Tulip bulbs after blooming

Tips For Getting Tulips To Rebloom

Tulips are a finicky flower. While they are graceful and beautiful when they bloom, in many parts of the country, tulips may only last a year or two before they stop blooming. This can leave a gardener wondering, “Why do my tulips bloom for several years and then go away?” or “Will tulips come back the next year if I plant them?” Keep reading to learn about what causes non flowering tulips and steps you can take to get tulips to bloom every year.

Reasons for Non Flowering Tulips

The overwhelmingly most common reason why tulips leaf out but don’t bloom is simply that the environment needed for tulips to bloom every year is very specific. Tulips evolved in the mountains where it is often dry and there are hot summers and cold winters. Tulips planted in our gardens may not get this exact environment and they have a hard time forming a flower bud without it.

Another less likely possibility for non flowering tulips is a lack of nutrients. All flower bulbs, not just tulips, need phosphorus in order to form flower buds. If your soil is lacking phosphorus, your tulips will not bloom every year.

Steps to Encourage Tulips to Bloom Every Year

First thing to consider when planting tulips is to realize that no matter how hard you try, you may simply not live in an area where tulips will last long. You may not want to go through all of the work that it will take to possibly get your tulips to rebloom. In many areas, gardeners simply treat tulips as annuals and it is okay if you decide to do this too.

If you decide to try to get your tulips to rebloom year after year, the most important things you can do is choose the right location to plant your tulips. The location MUST be well drained and in full sun. The more intense the sun the better.

Do not plant tulips near house foundations, driveways or other concrete forms if you live in slightly warmer climates. All spring blooming bulbs need a certain amount of cold to form flower buds, but this is especially important to tulips. If you live in USDA zone 5 or higher, concrete forms can actually keep the tulip bulbs warmer in the winter which will keep them from forming flower buds.

Consider planting your tulips in mounds. Tulip bulbs planted in mounds will be in soil that is better drained than the surrounding soil. This dry soil will help tulips bloom.

Plant only old fashioned tulips. While the newer hybrids are very spectacular, they are far less likely to rebloom from year to year. The old fashions tulips (heirlooms) are more forgiving when it comes to getting the right environment and are more likely to bloom year after year.

Planting the tulips bulbs to the right depth will also help keep your tulips blooming annually. You should plant the tulip three times deeper than it is tall.

Let the tulip leaves die back naturally. The leaves are how the plant stores enough energy to form the flower bulb. Since tulips have a hard enough time forming flower bulbs, they need all the energy they can get. It also helps to snip off faded tulip blossoms as soon as you can. Tulips that try to produce seeds will have less energy for forming next years flower.

Last but not least, fertilize your tulip bulbs annually with a phosphorus rich fertilizer. This will help combat the less likely reason for non flowering tulips and will help give a little extra boost to tulips that may be on the edge in terms of being able to produce flowers from year to year.

Tulips are a popular floral product and a big seller for florists, especially in the spring when huge quantities of the flowers are imported from Holland. The flowers come in a wide variety of colors and are a particularly favorite choice for spring wedding bouquets. Tulips grow from seeds or bulbs. Nature does its job in spreading the seeds that form into the bulbs that become part of the flowering plant.

Seeds Reproduce

Tulips Like other plants, tulips must disperse seeds for the flower to germinate and grow. The ways in which the seeds are spread affect how well tulips reproduce in both quantity and quality. Tulip seeds are dispersed by several different methods in nature. Once scattered, the seeds then germinate, growing into a bulb. Tulips need well-drained soil in a spot where they will get plenty of sunlight to grow. Adding sand to the soil provides for better drainage. Once tulip bulbs begin to multiply, you can pull off the smaller young bulbs from near the root of mature flower bulbs and replant them to get more tulips.

Tulip Bulbs

Although you can grow tulips from either bulbs or seeds, bulbs produce flowering plants faster. A tulip bulb produces a plant that will usually bloom the following year. Tulip seeds take only a few months to germinate, but it can be several years before the plant bears flowers. The reason is that a tulip seed can take up to five years to develop into a bulb.


