Plant tulips in spring

6 Tips Planting Bulbs Late in the Season

When is it too late to plant bulbs? I’m sharing 6 tips planting bulbs late in season, and when is the best time of year to plant bulbs, for success!

This past week we’ve had a burst of springlike weather in the Rogue Valley. One thing I had on my list “to do” back in December, was to get a couple of bags of bulbs in the ground that I had sitting around. But then the snow came … and I needed tips planting bulbs late in season!

You may have already enjoyed my “how to cut and preserve peonies for entertaining” post. I just love fresh flowers! And my friend, Cheryl, is sharing essential hydrangea care tips to keep your fresh cut hydrangeas looking beautiful longer.

Tips planting bulbs late in season

I took the chance! I went ahead and planted the bulbs and I can’t wait for the next few months, when they’ll be peeking out of the ground with a beautiful “hello” to the world!

When is it too late to plant bulbs?

Some bulbs need to be planted in the spring; others do best when you plant them in the fall. When to plant bulbs depends a lot on when your bulbs are supposed to bloom.

But the big question I had was, was it too late to plant the bulbs in January? Because I had also found at our local Grange their whole selection of bulbs 40% off!

So I stocked up.

Bulbs aren’t instant-gratification plants. They need time in the ground before they send forth stem, foliage, and flowers, which I bet we’ll be seeing some popping up in the next month or so.

When is the best time of year to plant bulbs?

The best time of year to plant bulbs is not when the stores are start selling them. Because of the frost, sometimes the stores rush this process, then plants don’t make it. Very sad.

Here are 3 of my favorite bulbs to plant:

  • Plant tulips in the fall after the soil has cooled.
  • Dahlias should be planted in the spring after all danger of frost is gone.
  • Begonias should be planted late spring/early summer.

Can you plant bulbs after the first frost?

Most bulbs should be planted after a hard frost, usually from mid October until the ground freezes.

Plant bulbs so the bottom is two to three times as deep as the length of the bulb in well-drained soil.

Spring-flowering bulbs planted early winter

Spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils must be planted by early winter to bloom in spring, because they require a long period of cool temperatures to spark the biochemical process that causes them to flower.

They’re pretty tough, because they can usually take what Mother Nature dishes out. A short freeze won’t damage the young bulb shoots and buds, though it may ‘burn’ already open blossoms.

6 Tips planting bulbs late in season:

  1. Look for after-Christmas bulb sales at local stores or nurseries.
  2. It’s typically best to avoid bulbs that are mushy or really soft, or have mold growing on them. They most likely won’t make it.
  3. Take the chance. Dig the soil (if not frozen) and plant the bulbs. They are better off in the ground or a chilled pot than wasting away in the garage.
  4. Take a picture of where you plant the bulbs, so you know exactly where they are planted.
  5. If they are still firm and plump, another option is to plant them indoors as forced bulbs. Good option is the ground is still frozen.
  6. Some say to soak the bulbs in water before planting.

I got out my gloves, and I started digging, planting over 100 bulbs.

Cold weather, but beautiful sunshine, and the ground was not frozen here in Oregon.

I saved out a few bulbs for this old bucket.

For a dramatic show of spring-flowering bulbs, mix up the bulbs in a pot. That way you’ll get a variety of colors which is really beautiful! (Photo from BHG.)

An unseasonably warm spell (like we’re having now!) may cause some bulbs to bloom earlier than anticipated. I keep peeking …

I say, bring ‘em on.

