Transplanting bulbs in spring

Should You Move Bulbs – When And How To Transplant Bulbs In The Garden

Planting spring-blooming flower bulbs in the fall is a great way to add a burst of early season color into the home landscape. Masses of flower bulbs, especially those which naturalize, can add years of interest to the garden. Bulbs like daffodils, muscari, and crocus are all examples of spring bulbs that thrive and often reproduce when planted in ideal locations of the landscape. However, one common issue with these plants results from a lack of bloom.

Luckily, moving flower bulbs may be a simple solution to this problem.

Should You Move Bulbs?

Once planted, many bulbs do not need to be moved. However, in some cases, it will become necessary for bulb transplant. Moving flower bulbs is most often needed when a plant becomes too dense. As bulbs multiply throughout the years, the space needed for adequate root growth of the bulbs diminishes.

One important sign of dense plantings is the lack or decreased number of flowers produced during the bloom period.

While this problem proves troublesome for gardeners, the solution is relatively simple.

When to Transplant Bulbs

The best time to transplant spring bulbs is in summer or fall, once the foliage has sufficiently died back. Flowering spring bulbs gather energy for next year’s blooms through their foliage. Therefore, it is imperative that the plants are allowed to die back to the ground naturally before attempting to move the bulbs.

Once the plants have died back, it is then safe to dig for the bulbs and transplant them into their new growing locations. While moving the bulbs with the foliage intact is possible, it is not recommended.

If you’re in need of moving summer flowering types, like canna or dahlia, wait until the end of fall, again once the foliage has died back. In warmer climates, these can be transplanted to a new location, but in cooler regions this is the time for digging up and storing the bulbs until the following planting season.

How to Transplant Bulbs

The process of transplanting bulbs is relatively simple. When digging for bulbs, always make certain to wear gloves, as some flower bulbs contain toxins that may cause irritation to skin. First, locate the flower bed to be dug. Since the flower bulbs will be dormant, the bulbs may be difficult to locate. Marking the perimeter of the garden bed while the plants are blooming is one way to make the process easier.

As the flower bulbs are dug, gently separate them. This can be done by separating each bulb into multiple pieces or by separating the bulbs into smaller clumps, depending upon the type of bulb being separated.

Once the bulbs have been separated, replant them into the desired well-draining location. Generally, most flower bulbs should be planted at twice the depth as their height. This will ensure the best chance of success as bulbs begin to take root and prepare for the next bloom period.

If you’ve got spring-flowering plants like tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, or paperwhites in pots from the grocery store or blooming in the ground (after a winter chill), you can move them to containers and display them indoors or outdoor.

If you’re new to this, grab the free indoor bulb-forcing calendar here.

Growing Flowering Bulbs in Containers

I love to grow spring-flowering bulbs and have lots of them, and keeping them in containers in the house is another way to soothe my spring fever.

The ones you see pictured above (pink wrappers) came from a variety store in a tiny town nearby and I could not resist.

The price was low and the flowers were ready to burst open. In fact, just a day after bringing them home (adding some water and placing them in the sunny windowsill), they were open.

You might like them just fine in their plastic pots with the crinkly, colorful wrappers, but there’s also the option to repot them—even when they’re blooming—to change it up a bit. Personally, when the plants are this breathtaking, I like to make them the focal point of the display, aiming for a more natural look.

If you don’t want to repot, the super-quick option is to simply slip the plastic pot into a slightly larger container and call it a day.

I’ll give you some ideas for easy ways to add some unique style for potted bulbs like these ones.

Potting and Repotting Flowering Bulbs


Here’s my go-to materials

  • Potted flowering bulbs: tulips, hyacinth, daffodils, paperwhites etc.
    Pick ones that are not yet in bloom but on their way. Or buy bulbs and force them yourself (it’s seriously easy).
  • Flowering or near-flowering bulbs in the ground outdoors.
  • Moss (look for environmentally-friendly choices you approve of).
    You may have some in your yard or get some at a craft or garden shop. Often it’s dry in the bag and you soak it in water to reconstitute it (making it mossy and workable again).

Container ideas

  • Wire baskets, egg baskets
  • Wood crates or other containers painted with chalkboard paint
  • Clay pots
  • Repurposed stuff: old suitcase, boots, dresser drawers, giant food jars, metal lunch box…
  • Old silver-plated teapots, gravy boats, serving dishes


  • Burlap
  • Chicken wire
  • Raffia or other natural ribbon
  • Glass cloches
  • Old-fashioned bird ornaments
  • Bird’s nest, eggs, rabbit ornament (if you like a Spring or Easter theme)
  • Pussywillows and other forced branches like forsythia from the garden

Moving the Plants from One Pot to Another

The goal is to leave the roots as undisturbed as possible and make them believe they haven’t really been transplanted. Much like your kids when you have to move away from the neighborhood.

