I have always included daffodils in my herb gardens. I know – they’re not really herbs but I can’t do without their cheerful presence in my spring garden. There’s something magical about daffodils, freesia, lilies, and other flowering bulbs appearing from bare soil so early in the year.
Another thing I love about bulbs is that they naturally propagate on their own, forming small bulbs called offsets on the side of the main bulb near the bottom. Once separated from the parent bulb these will flower 2-3 years later when they are large enough. Well, in researching this blog post I’ve come across another form of bulb propagation called chipping. If you have a bulb of any size that you want to multiply quickly this technique is for you.
Before we get into chipping, we need to go over basic bulb anatomy. Behold the humble onion, which is really an onion bulb. You’ve probably sliced and chopped one of these hundreds of times. First I want to draw your attention to the inedible bottom section of the bulb with those dried vestigial roots. That is called the basal plate. This is the heart of a bulb. No basal plate, no living, growing plant. Next I want to point out the layers upon layers of tissue tightly packed together. These are called scales. If the scales are damaged or partially removed (when you accidentally slice into a bulb buried in the ground, for example) the bulb is not necessarily dead. If no fungal infection sets in the plant will continue to live.
Now for the chipping lesson. A bulb can be made to create tiny new bulbs (called a bulblets) by taking a whole bulb and slicing it down through the center into fourths, eighths, or more, with each portion retaining a section of the basal plate. Keeping a part of the basal plate is critical because the new bulbet will only form when attached to basal plate tissue.
Once you have sliced the parent bulb into sections, dust it thoroughly with fungicide. If the bulb section begins to rot you’ve lost it. Place the powdered sections on a kitchen towel and allow to air dry for about twelve hours. Then place the slightly dried powdered sections in a clear plastic bag with lightly moistened vermiculite and seal the bag tightly. Keep the sections in the bag for about 12 weeks to allow the bulbets to form. Check periodically to remove any sections that appear to have rotted.
At the end of 12 weeks, you should see the scales of the bulb sections have browned along the edges and separated slightly. Down near the basal plate where the scales meet you should see new tiny bulbets. Remove them from the bag and place in potting soil with the basal plate and bulbets covered by soil. The remaining scales are now exposed to the air and will dry and fall off. Keep the potting soil moist as you would for any other seed and wait for new growth. Then congratulate yourself for successfully chipping your bulb.