Every year, I’m always amazed how our bulbs bloom, after being planted under the most improbable circumstances (late!) 🙂

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  • Before the Ground Freezes The old adage says that “As long as you can get your shovel in the ground, you can plant your bulbs.” It’s hard to believe, but they are better off in frosty soil than they’d be sitting in your garage or basement. Spring bulbs have been known to send out roots in soil that’s just above freezing. So if you’re planting late in the season, try and plant as deeply as possible, even a few inches deeper than recommended, for the added insulation. Once the ground freezes hard, mulch the bulbs with a few inches of leaves, straw or some evergreen boughs. It might take longer for the shoots to surface from the extra depth in the spring, but eventually, they will.
  • After the Ground Has Frozen Solid Once the ground has frozen and you can no longer dig, you might be tempted to toss your bulbs into a dark corner of the basement and forget about them until spring. But spring-blooming bulbs are not like dahlias, gladioli, or other summer-blooming tender bulbs that can be stored away for winter. Remember, spring-blooming bulbs need to grow some roots and experience a period of chilling, in order to be able to sprout and flower next season. They only have enough energy stored to get them through one dormant season. They need to grow next year to replenish themselves, so you really need to get them into soil somehow. Here are two options that have worked for other gardeners in this predicament:
  • Pot them up. Plant them in large containers with potting soil. Make sure the bulbs are not right up against the sides of the pot, where they could freeze. There should be plenty of soil between the pot sides and the bulbs, for insulation. Then you can store the pot in an unheated garage, porch or even a basement window well. You want them to get cold, but not expose them to extremes.
    You’ll need to water the pot once a month or so, as it dries out. Don’t allow the soil to remain wet. Move the pot outside in mid-spring and either let the bulbs bloom in the pot or transplant them into your garden, once they have sprouted. Transplanting will give the bulbs more time to establish themselves in the garden and become stronger.
  • If you can’t dig into the soil, plant on top of it. Spread your bulbs out and then top them with at least 6 – 8 inches of potting soil. It helps to circle the area with chicken wire or hardware cloth. The wire will hold the soil in place and deter rodents that will be tempted to make a meal of your bulbs. You can remove it in the spring. Mulch the mound, once it freezes hard.

Top 10 Summer-Flowering Bulbs

Summer-flowering bulbs take up very little space in the garden so you can squeeze a few into the fullest of borders.

For the best displays, a little forward planning is required. Begin to plant summer flowering bulbs, corms and tubers in borders and containers in spring, just as the weather starts to warm up. As a rule of thumb, most bulbs should be planted at 3 times their depth, but there are a few exceptions so it’s worth checking our planting depth table in our ‘How to grow bulbs’ article.

There are plenty of summer bulbs to choose from, but if you need some inspiration take a look at our top 10 pick of bulbs that flower in summer.

1. Allium

Airy spheres of purple blooms are followed by extraordinary architectural seedheads – if you can resist cutting them for a flower arrangement! Use large groups of Allium ‘Big Impact Mixed’ to bridge the gap between late summer and high summer. Their upright stems will add plenty of structure to sunny, well drained borders. Let lower growing perennials cover the old foliage when it becomes unsightly and dies back later in the season.

2. Oriental Lily

Flamboyant blooms and a sensational fragrance make the oriental lily instantly recognisable. From tall tree lilies to short ground cover lilies, there’s one to suit every garden. The large exotic blooms are surprisingly easy to grow. To avoid pollen stains try double-flowered Lily ‘China Girl’ which is completely pollen free. These stars of the summer border are best grown in containers, waiting in the wings until their big moment. Move them to centre stage as their blooms begin to open and then return them backstage as they fade.

3. Begonia

Tuberous begonias are the most glamorous bulbs for adding a bright colour accent to shady patios. They produce beautiful flowers over an incredibly long period, from summer all the way through to the first frosts in November. These are perfect candidates for a window box or hanging basket – choose a fragrant variety such as Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls Improved’ to hang close to doorways where you can appreciate them at their best.

4. Freesia

A fabulous cut flower, Freesias produce beautifully fragrant blooms on strong arching stems. Freesias are half-hardy and best grown in the greenhouse or conservatory in most parts of the UK, but in very mild areas it’s worth the risk of growing them outside to enjoy these beauties in the garden.

