When plant tulip bulbs?

Flowering Bulbs for Georgia Gardens

Bulletin 918 View PDF picture_as_pdf

Paul A. Thomas, Gary L. Wade and Bodie Pennisi,
Extension Horticulturists

  • What Is a Bulb?
  • Terminology
  • Bed Preparation
  • Selecting Bulbs
  • Planting
  • Care and Maintenance
  • Naturalizing Bulbs
  • Forcing Bulbs
  • Disease and Insect Control
  • Recommended Bulbs
  • Commonly Grown Bulbs Suitable for Georgia (table)
  • Additional Bulbs to Try

A wide variety of bulbs grow well in Georgia. Most are grown for their flowers and some for their foliage. They are grown as pot plants, in shrub borders, naturalistic plantings and in mass displays. Bulbs offer a certain magic to the landscape virtually unrivaled by other plants.

What Is a Bulb?

Figure 1. Specialized storage organs, often referred to as bulbs.

The term “bulb” is used in this publication to refer to true bulbs and other bulb-like structures such as corms, tubers, tuberous roots and stems, and rhizomes (Figure 1). The primary function of these modified plant parts is food storage to ensure the plant’s survival during adverse weather conditions. Distinguishing among these structures is important, since each is handled differently with respect to culture, propagation and care.

A bulb is a specialized underground organ consisting of a short, fleshy, usually vertical stem axis (basal plate) bearing at the top a growing point or a flower bud enclosed by thick, fleshy scales. There are two types of bulbs: the tunicate or laminate type represented by the daffodil and tulip, and the non-tunicate or scaly type represented by the lily. Small bulbs called bulblets form at the base of the mother bulb and, with some lilies, along the underground stem. Some plants also produce aerial bulbs called bulbils.

A corm is the swollen base of a stem axis enclosed by dry, scale-like leaves. Examples include crocus and gladiolus. In contrast to a true bulb, a corm is a solid stem structure with distinct nodes and internodes. Small corms produced around the base of the old corm are called cormels.

A tuber is a modified stem structure that develops on underground stems. Examples include Irish potato and caladium. A few plants produce small aerial tubers known as tubercles.

Some sources make a further distinction among tubers, referring to structures that arise primarily from enlarged stem tissue as tuberous stems. These structures, in tuberous begonia and gloxinia for example, develop at the soil surface.

Certain species of herbaceous, perennials such as sweet potato and dahlia produce thickened underground roots. These structures are called tuberous roots (fat roots or fleshy roots) and have the same external and internal structure as normal roots.

A rhizome is a specialized stem structure in which the main stem of the plant grows horizontally at or just below the soil surface. Examples include iris, canna, and lily-of-the-valley. Rhizomes bear the same internal and external structure as true stems.

Terminology

Bulbs are often categorized according to their hardiness, time of bloom, and size.

Figure 2. USDA plant hardiness zones for Georgia.

Under normal conditions hardy bulbs are those that survive cold climates. Semi-hardy bulbs are those that are hardy in milder climates but not reliable in colder climates without protection. Tender bulbs do not tolerate freezing and can be left in the ground only in warm climates. Georgia has three district USDA. hardiness zones (Figure 2). Your location will determine which bulbs are hardy in your given area and will influence time of bloom. Bulbs will flower two or more weeks earlier in Zone 9 than in Zone 7.

Spring-flowering bulbs consist largely of the so-called Dutch bulbs. Planted in the fall, they bloom the following spring; most spring flowering bulbs are completely hardy in Georgia. Summer-flowering bulbs include hardy to tender bulbs that flower in summer; some summer-flowering bulbs continue to flower until frost. Fall-flowering bulbs, consisting largely of a few hardy bulbs, flower in late summer or early fall. The term winter-flowering generally refers to tender bulbs simply forced to bloom out-of-season indoors. A few bulbs bloom outdoors in very early spring and are sometimes called winter-flowering.

So called minor bulbs are small in stature compared to the larger, showier bulbs. They can be used to great advantage in the landscape. Many, such as crocus, are especially valued because of their early flowering habit.

Site Selection

Most spring-flowering bulbs prefer light shade to full sunshine. Try to select a site that provides at least 6 to 10 hours of direct light per day. This need not restrict their planting to areas that are in full sun year round. Because many spring-flowering bulbs bloom and produce foliage well before most deciduous trees leaf out, they get plenty of sun under the canopy of such trees, which offer dense shade later in the season. Light requirements for other bulbs, especially the summer bulbs, are more variable. Select a spot where they will receive the recommended amount of light. Insufficient light usually results in poor flowering, but too much light will bleach the flowers and foliage of some species.

Also consider locating beds and plants where they will be aesthetically pleasing and effectively arranged in the landscape.

Bed Preparation

The majority of bulbous plants are actually less particular about soil than many other cultivated plants. Most, however, prefer a moist, well-drained medium sandy loam that does not remain wet and sticky after heavy rain or dry out too quickly. Good drainage is essential. If in doubt, test for drainage before planting. Dig a hole about a foot deep and fill it with water. The next day fill the hole with water again and see how long it remains. If the water drains away in 8 to 10 hours, the soil is sufficiently well drained to grow most bulbs.

If drainage is a problem or if the soil is too sandy or a heavy clay, you may need to use a soil amendment. Peat moss, bark, rotted sawdust, compost, perlite, vermiculite, coarse sand and many other materials have been used successfully. The type of amendment needed depends on the structure and texture of the existing soil, drainage, and the type of bulbs to be grown. Spread several inches of material on the soil surface and thoroughly incorporate it. In extreme cases, you may need to install drainage lines or construct raised beds to ensure good drainage.

A pH of 6.0 to 6.8 is best for most bulbs. Incorporate lime if a soil test indicates a need for it. In the absence of a soil test, add 1 to 2 pounds of 5-10-10, 10-10-10, or 8-8-8 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. Organic fertilizers such as bonemeal are often recommended for bulbs, but they are probably no better than inorganic sources used at the proper rates. Incorporate lime, fertilizer, and any soil amendments thoroughly and deeply, at least 12 inches. Do not attempt to work the soil when it is too wet. If you can crumble the soil between your fingers, it is dry enough for digging and planting.

