How to plant daffodils?

When To Plant Daffodils, Tulips, and Other Flower Bulbs

Asian Lilies put on a fantastic display in my summer flower garden

There’s nothing quite like those first flowers that bloom in spring: crocus, daffodils, tulips, anemone, hyacinths, snowdrops. It’s a sure sign that winter is retreating and warmer weather is just around the corner.

The bulbs of these flowers must be planted in fall in order to bloom the following spring. But new gardeners and even experienced gardeners get a little confused over the particulars of planting and caring for flower bulbs. Some of the most frequent questions are:

  • When do I plant flower bulbs?
  • How deep should I plant bulbs?
  • Which end of the bulb is up?

These are excellent questions, and very important ones.

Types of flower bulbs

Flower bulbs are of two kinds: spring-flowering bulbs and summer-flowering bulbs. Spring-flowering varieties like tulips, daffodils, and crocus require a chilling period and are winter hardy. Summer-flowering bulbs like gladioli, calla lilies, and tuberous begonias are not winter hardy and must be planted in spring.

“Flower bulbs” is sort of a catch-all term. It describes five kinds of fleshy, underground organs which certain plants use to store energy to fuel growth. They are:

  • True Bulbs: Daffodils, tulips, and onions are the best examples of true bulbs. Energy is stored in modified leaves on the bulb, called scales.
  • Corms: Crocus and gladiolas are the most well known flowers that grow from corms, which is actually a modified, swollen stem.
  • Tubers: Potatoes and caladiums are the best examples. Tubers are thickened stems that grow underground and store all of the plant’s energy.
  • Rhizomes: Lily of the valley and bearded iris are the best examples. Rhizomes are underground stems that grow horizontally and store the energy for the plant.
  • Tuberous roots: Dahlia and anemones are the best examples. These are large, fleshy roots.

Many “bulbs” are actually corms, tubers, or rhizomes and look distinctly different. Most will show sprouts on their upper sides, which should be on top when planted.

When to plant flower bulbs

Most spring-flowering bulbs should be planted in early fall before frost is expected in your area. This gives the bulbs time to spread their roots before the ground freezes or becomes too hard to penetrate. But don’t plant them too early, or they may bloom prematurely during a warm period, and won’t bloom in spring.

In most regions of the U.S., it’s safe to plant any time in October through early November. In the south, you can plant until mid-December; on the Gulf Coast, through the end of December; and on the California coast, through January. In the Northeast and Rocky Mountains, you have to plant bulbs a little earlier, anytime in September until the ground freezes.

Summer flowering bulbs are planted when the soil warms in spring after all threat of frost has passed. This is right around the time that tomatoes are planted. You can also start these bulbs indoors in flower pots over the winter to get a head start.

How deeply should flower bulbs be planted?

Generally, spring bulbs should be planted two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. A large bulb, like tulip or daffodil, will be planted at about eight inches, but a crocus bulb at three inches. Precision is not called for – get it in the ballpark and the flower will be just fine. For summer bulbs, the planting depth will vary according to the plant – look for the planting depth on the directions supplied with the plant.

Which end of the flower bulb is up?

When you look at a flower bulb, the bottom, called the root plate or basal plate, is where the roots attach to the bulb. You might have guessed that this is the part to plant downward. Most true bulbs, like tulips and daffodils, have a pointed tip, which makes top identification easy. Tiny bulbs like poppy anemones make it very difficult to distinguish top from bottom with the naked eye. Fortunately, small bulbs like these can be planted in any direction – the shoots will orient themselves towards the sun.

Tulip bulb.

Tips for planting flower bulbs

The basal plate or tip of the bulb is more obvious on some bulbs than others. If up/down is not apparent, lay the bulb on its side – the flower will grow in the correct orientation.

Good drainage is essential for flower bulbs. In soils that drain poorly, bulbs may develop rot, or won’t be properly fed. The best soil for growing bulbs is loaded with organic matter like compost and peat moss.

If you’re preparing a new garden bed, dig and loosen all of the soil to the planting depth of your bulbs. If your soil is mostly clay, work generous amounts of compost and peat moss into the planting bed. Press the bulbs into the soil and then backfill with the original soil and more compost.

If you’re working in an established bed, dig the hole with a garden trowel or bulb planter. The holes should be several inches deeper than the appropriate depth for the bulb, to allow for additional compost or peat moss. After filling the hole, press in the soil/compost with your fingers to remove any air pockets.

