What Happens to the Bulbs That No One Buys?

Saturday morning, the bulb planting begins in earnest here at May Dreams Gardens!

I bought a few bulbs to plant this fall.

First I ordered up some minor bulbs after attending an AHS webinar on Bulbs That Work earlier in September. My order included:

50 Iris danfordiea
50 Iris reticulata ‘Clairette’
50 Chionodoxa sardensis
25 Oxalis adenaphylla

Then as I was out shopping this fall, not necessarily intending to buy bulbs, I rescued/bought bulbs at several different stores and ended up with:

10 Anemone blanda
25 Hyacinths (I’ll save back a dozen of these to force inside this winter).
25 Dutch Iris
120 Crocuses
160 Tulips (I think I’ll also pot some of these up to force into bloom this winter)

Plus, I have a bag full of daffodil bulbs that I dug up when I renovated some foundation plantings earlier this fall. There might be a hundred or so of those bulbs. Oh, and I took Elizabeth of Garden Rant up on her offer for some free tulips, so that’s another 25 bulbs on their way to my mailbox.

When you add that all up it comes to… wait, I need to take off my shoes… 540 bulbs, plus how ever many are in that bag of rescued daffodils.

That may seem like a lot, but I’m not one to dig one hole per bulb. I am a self-proclaimed efficiency expert when it comes to planting bulbs.

If possible, I prefer to dig up an entire area, and then plant a bunch of bulbs in that area all at once.

And for the smaller bulbs, of which I seem to have a couple of hundred to plant, I use my drill as the planting tool of choice. Drill and plant, drill and plant. I can get into a pretty good rhythm of drilling and planting when I set my mind to it.

I think it will just take me a few hours Saturday morning to plant all these bulbs. Really!

Then I’ll need to be careful when I go to the store because if I see bulbs on clearance, I’ll be tempted to rescue them and bring them home to plant, regardless of if I have room for any more bulbs.

Does anyone else feel an obligation to buy those homeless, gardenless, bulbs marked down for final clearance at the big box stores? Do you feel like if you don’t buy them, they will have been dug up in vain?

What do the stores do with the bulbs they don’t sell? Return them to the wholesaler or throw them out? If they throw them out, don’t tell me! I won’t have room to rescue all those bulbs and I’ll feel bad leaving them in the store, doomed to be dumped in a dumpster somewhere. Don’t tell me!


  1. I am sad to say that the bulbs left at the big box stores around here do go to the dumpster. I have talked to clerks that have told me this. I don't have the urge to buy them anymore tho. I have been disappointed in the results of a lot of those bulbs purchased from big box stores.

  2. Usually I can resist the big box stores. I too have been disappointed with results, spending money and getting zip. But one day I was walking past a display of amaryllis and there was one that was trying desperately hard to bloom -- had its stalk twisted about and emerging fromt eh air hole. I had mercy and bought it. It was lovely.

  3. As Lisa said, I have also been burned by buying bulbs that were supposed to be one color and turned out to be something else. It is a pity though, that they throw them out....they could be donated to community gardens or schools. Forcing bulbs is great fun and and makes for a good lesson for children.

  4. I too have rescued amaryllis in the past from big-box or department stores where I could hear them squeaking "help me....help ME...." but as for the cheapo spring bulbs they buy....nope. Let them be compost. It's the same with the mournful, dying houseplants that are suffering away in dark corners...I have to be strong. Must.be.strong.
    You're braver than me, Carol. I haven't dared really carefully count up the bulbs I bought. It might scare me. Happy planting this weekend--I expect to be doing the same thing!

  5. I swore to never buy bulbs again at box stores a few years ago. No matter what they were, I've been dissapointed. Daffies that wern't normal, wrong colors of glads, tulips, and amarylis, and generally poor quality overall. If I buy them, its direct from the dutch.

    I'm picky about spending money as I don't have alot to spend so IF i am going to spend it, it will be something I KNOW I will be happy with.

  6. I try very hard to only buy bulbs if I know I'll have the time and energy to plant them, and a place in mind to put them. I am running out of room!! Happy to say my modest purchases are in the ground. I have not had great luck with forcing tulips, but if I see some half priced hyacinths, or paperwhites, of course, I'll buy them and pot them up. They do make good winter gifts!

  7. Looks like you are going to have a great day for planting! When I worked at the local garden center years ago, they would throw out the bulbs in late fall. I remember one year planting a bunch of them in my yard in mid-January. For some reason the ground was not frozen yet. They were some of the prettiest spring flowers I ever had. I hope to find a few mark downs yet this fall to plant under my new pink dogwood tree.