  1. To prepare, get your destination container or pot ready first.
  2. To remove the plant from its original pot, don’t pull on the foliage. Instead, rest the pot on its side and gently press the sides of the pot. This should start to ease the plant out (unless its super dry and just slides out). Now, hold the plant at the base (near the soil) and gently glide it out of the pot. You are now officially a tulip midwife.
    Are there roots visible? Is the container soil holding firm in its original shape? That’s fine. Leave it just as it is and place it in the new container.When digging up bulbs in spring, just be careful not to damage/touch the bulb or roots.
  3. Plant it at the same depth in the new container and fill in any open areas / air pockets with more container soil.
  4. Decorate as desired and water the soil.

Indoor Flowering Bulb Care

Prior to blooming, I keep my containers in a sunny location, careful never to let the soil dry out. Once blooming, they last a nice long time in indirect light.

Future Blooms

Whether or not you can get future blooms after this first cycle depends entirely on the type of bulb. Unfortunately, most are not sold with tags to give you a clue. However, it’s likely that if the bulbs can be forced again or planted outdoors, there probably is a tag saying so since it’s something to brag about.

Neat Tip for Sharing Bulbs
Barb from Our Fairfield Home and Garden has a great idea for gifts and plant exchanges. She plants a whole bunch of bulbs in the fall in raised beds. The following spring, she digs up the bulbs and donates them. Very nice to receive flowering bulbs that are all ready to bloom!
You can see how she does it here:
Tips for sharing bulbs with friends or for plant exchanges

Enjoy the blooms!

~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛


  • How to Force Flowering Bulbs Indoors for Perfect Timing
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Panting Locat

Where and When to Plant:

Here in East Texas most spring blooming bulbs should be planted between late September and early November in well drained soil. The soil can’t be soggy at any time of the year. They need sun to part shade. A location with only morning sun is good because the flowers last longer if they aren’t in the warmer afternoon sun. Planting under deciduous trees is also ok because the trees loose their leaves in the fall allowing the bulbs to get sun during the winter and spring when they are growing.


Bulbs that naturalize (come back year after year) do not need prechilling. The beautiful Holland type tulips that are so showy in the spring will need to be chilled to bloom well here in Texas. Without the required chilling the bulbs will bloom but the flower stalks will be about 3″ tall. The bulbs need to be stored in a mesh (not paper) bag in the refrigerator (not the freezer!) for 6-8 weeks. Do not store apples in the refrigerator at the same time that the bulbs are chilling. The fruit puts off a gas as it is ripening which will cause the flowers to be deformed. You can expect your chilled bulbs to bloom approximately 8 weeks after planting so if you start chilling your bulbs in mid November they would be ready to plant in mid January and you could expect blooms in mid to late March. Some bulbs are sold prechilled.

Species tulips are a shorter variety of tulips that naturalize here in Texas. They require no prechilling to come back year after year.

How to Plant:

Planting your bulbs in groups shows the flowers to a better advantage. Larger bulbs should be planted in groups of at least 3, smaller bulbs are better with 5 or more in a group. This also makes planting easier-dig one hole large enough for the number of bulbs you are planting. Spacing is up to you but remember, if you plant too close together you will need to dig and divide the bulbs sooner to maintain good flowering. Bulbs should be planted with the pointy end up. They need to be planted 3 times deeper than they are tall. That means that the smaller Ipheion, Grape Hyacinth, and species tulip bulbs will be planted in holes 3-4” deep. The larger daffodil bulbs should be planted in holes 5-6” deep. A neat fact about daffodils-if you don’t plant them deep enough they will use their roots to pull themselves down to the depth they want! When planting naturalizing bulbs (under normal conditions you can expect them to come back every year) it would be good to mix compost or fertilizer into the soil at the base of the bulbs and into the soil when you cover them. Water the bulbs well after planting to settle the soil. Like in the rest of your garden 3-4″ of organic mulch is good for bulbs. It helps maintain moisture in the soil and moderates the soil temperature. Organic mulches (like wood chips) also break down over time into compost which then acts as a slow release fertilizer.

Care After Blooming:

After blooming naturalizing bulbs need to be left with their foliage on. The foliage feeds the bulb to produce the next year’s flowers. You can also deadhead (remove the spent flowers) to help the plant use its energy in flower production. Grape Hyacinths are a notable exception to the deadheading option. They often spread by seed-sometimes popping up in unexpected places. Foliage can be removed when it starts to yellow. Most spring blooming bulbs do not need to be watered in the summer.