Bulbs of all types need phosphorous for root development. At planting time, mix a little bonemeal into the lower part of the hole, so the roots can use it right away. Phosphorous moves very little in the soil, so it’s best to place it where it will have the most benefit – in other words, not on top of the garden bed.

Tulips are a classic spring-flowering bulb, which must be planted in autumn

Care after you plant flower bulbs

Water deeply after planting to settle the soil in the bed and give the roots moisture to start to go to work. But don’t overwater, as too much moisture will rot the bulb. In the case of fall-planted bulbs, little extra moisture is required beyond what you give it at planting time and what Mother Nature provides. In the case of spring-planted bulbs, make sure they get one inch of water each week, either from rainfall or a watering can. They’ll also need this much water as the flower begins to develop.

Don’t fertilize bulbs after the flowers start to develop, as it encourages bulb rot and may actually shorten bloom time.

Summer, not fall, is the dormant time for spring-flowering bulbs. This is when the foliage dies back, as do the roots. When fall comes, the roots grow to provide nutrients and begin the energy storage cycle for the next flower bloom. This is why spring-flowering bulbs should be dug or divided in summer, not fall.

When you buy bulbs, buy enough to fill the space. Nothing looks lonelier than a tulip separated from its companion tulip by a few feet. For large flowers, space them 3-6 inches apart, and for small flowers like crocus, 1-2 inches. A mass of flower blooms close together looks much better than a wide spacing.

When the flower has finished blooming, only remove the flower stalk, not the foliage. The foliage goes to work after the bloom, gathering energy from sunlight to store for the next cycle. Only remove the foliage when it has died back on its own.

For more info on planting flower bulbs, see the University of Illinois Extension

While fall is considered the best time to plant your bulbs to ensure beautiful blooms come spring, there’s no reasons to fret if you fell behind on your gardening chores—you can still get those future flowers in the ground.

If you want to garden like the pros, you should plant your bulbs in the fall, about six weeks before your area’s first hard freeze, according to Another good way to determine the ideal time for bulb-planting is to monitor your patio thermometer. When the temperature drops around 40 to 50 degrees at night, it’s time to get those daffodils and tulips in the ground.

But if you missed the window, you can still plant your bulbs in the winter and early spring, so long as you can dig into the ground, according to Southern Living. In some areas of the country, there might be too much snow and frozen ground to be able to plant bulbs, but as long as you can dig in with a shovel, that means it’s not too late.

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Late planters should give their flowers the best chance for survival by nestling bulbs about six inches deep in the soil. If breaking through some of the frozen dirt is too difficult, you can opt to not dig and simply cover your bulbs with garden soil. You’ll want to cover them with plenty of dirt, though—about three times the size of the bulb.

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And if the frozen ground just won’t budge, then it’s time to get your bulbs into plastic containers. While terra cotta pots can shatter as water freezes, plastic ones will stretch to accommodate soil changes and root growth.

To ensure they bloom in the spring, you’ll want to store these pots in an area that remains under 48 degrees (meaning your house probably isn’t the best area). Keep ’em in a chilly spot and away from harsh sunlight—and that’s it. Mother Nature will take care of the rest!

Jessica Leigh Mattern Web Editor Jessica Leigh Mattern is a web editor and writer who covers home, holiday, DIY, crafts, travel, and more lifestyle topics.

Planting spring bulbs

When to plant

If you want to fill your garden with colour next spring, plant bulbs from October to December, before the first frost. Daffodils, tulips, crocus, grape hyacinths and fritillarias are just some of the plants to choose from.

How to buy bulbs

Most bulbs have a long dormant period, requiring little attention for much of the year. When buying bulbs check they’re healthy and as fresh as possible, or your spring show could be a washout.

Avoid any that are damaged, shrivelled or feel soft, and go for plump, firm bulbs. Aim to plant within a week or they’ll start to sprout. When possible, check that the plants have been obtained from reliable growers, rather than from stock that has been collected from the wild.

Where to plant

Choose bulbs according to location and soil type. Most hardy bulbs originate from the Mediterranean, thriving in a warm, sunny climate in freely draining soil. Good drainage and plenty of sunshine is key, since most bulbs are prone to rot while dormant.

Herbaceous borders

Planting bulbs in a herbaceous border will help to fill in gaps and provide colour and interest before perennials and shrubs begin to grow in early spring. Plant daffodils, winter aconites, tulips and fritillarias for outstanding colour. Drifts of single species can be planted to blend in with the general planting scheme of the garden, or try mixing different varieties to create an even and striking effect of bright colour.