5. Gladiolus

These flamboyant summer bulbs were considered a bit old fashioned, but modern hybrids have brought the gladiolus bang up to date. Take a look at the bright colours and ruffled blooms of Gladiolus ‘Tango’. Their majestic flower stems look fabulous at the back of a border – even better in a vase indoors! If elegant simplicity is more your style, try growing the exquisite species Gladiolus murielae.

6. Polianthes tuberosa

One of the most fragrant summer bulbs you’ll find! Polianthes tuberosa is highly prized as a cut flower for its beautiful stems of waxy blooms. It requires a minimum temperature of 15°C (59°F) so it’s best grown in a heated greenhouse or conservatory. This unusual bulb is not the easiest to grow but it’s well worth the effort once you get a sniff of its extraordinary perfume.

7. Crocosmia

No need to fuss over these fast growing corms – they will quickly multiply and wander through your borders all on their own. The upright, strap-like foliage, and arching stems tipped with starry flowers in red, orange or yellow, makes crocosmia an exotic-looking addition to summer borders. The vibrant blooms also make lovely cut flowers for a fiery coloured flower arrangement.

8. Scadoxus

It’s easy to see why scadoxus is commonly called the ‘fireball lily’. The large spherical flower heads make spectacular cut flowers that will last for up to two weeks in a vase. This unusual summer bulb is definitely one for a greenhouse, conservatory or temporary patio container, as its South African origins make it frost tender. But if you can keep it warm in winter then it’s well worth growing!

9. Bearded Iris

These classic cottage garden tubers are deservedly popular for their beautiful ruffled blooms and sturdy strap-like foliage. Many have a lovely light fragrance too which makes them perfect for adding to summery flower arrangements. With so many colours available, it’s hard to choose just one bearded iris – never mind, they look best planted in groups anyway! To get the best from your bearded iris, choose a sunny, open spot where the tubers can bake in the sun without being shaded by other plants.

10. Nectaroscordum

This unusual relation to the allium family produces bell-shaped flowers suspended on arching stems from the main flowerhead, which creates a beautiful candelabra effect. As the flowers set seed they stand upright on their stems, forming an interesting shuttlecock appearance that looks fabulous in dried flower arrangements. Nectaroscordum siculum makes an interesting feature dotted among rockeries and adds a useful vertical accent to the back of borders. Let it seed about to increase your display each year.

Recently viewed bulb varieties

Summer-flowering bulbs provide some of the biggest, best and most exotic-looking blooms, and spring is the best time to plant them. Not only do they look fabulous growing in borders or containers, but many make wonderful cut flowers too, so you can also enjoy freshly-picked blooms in your home.

You’ll often find these beauties ready-grown and in full bloom at the garden centre during summer, but this is the most expensive way to buy them. With a small amount of early planning you can easily grow them yourself, setting your garden up to be a colourful oasis at a fraction of the price.

So, if you’re itching to get out in the garden or even just to start planning your glorious summer of colour, you’ll be pleased to know that now is a great time to start.

How to grow summer-flowering bulbs

You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy summer-flowering bulbs. Here are some top growing tips:

  • Your bulbs will be sent to you at the perfect time to plant them. When they arrive, soak them in a bucket or tray of water. Doing this will wake them up and give them a good start when planted;
  • Plant frost tender bulbs or tubers, as per their instructions, in large 12in pots with a good quality multipurpose compost. Water them thoroughly and leave them in a bright, frost-free place to grow (a greenhouse, polytunnel or conservatory is ideal). Once shoots and leaves begin to emerge, water whenever the soil dries out. In late May, or after risk of frost has passed, the bulbs can be planted out into the garden. Water them regularly throughout summer. Just before the first frosts, cut back the old growth right down to the ground. Carefully dig up the bulbs, shake off excess soil, and position in a shallow tray in a dry, frost free place for winter. Next spring, plant them again, repeating the process above;
  • Hardy varieties, like crocosmia, gladiolus, lilies and polianthes, can be planted straight outdoors in spring. In the autumn, or after flowering, cut back all of the past season’s growth down to ground level and leave them for winter – they’ll grow back of their own accord the following spring;
  • Picking flowers and deadheading regularly encourages more grow, extending the flowering season.