Selecting Bulbs

Photo by: Bodie Pennisi

Bulbs are sold in a variety of retail outlets. Always buy from a reputable dealer. Avoid bulbs that are soft or look molded or discolored. Bulbs should be firm and have unblemished skin. There is a direct correlation between the quality of the bulb and the quality of the flower produced; bargain bulbs are no bargain! Spring-flowering bulbs purchased in the spring are simply leftovers from the previous fall and are virtually worthless.

Bulbs are generally graded and sold according to size, usually circumference. Large bulbs produce larger and/ or multiple flowers. The largest bulbs are not necessary for good landscape effect. In most cases, medium grades are entirely satisfactory.

Planting

Plant spring-flowering bulbs in the fall. In Georgia, spring-flowering bulbs can be planted from October through late December in most areas. If you cannot plant the bulbs right away, store them at around 60-65 degrees F. in a dry area. Temperatures above 70 degrees F. may damage the flower buds. In areas of the state with extremely mild winter climates, it may be desirable to pre-cool some bulbs. Most spring-flowering bulbs require a 12-16 week cold period in ventilated packages in the bottom of your refrigerator at 40-50 degrees F. before planting. Check with your bulb supplier to determine whether the bulbs you purchase have been pre-cooled or whether you may need to give them a cold treatment.

Summer-flowering bulbs are planted in spring after the danger of frost has passed.

Planting depth and spacing are very important to the success of bulbs. A general rule of thumb for planting depth (from top to bulb to soil surface) is two to three times the greatest diameter for bulbs 2 inches or more in diameter and three to four times the greatest diameter for smaller bulbs.

Spacing will vary from 1 to 2 inches to as much as several feet. When spacing bulbs, consider not only how much space each plant needs, but also how frequently it will be dug and divided. Also, consider the landscape effect. Avoid spotty or line-out arrangements. It is sometimes suggested that bulbs be broadcast over the area to be planted in order to achieve a naturalistic look; this is unadvisable, however, because dropping or throwing the bulbs may bruise or injure them.

Plant the bulbs upright (rhizomes and tuberous roots are usually planted on their sides), and press the soil firmly around them. Water the beds thoroughly to help settle the soil.

Care and Maintenance

Mulches or ground covers may be necessary to ensure winter survival of some bulbs. They not only minimize winter injury, but also provide a background against which little bulbs show to better advantage. Mulch also prevents mud-spattering from heavy rains that frequently spoil the flowers. Pine straw, bark, fall leaves, and many other organic materials make satisfactory mulches for bulbs.

Mechanical protection may be required to prevent wind damage. Wind breaks or staking may be necessary for tall plants like lilies. There is no effective means of providing cold protection once the plant is in bloom. While late or severe cold waves occasionally spoil spring-flowering bulbs, the bulbs are amazingly resilient and many withstand severe cold.

A well-prepared bed should require little cultivation except periodic weeding. Many spring-flowering bulbs are “overplanted” with other plants, frequently annuals. Be sure not to dig so deeply as to damage the bulbs. When the bulbs flower, fertilize them again using the fertilizers and rates previously mentioned. When the flowers fade, cut them off to prevent seed formation. It is best not to cut or remove the foliage until it dies naturally. Most spring-flowering bulbs produce foliage in fall or early spring that dies by late spring or early summer. Summer-flowering bulbs produce their foliage in spring; it usually remains until cold weather kills it in the fall. Most of the fall-flowering bulbs produce foliage when the spring-flowering bulbs do; they simply flower at a different time.

Normal rainfall usually provides enough moisture for spring-flowering bulbs but not for summer-flowering bulbs. During dry weather, provide supplemental irrigation at weekly intervals. Soak the ground thoroughly. Bulbs have a much higher water requirement when in active growth than when dormant.

Eventually almost all bulbs become overcrowded and must be divided and replanted for best effect. The length of time depends largely on the bulb’s ability to produce bulblets. Some may remain undisturbed for many years while others may require dividing every two to three years. Do not dig bulbs until the foliage has turned yellow and withers. Be cautious when digging so as not to damage the bulbs.

Bulbs and corms can be gently pulled apart. Tubers and rhizomes may be cut into pieces, each division containing at least one eye. Tuberous roots can be split apart. Some tuberous roots, like dahlia, also require that a small piece of crown tissue remain attached.

Wash off any soil that clings to the bulb. The bulbs can be replanted immediately or stored for later planting. Store in a dry place away from sunlight, preferably at 60-65 degrees F. Be sure to provide good air circulation. Discard any bulbs that appear diseased.

Remember that tender bulbs will need to be dug in early fall and stored over winter for replanting the following spring.

Naturalizing Bulbs

Figure 3.

You can use several methods to naturalize bulbs in the landscape. The first is to randomly scatter self-establishing bulbs such as daffodil and crocus on the ground before leaf drop in the fall. These bulbs will root and establish themselves under the leaves by spring. Another method is simply to dig several shallow pits in the soil under wooded areas and lay the bulbs right side up and replace the soil. The third method involves inserting crocus bulbs under the thatch of your lawn, so the crocus will fill your lawn with color prior to the greening of the grass. Crocus finish most of their food storage activities prior to the first mowing of the grass, so this combination works out very well. However, application of herbicides can affect crocus bulbs adversely, so consult your county agent if you have any doubts. Naturalized bulbs all need to be fertilized in the fall and just after flowering to maintain full vigor. In many areas of the country, failure to fertilize will result in gradually declining bulb populations.

Forcing Bulbs

You can force bulbs to bloom indoors earlier than they normally would outdoors. Crocus, galanthus, hyacinth, narcissus, daffodil, scilla and tulip are easier to force than most.

