How to Propagate bulbs

A good method of increasing your bulbs is by a method called 'scaling'. This is where a bulb is sliced and divided into scales so that new bulblets are encouraged to grow on each piece.


Narcissus (daffodils) are a good one to start with as they are easily available in autumn - the best time for scaling - and are big enough to handle without being fiddly. Once you are comfortable with the method, you can go on to propagate other types. Many Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), for example, are very expensive and cost up to £30 for one bulb so, although it may be two or three years before you get your first flower, this can be a good way of increasing your bulb supply.


Whilst bulbs can also be propagated from seed, there is always the chance of cross pollination producing an unwanted variant, so scaling ensures that your new plants will be identical to the mother plant (also called 'true to type').


Because handling some bulbs can cause skin irritation, if you are susceptible to skin allergies you should wear light gloves of the type used by nurses, which are available from chemist shops.


Equipment you will need:


  • Clean, sharp knife

  • Vermiculite

  • Plastic bag

Some people also use a fungicide to help prevent rotting, but this is optional. [I don't use it but do take care to keep things extra clean.]




As always, ensure that the plant material used is free from pests and diseases and is true to type.


Trim old roots off the bulb to prevent rot, but avoid damage to basal plate, which is the tough base of the bulb, where the roots emerge.


Remove the ‘nose’ (the stem end of the bulb) and discard.


Cut the bulb into segments, like an orange; you should be able to get about 8 'chips' from a daffodil bulb if you’re careful and have a good knife.  


Make sure that each piece of bulb still has some basal plate for roots to grow from. If there isn't any basal plate, discard that section.


Remove the flower stem from the middle of the cut bulb section and then, using the knife blade, separate off two scales (these are actually unformed leaves), making sure to take some basal plate with it.


The scales should contain the buds that will grow into new bulbs. You may be able to see them already forming between the leaves, but don't force them apart to look as the bulb will still be brittle and may break.


Place the scales in a bag of just-moist vermiculite (about four times the volume of vermiculite to bulb scales), having dusted them with fungicide if you're using it.


Seal the bag, leaving a little air in, and put it in the airing cupboard, or some other warm place, at around 21c.


After care:


Leave for 8-10 weeks, checking regularly for rot, at which time you should see tiny bulblets forming at the base of the scales.


Plant into gritty compost, just covering the bulb and with each scale tip just visible, and not using the usual 3x depth. Label the pot.


Keep the plants just moist in a warm and light place. In spring new leaves will show above the compost.


When the new leaves have died down at the end of the growing season, lift, separate and immediately replant the new bulbs.



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Published: 21-10-2005

Updated:   21-10-2005