The best summer-flowering bulbs

If you feel inspired plant summer-flowering bulbs, here’s our pick of the 10 best to plant this spring:

Dahlias

You can’t beat dahlias when it comes to impressive blooms. Choose from a vast array of vivid colours and types, including pompon, windmill, single flowered, cactus flowered and so many more.

Dahlias look great in any kind of planting scheme, suiting both traditional and contemporary gardens. Not only this, but they make brilliant cut flowers too, providing a continuous supply of amazing flowers throughout summer – the more you pick, the more they keep coming!

Grow dahlias in full sun or partial shade, in borders or large containers. Many are bee friendly.

Dahlia details:

  • Height 40cm-1.5m Spread 40cm-80cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Bee-friendly flowers
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Suitable for borders
  • Frost tender

Buy Dahlias →

Begonias

Best grown in pots and hanging baskets, bright-flowering begonias are generally compact or trailing. Producing repeat blooms all summer long, they’re a super summer plant and really pack a punch in bedding displays.

Begonias need to be protected from frost, so plant the bulbs in containers and start them off in a greenhouse or conservatory. In late May, or once risk of frost has passed, plant them out into the garden.

Most thrive in sun or shade, so they’re particularly useful for adding bright blocks of colour to dull spaces. As with all container plants, they need regular watering throughout summer. Once the flowers have faded, dig up the tubers and store for winter in a dry, frost-free place ready to plant again the following spring.

Begonia details:

  • Height 30cm-60cm Spread 30cm-60cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Frost tender

Buy Begonias →

Gladioli

Producing tall stems packed with large, bright ruffled blooms, gladioli make a big impact in the border. They’re also fantastic as cut flowers.

Despite their exotic looks, gladioli are fully hardy. Plant them in close groups directly into borders during spring and leave them to it, they’ll begin to flower from mid-summer onwards.

There’s a huge choice of colours available, and their tall flowering spikes fit well with both traditional and contemporary planting schemes. They’re best grown in mixed borders in full sun, but they can tolerate partial shade.

Gladiolus details:

  • Height 80cm-1.5m Spread 30cm-60cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Suitable for borders
  • Fully hardy

Buy Gladioli →

Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia)

These exotic-looking lilies look brilliant in patio pots or narrow, raised beds. They form an attractive clump of lush foliage, topped with bold funnel-shaped flowers.

Suitable for growing in full sun or partial shade, calla lilies are a great choice for smaller gardens or for growing in containers on patios or balconies. There’s a great range of colours available, and with large, simple flowers, they’re perfect for contemporary styles.

Calla lilies aren’t frost hardy so they need to be brought inside to survive winter. They’re a lovely, modern alternative to traditional summer bedding plants and really easy to grow.

Calla Lily details:

  • Height 30cm-80m Spread 30cm-80m
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Bee-friendly flowers
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Frost tender

Buy Calla Lilies

Lilies are one of the best summer bulbs to grow for fragrance and for use as cut flowers. Producing very large, exquisite flowers repeatedly throughout summer that also attract bees, it’s no wonder they’re so popular.

Lilies come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, varying from short varieties that grow to around 60cm, right up to tree lilies that can reach over 2m tall. Happy in containers, lilies are suitable whether your garden is large or small, growing well in full sun or partial shade.

Fully hardy, these excellent plants can be planted directly outside in spring. Tall varieties do require staking.

Lily details:

  • Height 60cm-2m Spread 30cm-60cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Bee-friendly flowers
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Fragrant flowers
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Fully hardy

Buy Lilies →

Peonies

With large, intricate and often delicately fragrant blooms, peonies put on a show-stopping performance in the garden. What’s more, they’re fully hardy, so you can leave them in the ground during winter and enjoy their flowers every year.