Companion Plants:

Daylilies make great companion plantings for daffodils. They leaf out as the bulbs finish blooming and help hide the dying foliage.

Want to wake up to a flower-filled garden? Then get digging now and plant your bulbs! Most require little, if any, maintenance once they’re planted. And hardy bulbs can safely be left in the ground year after year.

For the best results, plant your bulbs according to the package’s planting times. In general, early-spring bulbs — daffodils and snowdrops, for instance — should be in by late summer or early fall. Late-blooming tulips can be planted through November or until the ground freezes.

Can’t get to your gardening immediately? Rich Obal, a horticulturist at Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service in New Brunswick, N.J., suggests removing new bulbs from the bag and storing them in a dry place to prevent mold or mildew (a tray filled with peat moss is a good temporary haven). Also, keep unplanted bulbs in temperatures above 40 degrees F.

Ready, Set, Dig

When scouting your yard for the best place to grow bulbs, look for spots where the soil isn’t constantly damp (excessive moisture can cause them to rot). Avoid areas near your hose or sprinkler system. And plan for height. Small snowdrops, for instance, are ideal for front borders, while giant tulips and allium should be placed toward the back of your garden.

To plant, dig out the soil to the recommended depth and loosen the surrounding dirt to improve drainage and help root development. If the soil is very dry, water so it’s workable. Mix sandy soil with peat moss or leaf compost to fertilize. For claylike soil, add sand or peat moss. Avoid using strong commercial fertilizer or fresh manure.

Place the bulbs firmly into position with the pointed side facing up and follow the package instructions for spacing. (Leaving larger spacing than recommended between your bulbs won’t harm them, but it doesn’t offer the best effect.) Cover the bulbs with soil and water. In cold areas, layer two or three inches of mulch on top. Just be sure to remove the mulch in early spring when the first foliage shoots emerge. “If you don’t clear away the mulch, it generally slows down blooming,” warns Obal.

If you’re preparing a flower bed, dig out the entire area with a shovel. This will ensure that all your bulbs bloom simultaneously. To plant individual bulbs — those with large flowers that make their own showcase or in spots with tree roots that you don’t want to disturb — dig one hole at a time with a trowel or bulb planter.

How far to dig? Each bulb species has its own planting depth. Follow the directions on the bulb packaging or use this rule of “green” thumb: Bury each bulb about three times as deep as its diameter. If you’re planting bulbs in extremely cold areas, go slightly deeper, “but make sure the subsurface area is well-drained,” adds Obal. Measure the depth from the soil’s surface to the shoulder of the bulb.


Bulb After-Care

Most bulbs can be left underground all year or stored inside after they’ve bloomed. After your bulbs have flowered, don’t remove their leaves while they’re still green; always let the foliage die back on its own. Bulbs gain their strength from their foliage, helping them grow and produce new flowers next year. This process continues for weeks after the flowers die and is the most critical part of a bulb’s life cycle. To camouflage withering leaves, try interplanting annuals. If you have long iris stalks, for instance, Obal suggests tying them up to reveal your annuals.

The best time to fertilize existing bulbs is the spring, when they’re sending out new roots. “But be very careful not to overfertilize,” warns Obal. Use compost or a slow-release fertilizer formulated specifically for bulbs, and apply it to the top of the soil.

To keep long-stem tulips and hyacinths hardy, lift up the larger bulbs and replant them the following fall. (If left in the ground, they’ll typically get smaller each year.)

There’s no need to wait until the leaves have turned completely yellow before digging up your bulbs for storage. Roughly 8 to 10 weeks after blooming, place the lifted bulbs with foliage attached in a cool, airy place. When the leaves die, store the bulbs in a basket or box in the garage or basement, and your bulbs will be ready to plant again next fall.

Planting Pointers by Variety

Allium. Blooms in the spring or summer. Most bulbs thrive in full sun (six hours or more of direct sunlight a day) and tolerate partial shade. Like most bulbs, allium requires well-drained soil.

Anemones. Best in full sun or partial shade. Prefers well-drained, enriched soil.

Crocus. This flower marks the arrival of spring and prefers full to partial sun. Early-blooming crocus can be planted right in your lawn. The flowers will bloom and die off before you’ll have to mow. And since most bloom before trees leaf and shade the garden, they can be planted under deciduous trees, says Obal.

Daffodils. This hardy early- to mid-spring bulb thrives in full sun or filtered shade. Tip: If daffodils become overcrowded over the years, dig them up with a fork, divide them, and replant.

Eranthis. Plant these early bloomers in the early fall. Soak the bulbs in water for a few hours and plant with the “eyes” facing up. This bulb, which prefers partial shade, may not bloom the first year.