Tulip seeds are found inside the seedpod of the flower. Just like other plants, pollination needs to occur for the seeds to form. A tulip is a self-pollinating plant, meaning that the flower can transfer pollen from the anther to the stigma without a pollinator. The plant is also a cross-pollinating flower relying on insects, the wind, man or animals to carry pollen from one tulip bloom to another. Once the flower of a tulip plant dies off, you can extract the seeds from the pod to plant in the fall. If you allow the plant to go to seed after it blooms, the pod will eventually turn brown and crack open.

Nature’s Role

The wind is the most common way in which tulip seeds are spread. Even a mild wind can easily carry the flat, light seeds a distance. Tulip seeds also stick to the fur of animals. Seeds often take root where they drop. Birds are responsible for spreading tulip seeds as well. Some birds eat the seeds, which then pass out in the bird’s droppings. Other birds carry the seeds to new places on their feathers.

When To Dig Up Tulips: How To Cure Tulip Bulbs For Planting

Tulips are special – ask any gardener who grows the bright, beautiful blossoms. That’s why it’s no surprise that the care requirements for tulip bulbs are different than for other spring bulbs. There are over 150 different species of tulip, each with its own charms. Many are perennial, and the bulbs can be harvested every year. Digging up tulip bulbs means storing tulip bulbs until you replant them. If you want to learn about storing tulip bulbs and how to cure tulip bulbs, read on.

Do You Have to Dig Up Tulip Bulbs?

No law requires gardeners to dig up tulip bulbs each year, or at all. In fact, most bulbs prefer to stay in the ground, and, left in place, rebloom the following year. Gardeners only dig up tulip bulbs when the plants seem less vigorous and offer fewer flowers, which can indicate overcrowding.

If you feel that your tulips aren’t doing as well as they did last year, dig them up. But before you do, find out when to dig up tulips. It is better not to dig bulbs up at all then to dig them up at the wrong time.

When to Dig Up Tulips?

When to dig up tulips is just as important as how to dig them up. Digging tulips prematurely can kill them. If you want to dig up tulip bulbs, don’t be in a hurry. Even through the plants lose visual appeal once the flowers start to fade, do not get out the shovel yet.

Tulips flower in spring and, by early summer, their bright blooms are wilting. You can go ahead and deadhead the unsightly blooms, but wait until the foliage yellows to dig up bulbs.

A tulip bulb contains not only the tiny plant, but also all the nutrition that the plant needs to make it through the winter and bloom the following spring. Once tulips finish flowering, they use their leaves and roots to gather nutrients and fill up the storage containers with supplies.

Digging the bulb up too early means that the bulbs will not have had a chance to replenish their nutrient supplies. Only dig out the bulbs when you see the leaves of the plants turning yellow and wilting.

Digging Up and Curing Tulip Bulbs

Be careful when you dig up your bulbs. Use a hand trowel to dig a trench about 8 inches (20 cm.) deep around your tulip plant. Make the trench several inches larger than the plant to prevent hurting the bulbs. With your fingers, lift out the bulbs and brush off the dirt, then remove dead foliage with a scissor or pruner.

Curing tulip bulbs is not difficult. If you want to learn how to cure tulip bulbs, simply fill a box or plastic container with sand or peat. Press each bulb into the material until about three-quarters of it is beneath the surface.

Don’t let the bulbs touch each other and do not add water. Place the box in an area with a temperature between 60 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 18 C.). You can use a protected outdoor area or the lower shelf of the refrigerator. The key is not to allow much sunshine into the area you are storing tulip bulbs.

Leave the box in the cool area until autumn. That’s how to cure tulip bulbs. In fall, separate the bulbs, if necessary, and plant them in a bed enriched with organic compost before the first frost. Water them regularly until winter arrives and they go dormant.

Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Flowering bulbs like daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and crocus are some of the earliest flowers to appear in gardens each year, some starting to bloom as early as January. Many will bloom and multiply for years with minimal care, while others are best planted for one season’s show of color in our hot climate. Bulbs can be planted in flower beds, in lawns, around trees, or grown in pots or window boxes.

Daffodils naturalized under trees, blooming in late winter.
Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

The term “bulb” is commonly used to refer to true bulbs and other bulb-like structures such as corms, tubers, tuberous roots and stems, and rhizomes. Bulb-like structures store food to ensure the plant’s survival during unfavorably cold or droughty weather.

Spring bulbs flower from late winter to early summer, depending on species. After bloom is finished, they continue to grow and store food for a period of time before dying back to ground level and becoming dormant through the summer and into fall. Spring-flowering bulbs start to grow roots again in the fall and winter to prepare for the following spring bloom. They are planted in the fall or early winter in South Carolina.

Planting Bulbs

Bulbs grow best in full sun or part shade, but flowers will last longer if they do not receive midday sun. Most early flowering bulbs can be planted under deciduous trees since the bulbs will be going dormant by the time the trees provide heavy shade.

Good drainage is essential for spring-flowering bulbs. If drainage is a problem you can improve it by mixing 2 to 3 inches of organic matter such as shredded pine bark or compost into the beds 10 to 12 inches deep. Raised beds or drainage tiles can also help solve drainage problems.

It is best to apply fertilizer and lime according to the results of a soil test. The soil pH for most bulbs should be between 6 and 7.

It is not necessary to fertilize bulbs that are planted for only one season’s flowering. Permanent bulb plantings should be fertilized by one of two methods in the absence of a soil test. The first method is to mix a slow-release complete fertilizer according to label recommendations into the rooting area at planting in the fall. The second method is to mix bone meal in the rooting area at planting time with an application of quick-release fertilizer at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet in the fall. Repeat the application of 10-10-10 as soon as you see shoots emerging in the spring.

Purchase bulbs while supplies are good during September or October, but wait to plant until cooler weather. Choose firm bulbs without mold or bruising. Store bulbs in a cool area below 60 °F until planting. Plant daffodils in October or November, but wait to plant other spring-flowering bulbs until the soil temperature at planting depth stays below 60 °F. In coastal areas, most bulbs should be planted in late December or early January.

Most bulbs require a 12- to 16- week chilling period to produce flowers. Coastal gardeners can ensure spring blooms by refrigerating bulbs in ventilated packages until planting. Avoid storing fruit near the bulbs, since fruit-produced ethylene gas can prevent blooming. When bulbs do not receive enough chilling, they bloom close to the ground, on very short stems. Some bulb suppliers sell bulbs that have already been given a chilling treatment.

In general, bulbs are planted three to four times as deep (measured from the base of the bulb) as the width of the bulb. Space bulbs in bed according to size. Large bulbs should be 3 to 6 inches apart, small bulbs 1 to 2 inches. For best appearance, plant bulbs in masses.

Cover the bed with 2 to 3 inches of mulch after planting. Mulches insulate the soil, maintain even soil moisture and prevent mud from spattering the flowers.

Normal rainfall usually provides enough moisture for spring-flowering bulbs, but in a hot or dry spring, additional water will help to prolong blooming.

Many bulbs normally send up leaves during late fall and winter. No special protection is necessary.

Bulb Care

In the spring, remove the flowers of tulips and daffodils after they fade to prevent seed formation. Leave the leaves on the plant for at least six weeks after bloom is finished or until they turn brown. This allows the energy from the leaves to build up the bulb for next year’s bloom. If you object to the appearance of yellowing leaves, try interplanting bulbs with perennials or summer annuals for camouflage. Be sure not to dig so deeply as to damage the bulbs.

Many bulbs eventually become overcrowded and must be divided and replanted for best effect. Wait to dig bulbs until the foliage has turned yellow and withered. Divided bulbs can be replanted immediately or stored in a dry, cool area for replanting in the fall. Discard any bulbs that appear diseased.