Peonies are easy to grow and tolerate most soil types and aspects. To enjoy them to their fullest, put a support in place over the plant in spring before they get too tall. This can be a set of canes with a mesh of twine webbed between them, or stakes which connect to circular ‘hats’. The stems will grow through the support and the foliage will cover it up so it doesn’t show, but most importantly, the large, heavy flower heads will stand tall and strong.

Peonies flower from early summer onwards and they make excellent cut flowers. You only need a couple of these large blooms mixed with some foliage from the garden to make a really beautiful bouquet. Deadhead them regularly to extend the flowering season. In autumn. After the foliage has turned brown, cut back the old stems right down to the ground.

Peony details:

  • Height 60cm-1.2m Spread 60cm-1.2m
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Fragrant flowers
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Fully hardy

Buy Peonies →

Crocosmias

Reliable, resilient and hardy crocosmias are so easy to grow. They’ll thrive virtually anywhere, be it poor soil, drought, scorching hot sun or shade. If you want effortless colour, it’s hard to go wrong with a crocosmia!

There are various crocosmias to choose from, all producing late-summer flowers in bright, fiery shades. Taller varieties, such as ‘Lucifer’ look great planted in swathes or large groups in borders. Smaller varieties, such as ‘Emily McKenzie’ or ‘Mistral’ are useful for more confined spaces or narrow beds. These are the kind that grow naturally on grassy banks, they’re also great for dry, coastal or gravel gardens.

Crocosmias provide excellent late-summer colour that lasts well in to autumn. They’re great for combining with other late-summer perennials, such as echinacea, rudbeckia or nerines. After flowering, cut the flowering stems and foliage down to ground level. They’re fully hardy, so can be left in the ground over winter.

Crocosmia details:

  • Height 50cm-1.2m Spread 50cm-1.2m
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Bee-friendly flowers
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Fully hardy

Buy Crocosmias →

Polianthes

If you like growing flowers to use in bouquets, look no further than polianthes. Producing tall flowering spikes, they not only provide colour, structure and fragrance in borders, but they make striking cut flowers too.

Polianthes are fully hardy so they can be planted straight into the ground in spring. Flowering in the summer, they require very little maintenance throughout the season and naturalise over the years, producing more flowers each time.

Plant polianthes in sunny borders with rich, free-draining soil. The flowering stems reach up to 80cm in height, so they’re ideal for planting in groups in the middle of the border.

Polianthes details:

  • Height 80cm Spread 80cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Bee-friendly flowers
  • Fragrant flowers
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Fully hardy

Buy Polianthes →

It’s easy to create an impressive, eye-catching display with agapanthus. With large, rounded flower clusters above tall, slender stems, they look fabulous in containers and also have a long vase life when cut.

Whether your garden is large or small, a container filled with agapanthus creates a chic and contemporary look. Flowering from mid-summer onwards, the late flush of colour they provide extends the season just as many other plants are starting to fade.

This versatile plant is well suited to modern styles, but equally fitting in traditional or cottage-style planting schemes. Plant them in groups in full sun or partial shade. They also attract bees.

Agapanthus details:

  • Height 1m Spread 80cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Bee-friendly flowers
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Fully hardy

Buy Agapanthus →

Daylilies

This profuse flowerer provides high-impact colour with continuous blooms that are produced daily throughout summer.

Daylilies, botanically known as hemerocallis, are easy to grow and fully hardy. Thriving in full sun and with excellent drought tolerance, they’re brilliant for sunny mixed borders or large containers.

Daylilies can be planted straight outdoors in spring. They’re hardy so there’s no need to lift them in the winter, simply cut back the faded foliage at the end of the season and they’ll grow back the following summer. They’re happy in most soil types, but they do prefer full sun.

Daylily details:

  • Height 80cm Spread 80cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Fragrant flowers
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Fully hardy

Buy Daylilies →

Planting summer bulbs

What to do

Select bulbs

  • Buy dry bulbs when they’re as fresh as possible. Summer bulbs are usually on sale from early spring onwards, when they’re dormant.
  • Healthy bulbs will feel firm and show no signs of mould or damage. Look for bigger bulbs as they’ll produce bigger blooms.