Pot the bulbs in October or November using a well-drained soil. The number of bulbs per pot will vary according to pot and bulb size. Keep them in darkness at about 40 degrees F. for 8 to 12 weeks in a cold frame outdoors or in an unheated garage or basement, or in your refrigerator. (The bulbs must not be allowed to freeze). Do not allow the soil in the pots to dry out.

Figure 4.

After 8 to 12 weeks, the root system should be extensively developed and the shoots emerging from the bulbs. Move the pots to a cool, well-lighted spot for continued growth. They will bloom in about one month. Avoid high temperatures and/or poor light because they will cause stretching and weak stems.

Crocus, hyacinth, narcissus, and tulip bulbs can be refrigerated at 40 degrees F. for two months prior to planting, then potted and forced as above. The results are not usually as satisfactory since less time exists for the root system to develop.

Discard bulbs that have been forced. They seldom grow and flower well when replanted in the garden.

Disease and Insect Control

Good cultural conditions eliminate many disease problems. Discard any diseased bulbs at planting. Aphids, thrips, Japanese beetles, slugs, stem and bulb nematodes, narcissus bulb fly larvae, wireworms, bulb mites, mosaic virus, botrytis and various bacterial and fungal rots can sometimes be problems. Because the recommendations for control of these pests are constantly changing, you should contact your extension agent for current recommendations.

Recommended Bulbs

The following table and alphabetical list (by general) provide basic information on how to select and handle the more commonly grown bulbs suitable for Georgia. This is by no means an inclusive list as many other less common species can also be grown. Commercial bulb catalogs are excellent sources of information on colors and varieties.

Achimenes. Achimenes are widely grown indoors, but are suitable for outdoor pots on shaded porches or patios when night temperatures remain above 60 degrees F. They are drought-sensitive and should not be planted in dry areas or in full sun. Most plants grown today are hybrids; numerous varieties and colors are available. They are propagated from seeds or rhizomes.

Agapanthus. Several species, hybrids and varieties are cultivated. Leafless flower clusters bear 12 to 30 blue or white flowers. Often grown as tub plants, they are hardy outdoors only in Zone 9. Plant shallowly outdoors. In containers, leave the nose of bulb protruding above soil surface. They prefer high organic soils

Allium. Lilac-pink flower clusters are 5 to 6 inches in diameter. A very showy plant in the landscape, it is usually used in the background of borders. The Allium (onion) genus is best known for its edible members — onions, garlic, chives, shallots and leeks — but many ornamental species are also cultivated.

Anemone. Blue, red, white, and pink cultivars of A. blanda are available. Plants form small compact mounds of flowers, and are frequently used with early tulips. A. coronaria (Poppy anemone) blooms later and has larger flowers but is less hardy than A. blanda. Soak tubers overnight before planting.

Caladium

Begonia. Almost all colors of tuberous begonias are available in upright or trailing types with several distinctly different flower forms. Grown as a pot plant, in window boxes, or as a bedding plant in shaded areas outdoors, it is a handsome plant in bloom. Plants are somewhat brittle. Well-drained soils are essential. Pre-sprout tubers indoors to increase length of the growing season outdoors. Plant shallowly so the top of tuber is slightly above the soil surface.

Caladium. Caladiums are grown for their foliage, the flowers being rather insignificant. Individual leaves are 6 to 24 inches long and come in an endless combination of red, pink, white, silver and green. Caladiums should be dug and stored over winter. They may be pre-sprouted indoors to extend the growing season. They should be grown in shade and are well adapted to pot culture.

Canna
Photo by: Bodie Pennisi

Canna. Canna is a favorite summer blooming plant because of its long bloom time and because it thrives in hot weather. Numerous varieties and colors are available ranging from dwarf to very tall varieties. The rhizomes are generally hardy in Zones 8 and 9 but should be lifted and stored during winter at 45-50 degrees F. in Zone 7.

Chionodoxa. Blue and white varieties are available. The flowers are small, thus masses are usually necessary for a good display. Chionodoxa is an excellent bulb for naturalizing and will increase by bulblets and self-seeding. Mowing too soon after bloom can cause decline.

Colchicum. Colchicums are one of the few fall-blooming bulbs. Bright flowers, usually white or lilac, appear suddenly, rising from the soil without foliage. The flowers look much like crocus and are often confused with true autumn crocus. Plant colchicums immediately upon receipt, as they will bloom without being planted.

Convallaria. Usually grown for its fragrant bell-shaped flowers, Lily-of-the-Valley is also an excellent ground cover for shady locations. It is best propagated in the fall by dividing the pips (shoots that appear on the rhizome) when the foliage has developed fully and begun to yellow. Double-flowered and pink varieties are also available. Lily-of-the-Valley need moisture. Do not plant in dry areas.

Crinum
Photo by: Bodie Pennisi

Crinum. Crinums thrive in the South with little care. The plant is grown primarily for its long flower stalks, which bear umbels of as many as 30 lily-like white, pink or rose-red blooms. Several species and varieties are cultivated; the variegated pink and white is more common. The bulbs are very large, sometimes exceeding 6 inches in diameter. Full sun required.

Crocus. Numerous crocus species, hybrids and varieties are cultivated. The large-flowered Dutch crocus are largely hybrids derived from C. vernus. Many colors are available. The fall, winter and early spring flowering varieties are particularly valued for their time of bloom. Many species naturalize freely from cormels and by self-seeding.

Cyclamen. Miniature relatives of the florists’ cyclamen, hardy cyclamen are excellent for naturalizing in shady areas. Colors range from white to crimson. Tubers may go dormant in mid summer under high temperatures and low moisture. C. purpurascens, C. hederifolium, C. cilicium, and C. repandum are readily available.

Dahlia. Dahlias are grown primarily as bedding plants or for cut flowers; some of the dwarf varieties are suitable for tub culture. Most bedding types are seed-grown while most cut types are propagated by division of tuberous roots. Many colors and varieties are available with many flower types. Dahlias are not reliably winter hardy outside Zone 9, unless heavily mulched, and should be dug and stored under dry, cool conditions. Tall varieties require staking.