For more information on insect problems of flowering bulbs, see HGIC 2104, Flowering Bulb Insect Pests.

A common and frustrating problem of bulbs is failure to bloom. This can have several causes. Bulbs may rot in soils that stay wet for a long time. Good drainage is essential. Bulbs may stop blooming if they become overcrowded or shaded too heavily. Sparse blooms on daffodils can be caused by planting too shallowly. If leaves are cut off too soon in spring, the bulb may not store enough food to bloom the following year. Many varieties of bulbs will not produce flowers a second year in Southern climates.

Animals often dig and eat tulip and crocus bulbs during the winter. They rarely eat daffodil bulbs. The only sure way to protect bulbs from animals is to enclose the bulbs in wire mesh when planting.


Daffodils (Narcissus species and hybrids) are the most successful of the popular spring bulbs for naturalizing in the South. In general, jonquil hybrids, tazetta hybrids, poeticus and species daffodils will grow reliably throughout South Carolina. Choose cultivars of large-flowered, trumpet, double and late-blooming daffodils carefully. Many will not perform well in warmer parts of the state.

Plant daffodils in midautumn in well-drained soil where they will receive at least six hours of sun per day while in leaf. Plant daffodils 6 to 8 inches deep, less for smaller species bulbs. Space the bulbs from 3 to 6 inches apart, based on size.

Jonquil Daffodils: Many people call almost any small yellow daffodil a jonquil. However, jonquils are a particular class of daffodils descended from the species Narcissus jonquilla. This group of daffodils typically has small, yellow flowers held in clusters of two to six sweetly fragrant blooms per stem and slender rush-like leaves. Excellent jonquil cultivars include the following:

  • Bell Song’ is a late-blooming white cultivar with a rose pink cup. Grows 12 inches tall.
  • ‘Baby Moon’ is an intensely fragrant lemon-yellow miniature that grows 8 inches tall. It blooms midseason.
  • ‘Beryl’ is a 8- to 12- inch miniature with pale yellow swept-back petals. Its short golden cup is edged with orange.
  • ‘Pipit’ is a long-blooming,12- inch cultivar with a yellow and white cup.
  • ‘Quail’ is golden-yellow with deeply overlapping petals and a well-defined cup.
  • ‘Sundial’ has fragrant golden-yellow, saucer-shaped blooms with a deep golden flat cup. It grows 8 inches tall.
  • ‘Sweetness’ is a yellow hybrid which usually comes with one bloom per stem. The fragrant blooms are about 2 inches in diameter.
  • ‘Trevithian’ is an exceptionally fragrant deep yellow that blooms early and increases well.
  • ‘Waterperry’ has white petals framing a cup of light yellow that blushes to peachy-pink at maturity. It achieves best color in partial shade. Grows 12 inches tall.

Tazetta Daffodils: Many people call this group of daffodils “narcissus,” although properly that name refers to all daffodils. Tazettas bloom prolifically with tight clusters of four to eight or more small flowers in mid-to late winter. Most have a very intense fragrance. Many tazettas, especially the paperwhites, are used for indoor forcing since they do not require a chilling period. This also makes them ideal for growing outdoors in warmer areas of South Carolina. Some tazettas are hardy only in coastal areas, while others will grow throughout the state.

  • ‘Avalanche’ is an excellent naturalizer that has been grown since the 1700s as ” Seventeen Sisters.” It grows 16 inches tall with clusters of up to 20 flowers with white petals and yellow cups.
  • Chinese Sacred Lily (N. tazetta var. orientalis) is hardy only in coastal areas. It is vigorous, with white petals, deep yellow cups and a sweet fragrance.
  • ‘Cragford’ has deeply fragrant clusters of rounded blooms with white petals and small red-orange cups. It grows 14 inches tall.
  • ‘Erlicheer’ is one of the best double-flowering daffodils for the South. This vigorous cultivar has clusters of 15 to 20 creamy white and gold fragrant flowers per 12- to 14- inch stem.
  • ‘Geranium’ grows to 16 inches with three to five flowers per stem with white petals with an orange-red cup. This very fragrant cultivar perennializes well and blooms late midseason.
  • ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ is popular for forcing indoors but will grow outdoors on the coast. Yellow petals frame orange cups with a fruity fragrance. It grows to 12 inches.
  • ‘Minnow’ is a 6- inch miniature tazetta with clusters of light yellow blooms.

Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’
Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Poets Narcissus: This is one of the few late-blooming daffodils that do really well in warm climates. Poets narcissus will also tolerate damp soil. They have broad, pure white petals with a tiny cup with a green center and a rim of bright orange or red. They are intensely fragrant, with a characteristic spicy scent.

  • ‘Actaea’ has a striking yellow eye rimmed with red. Grows to 18 inches.
  • Pheasant’s eye (N. poeticus var. recurvus) is an old cultivar with creamy white petals and an orange cup. It is very late-blooming.

Species Daffodils: Several of the wild ancestors of our modern large-flowered daffodils are very well adapted-to growing in the South. They can often be seen naturalized near long-gone home sites.

  • N. jonquilla is the true jonquil with two to three richly scented, deep yellow flowers per stem late in the season. It grows 6 inches tall.
  • N. gracilis has delightfully fragrant yellow flowers with tiny, yellow-green eyes. This late bloomer grows 10 inches tall.
  • Single Campernelle (N. x odorus) is a very old cultivar with two to three golden, fragrant flowers per stem. It grows 12 inches tall.
  • Double Campernelle or Queen Anne’s Double Jonquil (N. x odorus plenus) is an unusual old double with small, fragrant, deep yellow blossoms that are very full.
  • Lent Lily (N. pseudonarcissus) is early-blooming with long trumpets and forward-swept petals that give it an informal, wild look. The flower color varies from cream to deep yellow.

‘Scarlet O’Hara’
Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Large-Flowered Daffodils: These daffodils are recommended as reliable perennials for the South include: ‘Accent,’ ‘Barret Browning,’ ‘Carbineer,’ ‘Carlton,’ ‘Ceylon,’ ‘Duke of Windsor,’ ‘Falstaff,’ ‘Fortune,’ ‘Gigantic Star,’ ‘Ice Follies,’ ‘Mount Hood,’ ‘Mrs R.O. Backhouse,’ ‘Saint Patrick’s Day’ and ‘Scarlet O’Hara’. Large daffodils should be divided and crowded bulbs thinned every three or four years to maintain vigorous blooming.


Tulips can usually only be counted on for a single season of color in South Carolina. They are treated like annual flowers, dug and discarded after they have bloomed in the spring. To ensure spring-flowering in Central and Coastal South Carolina, refrigerate bulbs from the time of purchase until planting in November to late December. Plant tulip bulbs 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart.

Hybrid tulips are divided into a number of groups based on form and bloom time. The best for South Carolina gardens include:

Single Late Tulips: These tulips are one of the best groups for growing in warm climates. They have long-strong stems with deep, cup-shaped blooms in a wide range of colors. They grow between 14 and 30 inches tall. This group includes tulips formerly classified as Darwins and cottage tulips. Recommended cultivars include ‘Halcro’ (vibrant red); ‘Queen of Night’ (deep dark maroon); ‘Renown’ (rose-pink); ‘Menton’ (apricot-pink with inside of poppy red); ‘Maureen’ (pure white); ‘Makeup’ (ivory white with red edge); ‘Temple of Beauty’ salmon-rose); and ‘Hocus Pocus'(yellow-tipped pink).

Darwin Hybrid: These tall tulips have the largest blooms of all tulips on strong stems in mid-spring. Good varieties for South Carolina include: ‘Apeldoorn’ (red); ‘Golden Apeldoorn’ (yellow); ‘Olympic Flame’ (red streaked with yellow); ‘Parade'(dark red with black base edged yellow); ‘ Pink Impression’; and ‘Daydream'(orange and yellow).