Galanthus. Also known as snowdrop, this small flower is one of the first to appear in spring — even when snow is on the ground. It’s easy to grow in full sun or partial shade and is great for borders.

Hyacinths. Ideal for bedding. Be sure to wear gloves when planting, however; the bulbs may cause skin irritation. Prefers full sun.

Iris. Depending on whether they’re bulbous or tuberous iris, these can be grown in full sun or partial shade. Plant in well-drained soil.

Muscari. Known as grape hyacinth, these bulbs bloom in early spring. They thrive in full sun or partial shade in well-drained soil.

Scilla. These long-living bulbs grow best in moist, rich soil and in full sun or partial shade.

Tulip. This versatile bulb offers a range of colors and blooms in the early spring. For the most dramatic effect, plant in groups of at least five. Tulips thrive in full sun, but do well in partial shade. For the best bulb growth, “deadhead” the flowers by cutting them for indoor use or as soon as they fade.

By George Weigel/The Patriot-News

Q: I have some alliums I’d like to dig up and move to a bed of other ones I have growing out front. Can I do that now or do I have to wait until fall?

A: Alliums are late-spring-blooming bulbs that go dormant in summer. These can be transplanted, and an ideal time to do that is after they’re done blooming as they’re about to go dormant.

I’d wait at least until the leaves start yellowing. That’s a signal that the bulb is done with most of its “recharging.” The job of the foliage is to take in sunlight and use water and chlorophyll to manufacture the plant sugars that the bulb stores to grow and bloom next year. Cut the foliage too soon and you short-circuit this recharging.

You can wait until fall to make the move, but the down side of that is you won’t know exactly where the bulbs are. By then, the foliage will have browned out and wilted away. So unless you mark the site, you could accidentally dig into the bulb and kill it.

By digging right before the foliage completely browns out, you know exactly where the bulbs are. To move them, dig up the whole bulb and replant immediately at the same depth in the new location (ideally about two-and-a-half times as deep as the bulb’s length). Cut off the foliage before replanting. No need to water or fertilize for now.

Transplanting forced bulbs to garden

Q. I bought several small pots of flowering dwarf iris, crocus and mini-daffodils from the grocery store in February. What do I do with them after they flower?

A. These are all hardy bulbs in the Midwest and are normally planted outside in fall to bloom in early spring. This normal cycle of growth is disturbed when they are forced to bloom indoors in winter. Although many people discard them after they bloom, some gardeners treat them in the following fashion in the hopes they might bloom again outside in their gardens. Keep the plants in bright light and continue to water as needed. Apply a very dilute 5-10-5 fertilizer twice a month. Allow the foliage and flower stems to yellow completely before removing them. In spring, transplant the small bulbs to a sunny, well-drained location in your garden that does not require daily watering. Mark the spots so they will not be disturbed during their summer dormancy. Apply another dose of fertilizer in the fall. If they fail to come up the following spring, you can feel free to dig up the bulbs and discard them.

How to Transplant Bulbs in the Spring

Bulbs are usually transplanted in the fall, however, this doesn’t mean you can’t transplant them in the spring. If possible, transplant your bulbs early in the spring, as soon as the ground is soft enough for you dig them out, especially if they are spring blooming bulbs. If your bulbs do not grow or bloom the spring you transplant them, or that summer, they should do so the next year.

Cut off all the old foliage if you didn’t do it already in the fall. If new foliage has begun to grow, leave it on and transplant the bulbs with it on.

Estimate how deep the bulbs are below the ground, which depends on what kind of plant they are and how long they have been planted. Small bulbs such as snowdrops are planted about 3 inches from the surface, while large bulbs such as narcissusi are planted 8 inches from the surface. Consider also that the bulbs may be a couple inches deeper than when they were originally planted, especially after many years.

Dig the bulbs out using a garden fork, trowel or shovel, being careful not to harm the bulbs. For the first bulb of its kind, dig a bit deeper than you estimated in Step 2. Dig a circle around the plant and then begin to pull it up in several places to lift the bulb out of the soil. Use the depth of the first bulb to help you determine how deep to dig the others of its kind.

Shake off excess dirt and remove clumps with your hands. If you notice your bulbs are big and have other bulbs attached to one another, this is a good time to divide the bulbs. Simply remove bulbs from each other with your hands.

Replant the bulbs immediately. Remember that smaller bulbs are planted closer to the surface and larger ones are planted deeper. If the soil is not well-draining, mix in some compost before planting. Always point the tip upward and backfill the soil and tamp it down to remove any voids. Water the bulbs well.

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