Can I Replant Potted Bulbs?

Updated: Jul. 21, 2023

Is the pot of tulips you received this spring worth saving? Find out which types of bulbs are worth your time and effort to replant outside.

Potted bulbs are always a cheerful sight at grocery stores, florists and nurseries in the spring around Easter and Mother’s Day. It’s fun to bring colorful blooms inside to enjoy on the kitchen table for a few weeks. But what happens when the flowers are all spent?

Some people simply toss them in the compost pile. For bulbs that aren’t perennial, that’s probably the best option. But there are a few types of potted bulbs worth saving to plant in your garden.

Which Kinds of Spring Potted Bulbs are Worth Replanting?

Just as many garden flowers are annuals or perennials, spring bulbs fit into similar categories. Some are prolific the first year but may return weak or not at all the second year. Other types of bulbs can live for a few years or even decades if you transplant them out into the landscape.

Reliably hardy spring bulbs

  • Miniature and full-size daffodils;
  • Crocuses;
  • Snowdrops;
  • Squills;
  • Grape hyacinths;
  • Windflowers;
  • Summer snowflake;
  • Species tulips such as Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane;’
  • Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum).

Shorter-lived perennial spring bulbs

  • Allium;
  • Hyacinths;
  • Dutch iris;
  • Fritillaria.

Spring bulbs best grown as annuals

  • Most types of tulips;
  • Ranunculus;
  • Freesia;
  • Paperwhites;
  • Any bulbs grown in water rather than in soil.

If your spring potted bulbs fall into the reliably hardy or short-lived perennial categories, it’s worth the effort to try and save them. Generally, smaller bulbs that tend to naturalize in the landscape have a better chance of surviving another year.

Unfortunately, these minor bulbs aren’t typically sold as potted gift plants for spring. That’s because people are far more likely to purchase a big pot of fragrant hyacinths or bright pink tulips on impulse. If your potted bulbs fall into the annual category, it’s better just to compost them.

Of the plants listed above, most people are surprised by tulips. The process of artificially chilling tulip bulbs and forcing them to bloom out of season for spring holidays saps so much energy out of them they often don’t recover enough to bloom another year. It’s best to enjoy their beauty in the pot, then toss them.

How Do I Make My Potted Bulbs Last?

Think about the weather outside when spring bulbs bloom in your garden. The days are cool and nights are even cooler. Spring rain showers are common, which means skies are often cloudy.

To mimic that environment as much as you can indoors, set your potted bulbs in a cool, bright location but not in direct sunlight. If you can, move them someplace a little cooler at night. Avoid warm temperatures; they make the flowers mature quickly so they won’t last as long.

As you do with your other houseplants, water your potted bulbs when the top inch of soil is dry. Never let the pot sit in standing water. These tricks will help the flowers last longer, but even so, they shouldn’t be expected to bloom more than a couple of weeks. Spring bulbs are delightful, but brief.

What Should I Do with My Potted Flowers Once They Are Spent?

If your potted bulbs are reliably hardy or short-lived perennials, you could save and plant them out into your garden. Follow these five easy steps:

  1. When the flowers fade, trim them off but leave the leaves. The plant needs the energy they contain to drain back into the bulb. Continue to water the plant as long as its leaves are green.
  2. Once the plant starts to turn brown and go dormant, stop watering it. You want the whole plant to turn brown. Then gently tug on the foliage to remove it. If it doesn’t break away easily, it’s not ready yet.
  3. You have two choices for handling your potted bulbs at this stage: plant them out into the garden or store them for planting in the fall. Bulbs do best in drier soil when they are dormant, so if your garden is heavily irrigated or your soil tends to stay moist, store the bulbs and plant them in the fall. If you have a dry, sunny spot in the landscape, plant the bulbs right away.
  4. To store, simply set the pot of bulbs in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. Or take them out of the pot, shake the soil off and set them in a crate or cardboard box to dry.
  5. Plant the stored bulbs in the fall along with any new bulbs you’ve purchased.