Lily-Flowered: These tulips have pointed blooms with arched petals on strong stems in mid-season. Excellent varieties include ‘West Point’ (yellow), ‘White Triumphator’ (white); ‘Red Shine’ (red); ‘Mona Lisa’ (red and white); and ‘Marilyn'(white streaked rosy-pink).

Species Tulips: A few species tulips are from warm climates and don’t need a cold period to flower. The following will naturalize in the South.

  • T. bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ has small, star-like lilac-pink flowers with a yellow heart.
  • Lady Tulip (T. clusiana) has flowers that look like a peppermint stick. The red and white flowers on 12- to 14- inch stems open in the sun to form a star.
  • Tulipa eichleri has big, red and yellow striped flowers with pointed petals. This vigorous tulip flowers in early spring at 10 to 12 inches tall.
  • T. saxatilis has mauve-pink flowers with yellow bases on 12 to 14 inch stems. This tulip needs poor soil, moderate winters and hot summers.
  • T. batalinii has small, lightly fragrant flowers in pinkish red, lemon, apricot or peach. It grows to 6 inches tall.


Few flowers can surpass the extensive color range and fragrance of hyacinths. Hyacinths can be left in the ground to multiply in the upper Piedmont, but flower size will decline as the bulbs multiply. If you want to have large flowers every year, dig the bulbs after the leaves wither and store to replant, or purchase new bulbs each fall. Roman hyacinths(H. orientalis albulus) have smaller flowers but are more persistent.

Hyacinth ‘White Pearl’
Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Hyacinths will need six to eight weeks of refrigeration in order to bloom in coastal areas. Wait to plant hyacinths until the soil temperature stays below 60 °F. This could be late October or November in the upper Piedmont to late December or early January in Coastal South Carolina. Plant hyacinth bulbs in full sun 3 to 6 inches apart 4 to 6 inches deep.


Crocus are one of the earliest-flowering spring bulbs. Many begin blooming in late winter. Plant crocuses in full sun or light shade in November, 3 inches deep and 3 to 4 inches apart. Separate overcrowded clumps and replant every few years after the foliage begins to wither.

The showy, large-flowered Dutch crocus do not naturalize as well as some of the earlier-flowering crocus species and cultivars. Excellent crocus for growing throughout South Carolina include: Cloth of Gold Crocus (C. angustifolius), Snow Crocus (C. chrysanthus), Tommies (Crocus tommasinianus) and their cultivars.

Other Bulbs

Irises (Iris sp.): The small yellow Danford Iris (I. danfordiae) and the blue Iris reticulata are rarely perennial in South Carolina but are beautiful, early, jewel-like flowers. They bloom on 6-inch stems in early spring. Dutch iris (I.x hollandica) grow to 20 inches tall and thrive in soil that becomes dry and warm in summer. The flowers have an elegant, airy form. They are available in several shades of blue, white, purple and yellow.

Ornamental Onions (Allium species): These beautiful relatives of onions have small flowers in globular clusters that range from just an inch wide to over 8 inches across. The flower colors range from white to bright yellow, lavender, blue and deep magenta. Some are less than a foot tall, while others can grow to 4 feet tall or even more. Some of the best alliums for the South are the Naples onion (A. neopolitanum), the drumstick allium (A. sphaerocephalon), Allium ostrowkianum and the star of Persia (A. christophii). All bloom in late spring.

Anemone (Anemone species): The two anemones commonly grown from bulbs (actually small tubers) are Grecian windflowers (Anemone blanda) and poppy anemones (Anemone coronaria). The low-growing, early-blooming windflowers are blue, white or pink. They grow best in the Upstate. Poppy anemones have larger crimson, violet, pink or white flowers. They may need to be replanted every few years, since the foliage emerges in fall and is sensitive to hard freezing. Soak anemone tubers overnight before planting.

Spanish Bluebell (Endymion hispanica): This is a late spring-flowering bulb for naturalizing in woodsy areas. It bears tall flower spikes of blue, pink or white. This species will thrive throughout South Carolina.

Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum): This easy bulb actually blooms in mid-to late spring. Small, white, bell-shaped flowers tipped with green are borne on each 20-inch stem. They are good for naturalizing and are one of the few bulbs that will grow in damp soil. Snowflakes are often called snowdrops, but unlike true snowdrops (Galanthus species), they grow well in hot areas.

Grape Hyacinths
Joey Williamson, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Grape Hyacinths (Muscari species): The fragrant purple flower clusters resemble tiny clusters of grapes. Grape hyacinths are easy to grow, and naturalize quickly. They are early-blooming and are often interplanted with other spring bulbs. Most grow to about 6 inches. Blue bottles, or starch hyacinths (Muscari neglectum) and feather hyacinths (M. comosum plumosum) grow especially well in the South.

Designing with and planting spring blooming bulbs


Fall planted bulbs have arrived in Wisconsin garden centers, bringing dreams of spectacular spring color to gardeners across the state. Planting tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, allium and more in the cool autumn soil is a tradition for many Wisconsin gardeners, promising a stunning and breathtaking show of color once winter’s snow have melted away.

What we labor to plant now in fall rewards us with many weeks of color beginning in March and lasting through June. With proper planning and selection, it’s possible to extend the spring blooming season for several months.

Most fall planted bulbs are best planted in masses and swaths of color for a huge impact. Avoid planting in single rows unless you are seeking an intentional, formal and sparse look.

A fun way to plant fall bulbs is to layer them in a single large hole. Layering means planting bulbs of different varieties in the same hole, but at different depths. For example, plant large allium deeply, then cover with an inch or two of soil, followed by a layer of daffodil bulbs. Cover those with soil, then add a fringe of grape hyacinths or crocus to complete the layered planting. The result is an ongoing bouquet of bloom and complementing foliage that last for weeks during the spring season.

As a general rule, fall planted bulbs should be planted with the pointed side facing up. Planting depth should be about 2 to 3 times as deep as the bulb is in size. Generally, this means larger bulbs should be planted 6 to 8 inches deep, while smaller bulbs should be planted 2 to 4 inches into the soil.

Fall planted bulbs include many that come as a surprise to gardeners. Here are several of my favorites.


Many gardeners purchase potted allium from garden centers in spring and summer, unaware that these are actually inexpensive, fall planted bulbs during the autumn season. You’ll get a much bigger bang for your buck waiting for bulbs to plant in masses, rather than single potted plants.

You will also find a much better selection during the fall bulb season. There are dozens of varieties of large allium offered for sale at most garden centers. These range from giant, basketball sized blooms to miniature varieties perfect for borders and rock gardens. There are also the incredible and unusual hair alliums that bloom in maroon and green with wild, hair like growths.

Crown Imperial

These garden giants that grow 3 to 4 feet in height feature a pineapple like crown of foliage at the tip of a thick stalk. Beneath the crown, masses of large, bell shaped flowers in red, yellow or orange are displayed. A spectacular specimen plant, its mild, skunk like odor is effective at deterring rabbits and deer from the spring garden.

The favorite of many gardeners, tulips come in an endless array of shapes, colors and sizes. Select a variety of tulips with different bloom seasons to extend the color from April into June. Tulips are divided into bloom seasons, normally indicated on the package. You will find early tulips, mid season tulips as well as late season bloomers.

There are many varieties to choose from. Some of my favorites are the double flowering, or peony flowering tulips, as well as the lily flowering tulips that resemble blooming lilies with their long, pointed petals.

Another traditional favorite, daffodils come in much more than classic yellow. Extend your daffodil dreams by including daffodils in pink, green, orange and bi-colored blooms that will become the centerpiece of the spring bloom season.

The old fashioned Dutch hyacinths are among the most fragrant plants in the garden, with spikes of densely packed blooms emitting a rich scent throughout their bloom season. Hyacinths come in many colors including pastels, as well as rich, deep blue, purple, pink, white, orange and more.

