What went wrong?

20.05.21 10:30 AM By Carson Arthur

The most popular spring questions...and the answers

Every spring I get a boatload of emails from gardeners wondering what went wrong with their bulbs and flowering plants. Spring more than any other time seems to have more tension when it comes to things not going as planned. I think this is because we wait all winter for a shot of colour in the garden and when it doesn’t happen, we get stressed.

Here are some of my favourite questions from this year’s selection.


I planted a beautiful tulip called Tequila Sunrise and for three years it bloomed exactly like the description on the label; soft yellow petals with frilly raspberry edges. This year, in the exact same spot, I have a bright orange tulip with a little yellow on the edge. What happened?

So this is a bit of a scientific answer. Many of the unique and striated tulips are caused by infecting healthy tulip bulbs with a virus called TBV (Tulip Breaking Virus). This process is what causes the great colour changes in the petals. Have no fear, this is not a virus that affects humans, animals, or other plants (except potatoes) Your tulip over the last few years has been able to get rid of the virus and is reverting back to its natural state. (I hope you like orange)


My neighbours all have beautiful forsythias that bloom every spring. My shrub gives me a few blooms and lots of green leaves. I prune and fertilize it every fall but no luck. What am I doing wrong?


I’m afraid you are not going to like my answer on this one. Forsythias bloom on old wood. The flowers appear on last season’s growth, which means if you are pruning it every fall, you are removing the flowering buds with branches that you are trimming off. Instead, prune your forsythia in the spring once the flowers are over for the season. I usually clean it up within a few weeks of the end of bloom time.


The squirrels keep stealing my bulbs. They think that I’ve opened a buffet every fall and they eat every last one. I’ve tried bone meal, cayenne, chicken wire and still I have no spring flowers. Help!


Squirrels are competitive. They like to steal food from other squirrels. If they see soil that has been dug up, they immediately think that a rival has hidden something in the ground in that location. You might want to consider ‘hiding’ your newly planted bulbs under leaves and mulch. Alternatively, I would move away from tulips for at least one or two seasons. Try planting hyacinths, daffodils or allium. All three of these are less-than-appealing to the squirrels and will actually survive the fall feeding frenzy long enough to bloom next sprin

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