Formal planting

When planted en masse, spring-flowering bulbs make a valuable contribution to formal bedding displays. Try growing groups of early-flowering tulips in a bed which will be occupied by annuals later in the summer. As a general rule, the larger, showy varieties are better suited to a formal position in the garden.

Naturalising bulbs

Many spring-flowering bulbs are ideal for brightening up the base of trees before they come into full leaf. The soil beneath trees is moist and light, offering the perfect growing conditions for scillas, anemones, erythroniums and crocuses.

Bulbs such as dwarf daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops and winter aconites can transform a dull looking lawn into a wonderful display of colour. To achieve a natural look, throw bulbs up in the air and plant them exactly where they land in the grass. The aim is to make it look as though they have decided to grow there by themselves. Allow plants to die down after flowering before mowing over the lawn. Alternatively, plant bulbs in defined areas so that it’s possible to mow the lawn around them.

Bulbs in pots

If you want a great patio display, try growing bulbs in pots. Keep it simple by planting a variety on its own or several of the same variety packed closely together for a bumper show. Several types can be planted together, but it’s tricky to get the flowers to appear at the same time.

What to do

How to plant

  • Bulbs are some of the easiest garden plants to grow, needing only a well-drained soil and some sunshine. As a general rule, plant bulbs two to three times their own depth and around two bulb widths apart.
  • It’s important to plant bulbs with its top facing upwards. If unsure, plant the bulb on its side.
  • Replace the soil after planting, breaking down any large clumps and firm in gently, making sure there are no air spaces around the bulbs.

Bulbs in lawns

  • Naturalise bulbs in lawns by taking a handful and dropping from waist height.
  • Plant where they land with a strong trowel or bulb planter – these are ideal for digging into heavy clay soil. To use, push the cylindrical blade down, twist and pull up a plug of soil.
  • Drop the bulb in, flattest side down, and crumble the plug into the hole.
  • In order to save time, try planting a large number of small bulbs by lifting a piece of turf and planting a group of bulbs in the soil.
  • When growing bulbs in a pot, pick a container that is the right size and will complement your chosen bulbs.
  • If you are using a clay pot with a large drainage hole in the base, cover it with a piece of broken pot.
  • Fill pots with general-purpose compost, mixed with a handful of horticultural grit to improve drainage.
  • Water after planting.


  • Bulbs in pots need more care than those in soil.
  • Keep the compost moist and protect from frost by wrapping with bubble wrap over winter. Cover with a piece of chicken wire to prevent squirrels, mice and voles from digging them out. Remove it when shoots appear.

Watch video

In this video Joe Swift plants spring bulbs.

Five easy bulbs to try

  • Narcissus ‘Tête-à-Tête’ – a compact variety with golden trumpets in early spring. Plant with snowdrops in the lawn.
  • Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’ – striking purple flowers and is perfect in a big pot with wallflower ‘Bowles’ Mauve’
  • Scilla siberica ‘Spring Beauty’ – a lovely plant with blue bell-shaped flowers in spring. Plant at the base of trees or naturalise in grass
  • Fritillaria meleagris – wonderful, purple, bell-shaped flowers look perfect naturalised in grass
  • Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick’ – this variety has delicate white flowers, veined with deep purple. Crocuses come in many shades, from white to purple, and flower from early spring. Naturalise or plant them in small pots

Daffodil Planting Care Tips: How To Plant Daffodils In Your Garden

Daffodils are a lovely addition to the spring garden. These easy-to-care-for flowers add bright spots of sunshine that will return year after year. The trick is to plant them properly. Let’s take a look at how to plant daffodil bulbs.

How to Plant Daffodil Bulbs

If you live in USDA zones 4 to 6, the best time to plant daffodils is as soon as they are available in early autumn.

When growing daffodils, you should plant them in groups of ten or more. All you do is make a loose circle with about seven bulbs and put three in the middle.

For aesthetic reasons, you don’t want to mix different cultivars within each planting group. The effect will be better if you plant one kind together (such as a group of ten “Ice Follies”, but not a group of “Ice Follies” mixed with “Spellbinder”, etc.). You can plant these in bigger blocks if your space allows it, using 25 or more bulbs.

Daffodils look great in a formal garden with shapes like squares or circles. Even tapered, fish-shaped plantings look great.