When to plant

  • Summer bulbs, such as alliums, agapanthus and cannas, should be planted in spring, when the soil is beginning to warm up.
  • The ideal soil temperature is 13°C as in colder soil bulbs will not start to grow and may rot. Aim to plant dry bulbs directly after purchase.
  • Bulbs you have stored over winter should be planted at the end of their dormant season.

Soil type

  • Different bulbs need different soil types but summer bulbs generally like a warm, sunny position. Free-draining soil is important as bulbs are susceptible to rotting.
  • If you have heavy, clay soil dig in one to two buckets of coarse sand per square metre.
  • Adding well-rotted organic matter will also improve drainage.

How to plant

  • Dig individual holes for each bulb or a trench for many bulbs. Place bulbs in the holes without pushing down hard.
  • Make sure the growing point is pointing upwards. Cover with soil and firm.
  • Pot-grown bulbs may be planted directly in their desired position in a border where you want them to flower. This is known as planting ‘in the green’.
  • For these plants make a hole wide and deep enough to allow room for the roots to spread and plant the bulb at the same depth as before.
  • Many summer bulbs are ideal for growing in patio containers, especially tender species. These can then be lifted in winter and stored.

Planting depth and spacing

  • Use the bulb as a guide and plant it two or three times its depth. Space them approximately two to three bulb widths apart.

Lifting and storing

  • Most summer bulbs are not hardy so need to be lifted before the first frost. Bulbs generally prefer to be stored dry.
  • Remove loose soil, carefully pull or cut off dead and dying leaves and leave to dry overnight. Dusting with fungicide will help keep the bulbs healthy.
  • Store the bulbs in dry paper bags or trays of almost dry sand in a frost-free place.
  • A few bulbs need moist conditions and can be kept in slightly damp bark chippings.

Watch video

In this video Carol Klein plants exotic bulbs (Peacock flowers) and tubers (Begonias) in early April for late summer colour.

Bulbs to try

  • Allium christophii – huge, globe-shaped, purple flower-heads
  • Agapanthus ‘Castle of May’ – tall South African plants with deep blue, showy flowers
  • Canna indica – lush green foliage and bright red flowers
  • Lilium ‘Arena’ – impressive, scented, white flowers, with yellow and deep orange stripes
  • Nectaroscordum siculum – large, nodding clusters of pink-cream flowers

With Autumn barely beginning to hit its crimson and gold stride, it may be hard to think about Spring–but to enjoy those tulips, daffodils, and other beautiful bulbs next year, it’s time to get growing!

For a brilliant spring display, tulip and other spring flowering bulbs need to be planted in the fall.

Chilling out:

Spring-blooming bulbs need to be planted in Autumn so they will have time to form strong roots before the ground freezes. The best time to plant them is mid-September through late October when the soil temperature falls below 60°F. This allows roots enough time to develop.

Bulbs need time to get established before winter’s freezing weather sets in, and they need to spend enough time in cool soil temperatures to be properly chilled.”

Good bulbs gone bad…

When buying bulbs, look for ones that are plump and firm; avoid any that are soft, rotted, moldy, dented or nicked.

Although the ideal time for planting bulbs is September and October,
technically bulbs can be planted right up until the ground freezes.

Once purchased, it’s important to get bulbs in the ground as soon as possible to prevent them from drying out. If you can’t plant them right away, be sure to store the bulbs in a cool, dark place and plant them as soon as conditions permit.

Keeping bulbs cool is important: if temperatures during storage exceed 80°F for too long, flower buds can be killed, especially heat sensitive bulbs like tulips.

Well grounded:

Many winter hardy bulbs are left in the ground year after year and can provide years of seasonal color in your landscape. To make the most of your time and money investments be sure to give them a good start. To that end, it’s always best to have a soil test done before adding bulbs to your garden. A pH of 6.0 to 7.0 is optimal for most bulbs. Adding limestone or wood ash can raise pH if needed, while additional sulfur or aluminum sulphate can help lower a too-high pH. Your soil test results will tell you what amendments you need (if any), and give you detailed information on recommended amounts. (See Soil Testing for more information on how to have a soil test done.)