Endymion. Sometimes confused with Siberian Squill, Spanish Bluebell bears much taller flower spikes and blooms much later. Blue, pink and white varieties are available. It too is an excellent choice for naturalizing in wooded areas.

Eranthis. Winter Aconite is valued for its very early flowering habit. The bright yellow flowers cover the ground even when ice and snow are still present. A good naturalizing plant, it will self-seed. Soak tubers 24 hours before planting.

Fritillaria. This is one of the showiest spring-flowering bulbs. The flower stalk is topped by a crest of leaves beneath which hang large clusters of 2-inch reddish-orange, bronze, red or yellow flowers. F. meleagris is also cultivated and produces unusual purple and white checkered flowers.

Galanthus. Snowdrops are among the first flowers to bloom in spring. They grow well under deciduous trees and are good for naturalizing and random planting. The drooping white flowers have a green splotch around the inner segments. G. elwesii (Giant Snowdrop) is larger and flowers slightly later.

Gladiolus. Gladiolus is best grown as a cut flower. Because the lower florets wither well before the upper ones open, it is generally not an attractive plant in the landscape. You should make successive plantings to ensure flowers for continuous cutting. Numerous varieties and colors are available. The corms are not reliably winter hardy in Zone 7 and should be lifted and stored at 35-40 degrees. Mounding the soil around the base of the plants will help prevent them toppling over.

Hippeastrum
Photo by: Bodie Pennisi

Hippeastrum. A spectacular plant in bloom, amaryllis have long been cultivated indoors. They can be grown outdoors as summer blooming bulbs. Some hybrids and species are hardy outdoors in Zone 9. When planted outdoors, the nose of the bulbs should be just at the soil surface. In pots, leave about half the bulb above the soil surface.

Hyacinthus. Few flowers can boast the extensive color range and fragrance of hyacinths. H. orientalis is hardy but not notably persistent; the bulbs eventually decline, becoming too small to flower. H. orientalis albulus (French-Roman Hyacinth) has smaller flowers but is said to be more persistent.

Hymenocallis. It produces fragrant 3- to 4-inch intricately arranged white flowers in midsummer on tall leafless stalks. Several varieties are available, one with yellow flowers. The plant is not reliably winter hardy outside Zone 9 and should be lifted and stored at 65-70 degrees F.

Ipheion. Starflower produces abundant bluish white flowers. It is excellent for naturalizing and multiplies rapidly. It is sometimes used in lawns, which can be a problem since the grass usually needs cutting before the plant’s foliage matures.

Iris. The Iris genus is extremely diverse and many species and hybrids are cultivated. Several classification schemes exist. They are loosely divided into bulbous iris and rhizomatous iris. The bulbous iris, e.g. I. danfordiae (Danford Iris) and I. reticulata (netted Iris), are small and generally bloom very early. The rhizomatuous iris, e.g. I. hybrids (Bearded Iris), I. siberica (Siberian Iris), and I. kaempferi (Japanese Iris), are taller (up to 3 feet) and bloom from mid spring to early summer. The cultural requirements and differences are too diverse to discuss here.

Leucojum. Small white bell-shaped flowers tipped with green are borne on each stem. They are good for naturalizing and random planting in shrub borders. L. aestivum (Summer Snowflake) is taller and blooms later. L. autumnale (Autumn Snowflake) is fall blooming.

Lilium
Photo by: Bodie Pennisi

Lilium. Numerous lily species and cultivars are available. Bloom times range from May to September. All colors are available except blue. Various flower forms exist. It is an excellent border plant and cut flower. The larger hybrids are effective as single specimens; the species are more often used in mass. Tall varieties should be staked.

Lycoris. In late July or early August, I. squamigera suddenly appears, hence the name “Surprise Lily.” Long leafless flower stalks bear 4 to 12 lilac-pink, lily-like flowers. The foliage appears in early spring and dies back to the ground by early summer. L. radiata (Red Spider Lily) and L. aurea (Yellow Spider Lily) are also members of this genus. Both bloom later. L. aurea is less hardy.

Muscari. The tiny purple flower clusters resemble clusters of grapes. Common Grape Hyacinth is easy to grow, and naturalizes quickly. It is frequently inter-planted with other spring bulbs. A white variety is also available. M. armeniacum (Armenian Grape Hyacinth) is larger and more robust; several blue and double-flowered varieties are available.

Narcissus
Photo by: Bodie Pennisi

Narcissus. There are 11 major divisions of the genus Narcissus. Confusion often arises because the generic name Narcissus is also used as a common name. Daffodils, like jonquils, are but one type of narcissus. Hundreds of varieties are available. The cultural requirements for all divisions are essentially identical, but the size, color, time of bloom, etc., vary and are too complex to discuss here.

Polianthes. The fragrant tuberose became so associated with funerals that its popularity declined. It is a superb cut flower, however, and grows well in Georgia. It is usually treated as a tender bulb. Large size bulbs have a tendency to split into smaller bulbs, which may require an additional year or two to reach flowering size.

Scilla. Siberian Squill is valued for its early bright blue flowers. It is excellent for naturalizing, especially in wooded areas. Several varieties are available including one with white flowers.

Sternbergia. An underused bulb, Sternbergia is valued for its fall-flowering habit. It is frequently mistaken for autumn crocus. The plant grows best in full sun and can remain undisturbed for years. Foliage is produced in the fall and remains green during winter.

Tulipa
Photo by: Bodie Pennisi

Tulipa. Numerous tulip species and cultivars exist. The classification scheme for cultivated tulips lists 15 divisions based on time of bloom and parentage. More than 4,000 varieties are in existence. Virtually all colors are represented. The tulip is considered by many the premier spring bulb. Most tulips also make excellent cut flowers. Many tulips are not notably persistent in the south and usually decline after the first year. Size, flower type, time of bloom, etc., are too complex to discuss here.