Autumn Crocus

Unusual in that this fall planted bulb blooms just two weeks after planting, autumn crocus features massive blooms that may reach 4 to 6 inches across and come in mostly double flowering forms. Resembling spring blooming crocus, only much larger, the bulbs bloom quickly once planted in the soil.


Several types of irises are planted in the fall, including bulb form irises, as well as the traditional rhizomes of bearded iris, both miniature and tall. Bulb irises, often dwarf, are among the earliest blooming bulbs in the spring, emerging in March and April. Dwarf bearded iris and tall bearded iris are planted at the soil surface, blooming beginning in May and lasting into June.

Find Rob Zimmer online at www.robzimmeroutdoors.com. On Facebook at www.facebook.com/RobZimmerOutdoors.

Q&A on planting bulbs


Here are some tips on planting and caring for bulbs from Jenny San Filippo, Mike Lizotte and Jeff Ellenberger.

Q. When is the best time to plant spring flowering bulbs?

A. In fall when temperatures cool to the 60s during the day consistently and before the ground is frozen solid. Typically that can range from September to November here.

Q. How should they be planted?

A. The general rule is that planting depth is 1 to 2 times the height of the bulb. Tulips are usually planted 6 to 8 inches deep, but a small bulb like a crocus would be 3 to 4 inches deep.

Q. Do they need special soil?

A. The main requirement for bulbs is that they are in well-drained soil. To determine if an area is well-drained, make sure that after it rains, water doesn’t pool in the area for more than an hour.

Q. What about sun?

A. Spring blooming bulbs like tulips and daffodils can tolerate areas that are shaded by trees in summer because when they are up and blooming, leaves aren’t on the trees. They also can do well in partially sunny locations, but they do need at least four hours of sun. There are some bulbs like Siberian Squill and fritillaria that can take more shade.

Q. Should bulbs be fertilized?

A. When you plant them you can add a fertilizer made for bulbs or an all-purpose fertilizer. In spring when the leaves come up, you can add a slow-release fertilizer.

Q. What do you do if squirrels dig up your plants?

A. There are some repellents that help. Some gardeners put hardware cloth over the bulbs in fall and then pull it off in spring before they start to emerge.

Q. How do you tell the top from the bottom of a bulb?

A. They should be planted pointed side up. Some bulbs are pretty obvious. But some, like crocus, are harder to tell as they are more round and flat. If you’re ever in doubt, plant the bulb on its side. The bulb will reach for the light and turn itself around.

Q. Do they need watering?

A. You can water them when you plant them, but they don’t require watering in fall or winter. In spring, we generally have enough rain. But if you have very warm temperatures when they are blooming, they do appreciate a little water so their blooms last longer.

Q. How do you avoid snow damage?

A. You can play it safe by planting bulbs that bloom later in spring.

Q. Are there bulbs for different temperature zones?

A. Yes. Make sure you plant bulbs for your growing area.

Q. How often do you have to replant them?

A. Different varieties do multiply, but some varieties may not return for various reasons. You may need to replenish your bulbs about every other year.

Q. If bulbs multiply, when can they be divided?

A. In spring or next fall. If you want to move them or divide them in spring, do so after they bloom. This is a good time, as you know where they are because the foliage is present. If you want to move them in fall, be sure to mark the area where they are so you can find them.

Q. When should foliage be cut back?

A. Wait until the leaves turn yellow and can be easily removed from the ground without tugging or pulling. When the foliage turns yellow or brown, that’s when the plant is gathering energy from the sun for next year’s blooms. The longer you leave it in the ground the better.

Q. Is there anything else that needs to be done in spring?

A. You can fertilize them. If you have plants with petals that get very heavy, you also can stake them. Hyacinths, for example, may need staking because of the weight of the flower head.

Q. How do you force bulbs?

A. For early blooms inside it’s easy to force a wide variety of bulbs. For detailed information, see the American Meadows website (search “how to force blooms”).

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