Is the shop temperature suitable ? If it freezes at night half-hardy bulbs may be damaged and go soft on the outside. If it is too hot, the bulbs will wither or start to grow shoots prematurely without root growth, and some fungal and bacterial diseases will attack bruised tissues. Tubers liable to wither, such as dahlias, should be prepacked in polyethylene. See that this is intact. Embryo buds are damaged by withdrawal of water during withering and also by high temperatures. Prepared bulbs lose the effect of the treatment in such conditions. Expensive bulbs should be in wood shavings, sawdust or peat moss.
Are the bulbs etc. clean? Dirty stock can carry soil-borne diseases and is likely to prevent you looking for bruising and other troubles. Is the stock well housed and properly labelled with variety name and grade as well as price? Narcissus bulbs can be single-nosed, double-nosed or mother bulbs. The more ‘noses’ the more main growths, each with a flower. Is a mother bulb, with three noses going to give you a better display than three single-nosed bulbs…compare the prices. Single-nosed bulbs are best for using with a bulb planter, as they will not stick in the hole, but fall to the bottom. Bulbs for naturalizing should not contain a lot of very small bulbs which will not flower the same year.
Corms are sold by size, the cms denoting the circumference of the corm. Very big corms have fewer advantages than big bulbs, e.g. it is usually better to have one good spike per gladiolus than one and a small one. Exhibition growers choose medium size corms. Large cyclamen corms have fewer years ahead of them and often take longer to settle than small ones.
Hyacinths of medium size give one good spike against one and a small one of the very large bulb. It may pay you to pick off the small one when it starts to emerge to keep the good spike from growing lop-sidedly.
If you can handle the stock before purchasing do so carefully. If a sample of daffodils or irises has some bulbs which are obviously underweight and are soft to the touch leave the lot as it will be impossible to make sure you are not introducing narcissus fly larvae (maggots) or other pest which has eaten out the interior. If when you carefully move a scale leaf or two you find a fungal disease and you are prepared to dip the bulbs in a fungicide before planting, hyacinths may still be all right to buy, but irises with ink disease (black patches) are to be avoided and so are tulips and gladioli with scabby patches (tulip fire and gladiolus scab). Why buy trouble? Lily bulbs which have, the scales falling off probably have basal rot. A similar disease may cause narcissi to have a faulty base plate without a complete ring of roots. Such bulbs spread their diseases to the soil and to other bulbs. They should be burnt.
The only other troubles likely to affect bulbs are not readily seen at this stage. They are best avoided by buying from a reputable source. Virus diseases may cause striped or yellowing foliage or broken color in the flowers (desired in some tulips). There is no cure for virus diseases. Aphid eggs may be on the bulb scales of small irises and aphids may attack any bulb in growth; especially susceptible are the fleshy leaves of lachenalias. An aphid spray or (indoors) aerosol should be used as soon as they are seen, as aphids may spread virus diseases.
In the shop it now remains to see that the assistant knows how to handle the stock and does not shovel up corms and tubers with a metal scoop that can remove the buds, and also be sure that each bag is properly labelled. It is maddening to have to wait until the bulbs flower to know that the hyacinth you thought was the blue one is in fact red.
Where to plant the garden flower bulb