Zephyranthes. Z. atamasco (Atamasco Lily, Rain Lily, Fairy Lily) is often seen along the roadsides of Georgia, frequently along drainage ditches and wet meadows. Flowers often appear following a soaking rain. Other species and hybrids are also available. These native bulbs can be grown in shady, moist locations or in full sun if moisture is present.

Commonly Grown Bulbs Suitable for Georgia

Additional Bulbs to Try

Botanical Name Common Name
Belamcanda chinensis Blackberry Lily
Bletilla striata Hardy Orchid
Camassis quamash Common Camassis
Clivia Minita* Kafir Lily
Colocasis esculenta* Elephant’s Ear
Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora Montbretia
Eremurus species & hybrids Foxtail Lily
Erythronium dens-canis Dog-Tooth Violet
Eucharis grandiflors* Amazon Lily
Freesia x hybrida* Freesia
Gloriosa superba Climbing Lily
Ixia species* African Corn Lily
Nerine sarniensis* Guernsey Lily
Ornithogalum nutans Star-of-Bethlehem
Ranuncalus asiaticus* Persian Buttercup
Tritonia crocata Montbretia
Zantedeschia species* Calla Lily
* tender bulbs

Status and Revision History
Published on Jul 14, 2004
In Review for Major Revisions on Feb 24, 2009
Published with Minor Revisions on Oct 27, 2009
Published with Full Review on Oct 01, 2012
Published with Full Review on Feb 01, 2016

Top Tips for growing Tulips in Australia

You can grow these exotic beauties in your own backyard, below we have a few guidelines to help you on your way, so you can grow Tulips here in Australia.

When you buy spring flowering bulbs such as Tulips, we have done all the hard work for you, the flower is already formed. So they are guaranteed to grow and flower for you, providing you look after their basic needs of water and fertiliser. But how do you get them to return each year and be at their best? Here are some of our tips.

How to get Aussie Tulips to return each year

While you may have to get in early to purchase the bulbs that you want before they sell out, hold off on planting them until late April, early May. We do this because the soil temperature is cooler at this of year, anything below 14C is perfect. An easy way to remember this is to plant your Tulips around Mother’s Day!

Plant your Tulips a little deeper, because the soil will be cooler. The old saying is to plant your spring flowering bulbs twice as deep as the bulb is high. As the Australian climate is somewhat warmer than the European one, we recommend you plant your bulbs to a depth of three times the height of the bulb, this will help keep them cooler.

If you live in an area that receives cold winters you can leave your bulbs in the ground, provided it is shaded over summer. An easy way to do this is planting your Tulip bulbs in combination with summer perennials. When the Tulips are glorious, the perennials are small, and as the bulbs are dying down, the perennials are coming into their own, and will shade the ground through summer. You could also choose a spot beneath a deciduous tree, or add a thick mulch to aid insulation and keep the soil temperature cool.

If you can’t fulfil the requirements of the above point, then it is a good idea to lift your bulbs. You must first wait until the foliage has browned, then gently dig them up. Lay them out to dry, once the foliage has dried and become brittle it can be removed from the bulb and tossed onto the compost. You can then store your bulbs in an open paper bag, orange bag, old stocking, where they get a bit of air circulation, not a sealed container that may have condensation. Store them in a cool place (less than 20C), then bring them out to plant again in autumn.

It’s Easy – have a go!

So these are the basics for good Aussie Tulips. You can use the same ideas for most spring bulbs including Daffodils and Hyacinths. You might have some tips or experiences of your own, we would love for you to share them with us on our Facebook or Twitter pages. You can always sign up for our newsletters for updates, news and special offers.

FOR CHEERY SPRING COLOR, plant bulbs this fall. The best thing about spring-blooming bulbs is that they already have a flower ready to go, so they can’t fail to bloom. That is, unless squirrels eat them, or your soil is pure clay, rotting the bulbs in our rainy winter. They do great planted in containers, as well, so if you live in an apartment or condo with a balcony, all you need is a frost-proof pot for a colorful spring display.

Spring-blooming bulbs need at least 10 to 12 weeks in the cold ground to establish the roots necessary to bloom, so make sure to plant them by the end of November. When planting, mix organic bulb food and bone meal into the soil, and water them in to remove any air pockets.

Next spring, give the bulbs a nutritional boost by working in an organic bulb food around the plants as soon as they begin to set flower buds. Wait to cut the foliage down until it dies back completely, to allow the plant to store as much energy as possible in the bulb.

Choose a mix of varieties that bloom early-, mid- and late-season to prolong the display through spring.

Perhaps the most popular of all spring-blooming bulbs are tulips. Unfortunately, most of the fancy tulips don’t like our rainy winters and often don’t come back to bloom well after the first year. If you have well-drained soil, try planting the bulbs 12 inches deep. Using this technique, my Darwin and Empress Hybrids have bloomed more than 10 years in a row. Another technique is to plant species tulips. The flowers are smaller, but they make up for their stature with vibrant colors and a tough constitution. A few favorites that have bloomed for me every spring for many years are Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ (lilac flowers with a yellow center) the unpronounceable Tulipa kolpakowskiana (yellow flowers, streaked red) and the even-harder-to-pronounce Tulipa vvedenskyi ‘Tangerine Beauty’ (red flowers streaked flaming orange).

If squirrels tend to eat your tulip bulbs, protect them by surrounding them with chicken wire when you plant them. If the squirrels make a habit of eating the buds when they emerge in spring, adopt a Jack Russell terrier, and make sure the first word he or she learns is “Squirrel!”

Fortunately, those naughty squirrels don’t bother quite a few spring-blooming bulbs. Snowdrops (Galanthus) are among the first to bloom, often coming up through the snow. Prized by collectors, these small but showy members of the amaryllis family are practically indestructible and form impressive-sized clumps over time.

Daffodils and all types of Narcissus have poison bulbs that squirrels won’t touch, and the bulbs of hyacinth also contain toxins that keep the squirrels away.