Daffodils benefit from being periodically dug up and divided. Clumps that become overcrowded end up being full of lots of small, undersized bulbs, because the area has become too crowded for bulbs to expand. (Photo by Catherine Horgan)

Fall planted bulbs must be well rooted before the ground freezes, so timing and preparation is key for a successful design.

Where, oh where?

Spring flowering bulbs can cover a lot of ground–literally. They not only bloom in a fabulous range of colors, shapes and sizes, they also thrive in a wide variety of conditions. For a list of bulbs that grow well in our area along with their bloom times, see our Spring Blooming Bulb List.

Consider planting groups of bulbs near entrances and along walkways where they can be enjoyed by visitors and passers by.

As a rule, bulbs grow best when planted in areas that have well-drained soil, where they will receive full sun to light shade. When deciding where to place them, keep in mind that it’s often still cold and bleak when the first spring bulbs break through. Consider planting them where they can be seen from inside the house–that way you can enjoy their sunny disposition without having to experience winter’s lingering chill first hand. Some other prime viewing areas: next to walkways and entry doors, under deciduous trees, in front of evergreens and in open flower beds.

Tall alliums can make a dramatic statement. Planting them behind later sprouting perennials will help hide yellowing foliage. (Photo by Betty Scarlata)

When it comes to color, spring bulbs come in every shade imaginable, from vibrant primary hues to soft pastels–so countless combinations are possible. And since most bulbs only bloom for about 2 weeks, they don’t compete color-wise with flowers that bloom in summer or fall so design away!

For more garden design ideas, see our fact sheet on the Basics of Flower Gardening.

Most bulbs bloom for about 2 weeks or so depending on temperature.

Drift away:

Regardless of where they are sited, bulbs tend to look best when planted in masses or large drifts, not one here and one there. Planting in natural looking clumps also looks better than setting flowers in thin, straight lines. Try planting large numbers of bulbs (200 or more) in those areas that are more than 30 feet from windows and walkways for added punch.

For the best display, plant bulbs in large numbers rather than individually or in straight rows. Buying in bulk can save money and excavating larger areas saves time. (Photo by Margaret Montplaisir)

When planting large numbers of bulbs of the same size, it’s easier to excavate the whole area to the proper depth, instead of trying to dig individual holes. Bulbs can then be laid out more easily, and the soil (and any amendments) can simply be filled in around them. But when planting bulbs in between other plants, or when planting bulbs of different sizes, it might be easier to plant them individually rather than disturbing established plantings.

Faded glory:

One of the biggest consideration when deciding where to plant spring bulbs is how to deal with the yellowing foliage. However, it’s very important that leaves remain on the plant after flowers have finished blooming and not be removed or mowed off until they turn yellow and die back naturally. Those decaying leaves manufacture nutrients which are stored for next year’s growth and bloom and are essential to the plant’s survival. If the foliage is removed too early, the plant loses its ability to “recharge” itself, weakening it, and causing it to eventually die off.

Bulbs like these snow drops can be “naturalized” or planted outside of bed areas. But be sure to plant them in areas that won’t need mowing late spring. (Photo by Catherine Horgan)

While the foliage on smaller bulbs such as snowdrops and squill will fade fairly quickly, the leaves of larger bulbs –like tulips and daffodils — can take several weeks to die back.

Here are some strategies for coping with yellowing bulb foliage:

  • Interplant spring-blooming bulbs with cold-tolerant annuals, such as pansies
  • Use groundcovers such as periwinkle or pachysandra
  • Plant bulbs in between perennials like hostas, daylilies, and ferns
  • Locate bulbs behind taller perennials or shrubs
  • Plant bulbs under low-growing groundcover shrubs like junipers, cotoneasters, or roses

Depth Perception:

Making sure bulbs are planted at the proper depth is key to bulb success, so be sure to check the instructions that comes with each variety of bulb you have purchased. Proper planting depth for each species should be clearly specified.