  8. You should have a wonderful time with that big bunch of bulbs, Carol!

    I visited three local nurseries this week and their stocks were completely depleted, so I can't even find a bulb to rescue!

    I've picked up bulbs marked down in other years with varying results. Even if most of the bulb are okay, there are always a couple of duds in each bag.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  9. Carol-

    It has always been my understanding that stores that don't sell their bulbs at the end of the season, dump them. That is why if you just happen to make a visit to a store very late in the season, you can usually negotiate a deal to buy in huge quantities for a small percentage of the original price. But if you want to get an affirmative announce, get on to GGW and ask David Salman (who did a post a few days ago). He sells thousands of bulbs through his mail order store:

    I'm with you. I love planting a huge amount of bulbs in some very large holes....you get a big bang for a minimal amount of time digging!! Fran

  10. This is when making sure you had topsoil delivered to your new home instead of fill really pays off. My unamended soil is not really amenable to bulb drills: too many rocks, and pretty stiff clay. Do you use a cordless drill? How many volts is it? And do you think any old bulb drill bit would do, or is there significant differences in quality?

  11. A lot of people commented on how they won't buy bulbs at the Big Box anymore. I planted bulbs for the 1st time this Fall and I did get mine at the Home Depot; they were cheap and I just wanted to try it out. So if they don't bloom next spring, I can blame it on the Box and not on me ;)

  12. I bought bulbs at big box stores this year and they were terrible. I'll be returning the large box of Dutch irises to the store tomorrow since just about all of them were unusable.
    The tulips I bought were only a little better. I'll have to find another source to have decent bulbs.

  13. Think not of the loss of a bulb to the unfortunate trash bin behind the big box...think of it rather as a small contribution to the beautification somewhere of an otherwise barren and drab landfill!

    ...Guessing you won't drive past one of these sites now in the spring without at least LOOKING to see if by chance there is a lone, leftover, unsold, big box flower fighting hard to overcome the challenges life has thrown at it to claim its rightful place in this world!


  14. Lisa at Greenbow... I agree that buying bulbs from 'big box' stores is a bit of a gamble, but when they are marked way down, why not take a chance?

    Healingmagichands... I know, those amaryllis are hard to resist when they are starting to sprout and beg to be purchased and taken home!

    Connie... Donating the bulbs is a great idea... if the schools will take them. They might need some volunteers to also plant them.

    Jodi... You should count your bulbs, too. Think how good you'll feel when you are done, the sense of satisfaction, when you know how many bulbs you planted.

    Nicki... I understand. I ordered some of my bulbs "direct from Dutch" and am also gambling on some big box bulbs I bought on sale.

    Muum... I think I know where I am planting all the bulbs I bought. I treat the tulips as annuals, so I know I can find room for them.

    Vonlafin... That's the good thing about bulbs... you can't plant them later than people think you can, and they will be fine.

    Annie in Austin... That's sad you can't find some bulbs to rescue. Don't give up, keep looking, they are out there waiting for you!

    Fransorin... Maybe after I plant all these bulbs, if I still have room and energy, I'll stop by the local garden center and see if I can work a deal for more bulbs!

    Kathy... They say the secrets in the soil! I use a regular electric corded drill, with a 1 inch or 1 1/2 inch 'spade' bit, normally used for drilling fairly big holes in wood. The bit does wear down faster than if you were drilling in wood, so I buy cheap ones and throw them away when I'm done.

    Rosemarie... It's never the gardener's fault, is it. I think you'll be fine with the bulbs you bought.

    Robin's Nesting Place... There are several good mail order sources for bulbs... check for catalogs in the spring!

    Pedal Pusher... that's a lovely thought. My normal travels don't usually take me by any dumps, but if they do, I'll look, I promise.

    Thanks all for the comments and kind words!
    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  15. I have friends who work at Home Depot, and the claims above are true. However, at local garden centers they often allow their employees to take plants and bulbs that are otherwise destined for the sumpster home. (The one at which I worked this spring/summer does, anyway!) They do not allow customers to perform such rescues, however.

  16. I haven't had a problem with bulbs from big box stores. I have a clean track record and that's because I don't count an iris rhizome I had a problem with.

    I was surprised when my big box purchase of Queen of Night tulips came true and they were pretty cheap.

    This year I bought some Flaming Parrot Queen of Night tulips from a posh garden center and I'm hoping that I don't get burned.

    I haven't had a problem with clearance bulbs, if anything I've noticed that the cheaper the bulbs (from ALDI) they better they've done.


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