A real charmer that squirrels leave alone is Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow). It’s easy to grow, and although the attractive blue flowers are small, they often reseed to form large colonies over time.

A longtime favorite of mine is Fritillaria. Squirrels never bother these unique and colorful spring bloomers. In fact, old-time gardeners often plant the bulbs of Fritillaria imperialis ‘Corona Imperial’ with their tulips, because the big, beautiful orange or yellow flowers smell like a fox and repel squirrels, rabbits and deer.

Finally, and most important, don’t forget to plant them. There’s nothing worse than finding a forgotten bag of bulbs in the garage in spring!

Mark your calendars, because the place to find most of these bulbs, and gazillions of others, is at the Hardy Plant Society of Washington’s Fall Bulb and Plant Sale, held Oct. 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Center for Urban Horticulture.

Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger is on the record saying that, depending how severe your winters, the best place to store any extra spring-blooming bulbs you might have is in the ground. Bulbs generally don’t store well inside and even those you carefully pack in containers of sawdust or peat moss and kept in the garage or basement (if it’s cool enough) aren’t all going to make it. Those that do will be something other than the bulbs you started with.

The common wisdom on planting flower bulbs in fall — tulips, daffodils, iris, hyacinths, crocus, and others — is that they should be planted at first frost. Some hardy bulbs, like the crocus colchicum, take to earlier planting than others. They need at least five weeks before the ground freezes hard to develop. In some northern and high elevation areas, that five-weeks is drawing to a close. Timing your planting, of course, depends on your particular conditions.

But in many areas of the country, you may still have five weeks before the ground freezes to a depth of two and more inches (even the smallest of bulbs are planted three inches or so deep). And what happens if your bulbs only get three or three-and-a-half weeks in the ground?

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Fox Farm® Happy Frog Bulb Food contains extra phosphorus for sustained flowering and potassium to help plants become more disease resistant. Works great on tulips, daffodils, gladiolus, dahlias and all flowering plants and trees.

We’re not suggesting by any means that you should wait until late in the season to plant your daffodils. But let’s say you’ve planted all the bulbs just where you’d planned to have them (it’s called “design”) back the last week of September. Now you have some left over. Rather than throw them away, we’re suggesting that you stick them in the ground somewhere appropriate, even if its way past time. They’ll most likely live on and provide some color next spring. Then, if you don’t like their placement, you can dig them up after they’ve flowered and and work them into the design next September.

We tend to like the flowers that grow from bulbs no matter where they’re planted, even (especially!) in natural lawns. We much prefer sticking any extra bulbs we may have in places that weren’t part of the original landscape map rather than throwing them away. Why not plant them at the edge of some large bush, where the mulch meets the grass, where the sun gets in?

You’ll probably be left with the less desirable bulbs, having planted the best in your earlier planting. Don’t keep any bulbs that are obviously diseased, badly broken, or otherwise damaged. Small nicks and loose skins are not a problem. In fact, says the University of North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, those loose skins, or papers as we’ll call them, encourage vigorous rooting. They also provide for easier inspection of the bulb for mold, fungus, and other problems.

Prepare the soil for the bulbs as you would any time you’re planting them. Check the soil pH if you don’t have a general idea of what it is. Bulbs do poorly with a soil pH of 7.0 or higher. Between 6.0 and 7.0 seems best. Work the soil to a depth of 18 inches and give them plenty of compost or organic matter. Good drainage is important. Flowering, fall-planted bulbs crave potassium. If you know your soil lacks the K (potassium) in the N-P-K ratio it wouldn’t hurt to add some organic potash or other potassium supplement to your soil.

Don’t be afraid to plant your leftover bulbs a bit deeper than normal. Those big bulbs you plant 8 inches deep? Give them another couple inches where the soil will freeze later or not at all. No doubt you’ve already planted all your biggest bulbs of any type flower you might have. Big bulbs means big flowers after all. Don’t be afraid to plant the smallest bulbs at five or six inches. Every inch of soil is another inch of insulation. Don’t pack the soil too tightly. About half the soil you dig up should go back into the hole, minus any compost or other amendments you might use.

Water is important to root development so give your fall-planted bulbs plenty. But be careful. You don’t want your ground soggy when a hard freeze is on the way.

Most important, cover your newly planted fall bulbs with a good four or five inches (or more) of mulch. Leaves are available to most of us in abundance this time of year. But chop them up — running the mower over them a couple times works, or you could use a shredder — so that they don’t compact easily as leaves will do, especially when wet. Your goal is to provide insulation, so look to give your mulch some loft, like the down in your jacket, by providing plenty of space for dead air to collect between chipped wood, cut-up prunings, or other green waste that will give shredded leaves some loft. Straw works, if you have it.

When your late-planted bulbs make an appearance in the spring — if they’ve been planted more deeply than other bulbs, be patient for them to appear — you just might find you like them wherever they happened to be. If they don’t fit into your grand landscaping plan and you want to move them elsewhere, wait until they’ve flowered and the plants have wilted before replanting. Cut the flowering part of the plant from the stem with shears or scissors. Then, come August, dig them up carefully.

We also think it’s OK to plant fall bulbs early, if you have them to plant, even in the summer if you’re sure they won’t dry out. It’s okay to store them a few weeks under that damp peat moss and replant them where you like when fall approaches.

Don’t try to separate the “cloves” or break the bulbs apart. If they’ve grown in a rooted tangle, you can trim some of the root away, but not too close to the bulb head. Leave them awhile in a dry place, protected from sun and rain, and allow them to cure before replanting, or just stick them into the ground.Same rules apply. Then look forward to enjoying another season of beautiful blossoms.

If you still have unplanted spring bulbs, it’s better to get them in the ground. Some bulbs, such as tulips, will perform well even if planted late. See our handy spring bulb chart with hardiness zones, depth, and spacing for all your fall-planted bulbs.