Steps for Planting Daffodil Bulbs

  1. Be sure to plant daffodil bulbs with the pointy end up and the fatter, somewhat flattened end down.
  2. Plant your daffodils twice as deep as the bulb is tall. In other words, if a bulb is 2 inches (5 cm.) from the base to the tip, you would dig a 6-inch (15 cm.) deep hole to put the bulb 4 inches (10 cm.) below the soil level. Deep planting helps prevent frost heave and protects the bulbs from accidental damage from spades and rakes. You don’t need to measure the hole – just give it your best guess. Larger bulbs go deeper, of course, and smaller bulbs go closer to the surface. Plant the bulbs more deeply in sandy soil, and more shallowly in heavier, clay-type soils.
  3. You will want to cover the bulbs with soil and then water them well after you’re finished planting them. Mulch the area with pine bark mulch, chopped leaves, or whatever you usually use as mulch to help protect it.

In zones 6 and 7, garden daffodils will bloom in mid-spring, but they’ll come sooner in a mild winter region (zones 8 and 9). Of course, this means they bloom later in colder regions.

Growing daffodils is very reliable, and they will come back year after year. Combining them with other kinds of plants such as perennials, annuals, and shrubs will make your garden a livelier and more interesting place.

Learn more about planting daffodils in this video:

Planting Daffodil Bulbs

Where to Plant Daffodil Bulbs

Daffodils like sun or part sun and need well-drained soil. Hillsides are great and for naturalizing – any sunny area you don’t have to mow will do well. They are lovely peeking up through ground covers and can give a perennial bed spring color before the perennials start to grow. Daffodils can grow well beneath leafy trees as they will finish blooming before the trees have leafed out. They do not do well under evergreens.

Daffodils like a well-drained enriched garden soil. It’s best to dig deeper than the required depth and enrich the soil with compost and Yum Yum Mix or other amendments. Another great tool to have handy is the Bulb Auger (LINK). Attach it to a drill and bulb planting is even easier! Plant six weeks before you expect frost. Plant the larger bulbs 3 times deeper than the bulb’s height (this is the general rule for all large bulbs). A typical garden daffodil bulb is 2-3 inches in height, so you would plant bulb at least 6-9 inches below the soil. Pointed side up! Roots side down! Cover with soil, water well, and you are on your way to spring flowers. Continue to water if needed until winter moisture arrives.

Advantages Of Planting Daffodils

Two important pluses to planting daffodil bulbs: deer and squirrels don’t like them, and many varieties naturalize when happy. A bulb that naturalizes is a bulb that returns and multiplies every year. Like interest on a bank account, bulb dividends will spread informally through your garden, paying you back in flowers for years to come.

There are many varieties of daffodils with bloom times from early to late spring. Be sure to choose a selection of bloom times to keep you in flowers all spring long – or make life simple and choose a collection of bulbs that span the season, such as High Country Garden’s 60 Days of Daffodils.

Daffodils originated in the meadows and woods of the Iberian peninsula, in what is now Spain and Portugal. They have been cultivated for many centuries and were well known and cultivated in Europe in the 16th century.

Did you know? Spring bulb blooms provide honeybees and other pollinators an early spring food source.

Choosing The Right Daffodil Bulbs

Daffodils vary greatly in look, height, color, and flower. Here are three simple categories we use to make finding the perfect daffodils for your yard easy. There are many varieties that are sweetly fragrant. (If you’re looking for fragrance, be sure to search our filters for “fragrant flowers” under Advantages.)

Guidelines for Growing Daffodils

For printable daffodil growing guides, please reference the document below;

Daffodil Growing Guidelines for your Unique Region of the USA

Some general guidelines for growing beautiful daffodils in your garden;

