. Remove salt and mold residue from planting pots with an equal mix of vinegar, alcohol, and water. Old toothbrushes work well for hard-to-get places.

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a lifelong gardener. Her column will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you’d like answered in the column, please email it to For more gardening information online, go to