When to Plant Bulbs

Spring-flowering bulbs are planted in the fall to give them ample time to grow roots during winter in preparation for the spring show. So, if you think that autumn’s the time to stop gardening, think again! Fall will be bulb-planting time! It’s so easy to stick bulbs in the ground—and so magical to see their colorful blooms energe in early spring to lift your spirits.

Planting time is usually late September to mid-October in northern climate so that bulbs can grow roots before the ground freezes. (Tulips are one exception–you can plant these as late as you can get them into the soil.) Consult our Frost Dates Calculator to see when the first fall frost will be in your area.

In the lower South, where you may not have a hard freeze, early November is a good time to plant. You can plant them as late as December but the later you wait, the less able the bulbs will be to establish themselves.

How to Grow Bulbs Chart

See the chart below for type of bulbs that you plant in the fall for spring bloom.

In the warmer South, you may need to pre-cool some bulbs. Most spring-flowering bulbs require a 12 to 16 week cold period in ventilated packages in the bottom of your refrigerator at 40 to 50 degrees F. before planting. Check with your bulb supplier to determine whether the bulbs you purchase have been pre-cooled or whether you may need to give them a cold treatment.

Also, in warmer climates, note that some bulbs will only bloom once and then they’re done for the season. For example, you will have to plant tulip bulbs again each year. Still, they are a beautiful sight to behold and well worth the effort! Other fall bulbs, such as daffodils, will act as perennials and come up year after year.

Click here or on the image below to see a larger version of the chart.

Buying Bulbs

Bulbs can be ordered from a mail-order catalog ahead of time, so that the bulbs arrive right in time for fall planting. Or, make sure you buy your bulbs from a reputable nursery or garden center. Remember, second-rate bulbs produce second-rate flowers, don’t sprout at all, and often don’t return year after year. Don’t forget to plant extra for cutting so you can bring some of that spring color indoors.

Good bulbs should be fresh and firm, not brittle or rotted or moldy. Also, choose bulbs with intact husks to better fight any disease.

When you receive bulbs, plant immediately or store in a cool, dark, dry place at around 60 to 65 degrees F. Temperatures above 70 degrees F. may damage the flower buds.

Selecting Bulb Varieties

Here are some of the most popular spring-blooming bulbs planted in the fall.

  • Daffodils are a favorite because they are vole- and deer-resistant.
  • Jonquils have tiny blooms and naturalize. They’re one of the first flowers to bloom—and look especially lovely when planted in a grove or field together.
  • Crocus are a spring-flowering favorite, and come in a range of colors.
  • Snowdrop (Galanthus) are little white bells that bloom in early spring.
  • Hyacinth (including grape hyacinths) are small blue clusters of tiny bell-shaped blooms which are good for naturalizing.
  • Tulips looks beautiful when planted en masse and bloom after the daffodils. They look great paired with grape hyacinth.
  • Irises are hardy, reliable, and easy to grow, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds and making lovely cut flowers.
  • Gladiolus have tall beautiful spikes and tend to bloom in late spring to mid-summer, depending on the variety.

Bulb Planting Tips

  • Select a site where the bulbs will receive at least part sun throughout the spring.
  • Bulbs will need soil that drains nicely or they will rot. Work a few inches of compost or organic matter into the soil before planting for nutrients and drainage, especially if you have heavy clay soils.
  • Bulbs look great planted en mass—in a grove, near the mailbox, as swaths of colors in garden beds, and as colorful borders.
  • In general, plant bulbs at a depth of three times the width of the bulb. (That means about 4 to 6 inches deep for small bulbs like snowdrops, crocuses, and grape hyacinths, and about 8 inches deep for large bulbs like hybrid tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths.)
  • You can use a bulb-planting tool but if you are planting en masse by the dozens, just use a shovel and make a wide hole for planting many bulbs at once.
  • Place shorter bulbs in the front of beds and borders.
  • Plant bulbs generously in case some do not sprout. And plant them in random order and spacing for a more natural appearance. If you love groves of daffodils and blanketed landscapes of tulips, be prepared to buy and plant a large quantity of bulbs!
  • After planting, apply fertilizer low in nitrogen, such as a 9-6-6 formulation. If your soil is sandy, plant bulbs slightly deeper; in clay soils, slightly shallower.
  • Water well after planting.
  • Apply mulch to the planting area to keep the weeds down, hold in moisture, and avoid heaving from wintertime thawing and freezing.
  • Do you have voles or squirrels? Consider planting your bulbs in a “cage” fashioned with chicken wire. Also, check out our tips for preventing vole damage and squirrel damage. Or try planting some rodent-proof bulbs.
  • Consider bloom time for each bulb (early spring, mid-spring, late spring) so you have blooms throughout spring!

Now that you’ve mastered the art of the fall bulb, check out our page on how to grow spring-planted bulbs!

How To Plant Bulbs In The South

Traditional spring and winter garden bulbs don’t always do well in southern climates because of the lack of cold winters. Many require chilling for proper growth, and in southern regions this isn’t always possible. Keep reading to learn how to get around this and how to plant bulbs in the South.

Flower Garden Bulbs

Flower garden bulbs are available in so many types that it’s hard not to find one that fits your region and gardening style, which is especially important when growing them in the South. The health, vigor, and flowering of bulbs depend greatly on where, when and how you plant them.

Both winter garden bulbs and spring bulbs require a dormant period in cool temperatures to stimulate their growth and development. Since southern states typically have mild winters, it’s important that these bulbs be pre-chilled prior to planting.

You can purchase pre-chilled bulbs or chill them yourself in dry cold storage (40-45 F./4-7 C.) for at least 12 weeks using a suitable cold frame, unheated basement, or refrigerator (without vegetables). Tender bulbs, on the other hand, which bloom throughout summer and fall, are

extremely sensitive to cold conditions and thrive in the southern climates.

When to Plant Bulbs in the South

When deciding when to plant bulbs in the South, always check a bulb’s growing requirements beforehand to ensure proper planting. Bulbs should typically be planted as soon as possible to prevent them from drying.