  1. Visit Local and American Daffodil Society’s daffodil shows in March, April and May and see the many different varieties available. Also, visit the local display gardens. Nothing beats seeing the different blooms. Decide what colors and forms you like best.
  2. Write for catalogs in late March or April. Order and pay for your bulbs in April, May, or June. Growers will ship the bulbs to you in September, so put them in a cool (not refrigerator) and airy place. Plant the bulbs when grounds have cooled, in some climates September and for warmer climates in November.
  3. Choose a well-drained, sunny place. Hillsides and raised beds are best. DRAINAGE is the key. Spade at least twelve inches deep. Improve your clay with well-rotted compost, soil amendment, or planting mix and raise the bed. Slightly acidic soil is best, so you might add soil sulfur if you have alkaline soil.
  4. During the soil preparation, a complete fertilizer, low in nitrogen, (3 -6-6 or 5-10-10) should be worked in (about 1/4 cup per square foot). Be sure the fertilizer does not come in direct contact with the bulbs.
  5. Plant your daffodils so that their top (pointed end) is at least two times as deep as the bulb is high (top of a 2″ bulb is 4″ deep). Exactness isn’t crucial; they’ll adjust. Plant bulbs deeper in sandy soil than in clay.
  6. Top-dress with 5-10-10 when the leaf-tips emerge. As they flower, top-dress with 0-10-10 or 0-0-50. High-nitrogen fertilizer should be avoided.
  7. Daffodils need lots of water while they are growing. Water immediately after planting and keep them moist until the rains come. Continue watering for three weeks or so after blooming time; then stop watering. The bulbs make their next year’s bloom after flowering. (Your first-year bloom is largely due to the previous grower of the bulb.)
  8. You may leave daffodils down in the ground for between 3 to 5 years. If blooming does not happen one season, it would be best to move them to a new location.
  9. After blooming, never cut the foliage until it begins to yellow (usually late May or June). Then is the time to dig them. Wash the bulbs thoroughly and let them dry completely (at least a week). Put them in onion sacks (or panty hose) and hang them in the coolest place you can find until ready to plant. Good air circulation will keep storage rot at a minimum.
  10. Join the ADS and a local daffodil society near you and have a good time socializing with another group of garden folks. The following spring, bring your prize blooms to one of our events and show your growing skills.

Your Best-in-Show daffodil is but a year away!

Planting Daffodils

Drifts of daffodils spred on their own on this grassy hillside. Then wildflowers rise to hide the daffodil foliage. Art Maripol

Each spring at Moss Mountain Farm in Roland, Arkansas, the stars come out twice—once at night, like everywhere else, and again in the daytime, when innumerable daffodils illuminate hills and meadows from horizon to horizon.
The plantings are the handiwork of the farm’s owner—author, designer, and TV personality P. Allen Smith—who has loved these flowers since he was a boy. Allen believes the impact of a display depends on more than just numbers. How and where you plant bulbs is just as important as how many, no matter whether you have an acre or a 20- by 10-foot border. Here are some lessons we learned from a recent visit to his garden home.
Concentrate your color.
Plant daffodils in bunches. Don’t dot them here and there like stoplights on a highway. Three blooms huddled together look like lost children, but 50 together command attention. “If you spread them out too much, you lose the impact of the moment,” explains Allen.
Plan for a succession of blooms.
Dozens of different kinds of daffodils represent early-, mid-, and late-blooming types. Mix selections from each class to have daffodils blooming almost the entire spring. Moss Mountain Farm’s daffodils flower from January through April, starting with ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ and ‘February Gold’ and concluding with the later ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ and ‘Geranium.’
Plant in curves, not straight lines.
Curves are the way nature grows, so think in sweeps and swooshes instead of rows. Make the paths that pass through the bulbs curve too. Here, paths wide enough for strolling visitors weave side to side through the flowers. In addition to keeping the blooms from being stomped underfoot, the winding paths slow you down and expand the experience. “We decided from the beginning there would be no straight lines at all on the hill,” says Allen. “You enter the path and wind your way along it like a labyrinth. It feels like meditation.”
Use shrubs and trees as a backdrop for bulbs.
This adds vertical dimension to a display that might otherwise be flat. Allen likes combining daffodils with old-fashioned spring shrubs, such as baby’s breath spiraea, pearl bush, forsythia, and flowering quince. ” ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ blooms beautifully with winter honeysuckle,” he notes.
Try growing daffodils in containers.
This is a great way to get lots of punch from just a few dozen bulbs. You can move containers to wherever you need color on a particular day, be it your front door, porch, steps, or patio. As soon as the bulbs finish blooming, plant them in the garden. No bulbs are easier for container growing in the South. “If you’ve never tried bulbs in containers, daffodils are fail-safe,” assures Allen.
Create a natural look.
“Naturalizing” daffodils means planting multiple types and colors in informal drifts, as if they’d planted themselves. Daffodils are ideal because many, such as ‘Carlton,’ ‘Ice Follies,’ and ‘Barrett Browning,’ form drifts on their own by making seeds and baby bulbs. Allen naturalizes them on grassy hills and meadows, throwing out a mixture of bulbs by hand and planting them where they land. He delays cutting the grass until the daffodil foliage yellows to ensure they’ll bloom the next year.

We know—you want to plant them now. But the right time for planting daffodils is fall. However, you can start planning now by exploring the options at bulb websites such as

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