As a general rule, bulbs are planted 2 1/2 to 3 times the diameter of the bulb itself. This estimate should be adjusted based on the type of soil they are being planted in however, with bulbs set somewhat deeper in sandy soil and somewhat shallower in heavy soils.

Bulbs need time to get established before winter’s freezing weather sets in, and need to spend enough time in cool soil temperatures to be properly chilled. (Photo by Betty Scarlata)

Correct planting depth is key. Shallow planting of tulips and daffodils is a common cause of failure to thrive or return to bloom a second year.

Cold Comfort:

Spring blooming bulbs are hardy and generally do not require protection from the cold. However, 2″ of mulch can be applied after the ground is frozen to protect bulbs from heaving caused by alternate freezing and thawing; and to prevent premature emergence during warm spells in winter. For more info, see MULCH for the HOME GROUNDS

Well…water!

Be sure the soil doesn’t dry out during the drought spells that can occur in fall and early winter –since this is the time when bulbs’ roots are forming.
(Photo by Theodora Wang)

Once your bulbs are tucked snugly into their beds, be sure to water them thoroughly. Watering will help settle the soil and provide needed moisture for the bulbs to start rooting.

Be sure the soil doesn’t dry out during the drought spells that can occur in fall and early winter –since this is the time when bulbs’ roots are forming. Avoid over-watering though, which can cause bulbs to rot.

Bulb Bandits:

Unfortunately, it’s not only winter-weary humans who find spring flowering bulbs highly attractive. Deer, rabbits, voles and other animals love them too and enjoy to dining on the foliage, flowers, and bulbs of many spring bloomers. If critters are a problem in your area, try covering susceptible bulbs with wire mesh screening. This allows the shoots to grow through the holes, while keeping pests out.

Crocus are among the bulbs most likely to be eaten by animals. Other critter favorites include tulips and grape hyacinth; but adding a little protection in the fall and spring can increase your chances for success. (Photo by Betty Scarlata)

There are a number of repellents on the market which can also be effective. Consult your local Cooperative Extension office or our Master Gardener Helpline for up-to-date pest control advice.

Daffodils, which are poisonous, are generally left alone by deer and rodents. Other bulbs that are less likely to be damaged by animals include ornamental onion and squill. Bulbs that are most likely to be eaten by animals include tulips, crocus, and grape hyacinths. To learn the susceptibility of each bulb type, download Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance.

Forcing the issue

Many of the bulbs that are planted outdoors can be made to flower indoors weeks earlier by potting them up in the fall and “forcing” them. The process involves placing newly potted bulbs in a cool (35°-50°F) location for 10 to 15 weeks to allow for root development.

Many bulbs can be potted up and “forced” to bloom earlier. (Photo by Catherine Horgan)

They can then be “forced” or induced to bloom early by bringing them into a warm room where they can begin to grow well ahead of the spring thaw. The most popular spring bulbs for indoor flowering are hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and other narcissi, and crocuses. Others, such as Siberian squill, star of Bethlehem, snowdrops, grape hyacinth, and Dutch and reticulata iris are also attractive and force well. For how to’s, check out FORCING BULBS FOR INDOOR BLOOM

Plant it forward:

Even though spring may seem a long way off right now, a little planning this fall can bring sunny drifts of daffodils and sweeping swaths of crocus to your yard to brighten those chilly spring mornings. So plant yourself –and the rest of us – a sweet spring surprise this fall. You’ll be glad you did!

Few plants are as eagerly anticipated as the flowers that bloom in the spring! Daffodils, tulips, crocus, and the other early bulbs are a welcome change from winter dreariness. To be able to enjoy these blooms in your garden next spring, fall is the time to plant!

For more on planting and caring for Spring Bulbs see:

Spring Flowering Bulbs

SPRING BLOOMING BULBS

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