Winter garden bulbs and hardy spring-flowering bulbs (tulips, crocuses, daffodils, and hyacinths) are planted in the fall. While northern states typically plant their hardy bulbs in September or October, here in the South, planting can be extended well into November and even December.

Tender flower garden bulbs (elephant ears, caladiums, gladioli, cannas, and dahlias) are planted in the spring once the threat of cold has ceased and the ground has significantly warmed up.

How to Plant Bulbs in the South

Knowing how to plant bulbs in the South is as important as when to plant bulbs in the South. Most flower garden bulbs require well-drained soil to prevent them from rotting. To improve the quality of your soil, you can work in some sand and compost. Depending on the variety, most bulbs are planted in a sunny location of the garden while others can tolerate lightly shaded conditions.

Once again, checking the growing requirements is crucial. Always place bulbs with the points facing upward. Corms should be placed with the depression facing upward, while tubers and rhizomes lie sideways with eyelets facing up. These types are generally placed just at the soil’s surface while other bulbs depend on their size, usually half as deep as their height. Cover with a layer of mulch and water thoroughly after planting.

Winterizing Garden Bulbs

Tender bulbs are unable to survive cold winters and require lifting in the fall for winter storage in a cool, dark place. In the South, however, temperatures are usually mild enough during winter, so winterizing garden bulbs isn’t necessary. They can remain in ground throughout winter without any harm. While hardy bulbs can also remain in ground, you may want to lift them for chilling or simply purchase new ones.

Treasured for centuries for their spectacular beauty, tulips put on a magnificent show of color in mid-spring, after most daffodils have faded but before perennials and shrubs burst into bloom.

Fall is the time to plant tulips. The bulbs slowly grow roots through the winter and when the weather warms in spring, tulips come alive with leaves and a magnificent show of welcome color.

Plant Tulips Now For Bold Spring Color:

  1. Plant tulips in groups of five to seven bulbs per square foot. Choose groups based on color. Mixtures of bright primary colors create a festive look, and bold reds and oranges are easily seen from a distance. Soft pastel-colored tulips set a more relaxed mood, so they are always welcome near outdoor living areas.
  2. Use a digging fork to cultivate the soil 12 inches deep and mix bulb fertilizer into the bottom of the hole. Follow label instructions on how much to use. You may also add 2 inches of compost to the hole for an extra boost. Tulips adapt to many soil types as long as the site drains well.
  3. Push unpeeled tulip bulbs into the soil, pointed side up, 8 inches deep, measuring from the bottom of the bulb. Space the bulbs 3 to 4 inches apart. Water the planted bulbs before covering them with soil. This bit of water is helpful to get the bulbs started, but tulips do not need additional watering during the winter months.
  4. Cover the planted space with a 2-inch layer of mulch to deter weeds and give the bed a finished look.

Tip: Squirrels and chipmunks like to dig and eat the bulbs, and deer and groundhogs pop the buds like candy. To deter the critters feasting on your bulbs or buds, plant them close to the house or in containers.

Product Checklist:

  • Tulip bulbs
  • Digging fork
  • Compost
  • Bulb fertilizer
  • Watering can
  • Mulch
  • Gardening gloves
  • Optional: Containers

Spring-flowering bulbs have been on garden center shelves for weeks but the real season for planting them begins in late October.

My preference is to wait to plant daffodil, tulip, hyacinth, Dutch iris, etc. until night temperatures are consistently below 60 degrees. At that time the soil is warm enough to stimulate root growth but you won’t get much foliage growth. You can successfully plant them as late as December but the later you wait after October the less able the bulbs will be to establish themselves.

You can check local air and soil temperatures at Georgia Weather.

Planting depth isn’t critical. Spring-flowering bulbs usually do fine if the top of the bulb is covered by a couple of inches of soil.

There are two critical times to feed your bulbs. They need nutrients in the fall when they are planted and they need more in the spring when they have leaves. For every ten square feet of bed, sprinkle two cups of 10-10-10 fertilizer over the soil and dig it in as you prepare an area for planting. Use the same amount next March when the leaves emerge.

Special bulb fertilizers are available which do not force unneeded growth in fall but which give bulbs the nutrients they need.

Bulbs for Georgia Gardens

Tags For This Article: bulbs, daffodil, Fall, planting, tulip

It’s time to plant tulips, hyacinths

By Dan Gill

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

(12/30/16) The next few weeks are an important time for planting tulips, hyacinths and other bulbs that have been previously stored in your refrigerator. (Won’t it be great to get the refrigerator space back?)

Tulips and hyacinths are refrigerated because our Louisiana winters are not cold enough long enough to allow them to bloom properly without additional chilling. These bulbs should be refrigerated at least six to eight weeks prior to planting, which means you need to have had tulip and hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator since mid- to late November or before.

It is too late to go out and purchase tulip and hyacinth bulbs from area nurseries and start refrigerating them now. Although businesses often put these bulbs on sale at reduced prices in late December and January, if the bulbs have not been previously refrigerated, you have little chance they will bloom properly.

We generally find that best results are obtained when pre-chilled tulip and hyacinth bulbs are planted into the garden in late December or early January. For one thing, the soil may stay relatively warm until late December. Planting these pre-chilled bulbs in a soil that is still too warm can cancel the chilling process and lead to the bulbs blooming poorly.

Also, bulbs planted earlier bloom earlier – as early as February – and the weather is so unsettled at that time that the flowers are more likely to be ruined by freezes and winter storms. Tulips and hyacinths planted over the next few weeks generally bloom in March and early April when the weather is more likely to be favorable.

Remember that tulips and hyacinths, like most spring bulbs, look better when planted in masses or groups rather than single rows. Plantings are also generally more effective and dramatic when one or just a few colors are used. If several colors are used, they should be planted in small groups of individual colors within the larger planting.

If you purchased your bulbs prepackaged in mixed colors, you don’t have any choice of the colors and will have no way to group individual colors. In the future, you may want to choose to purchase bulbs in single-color packages instead.

Plant tulip and hyacinth bulbs in sunny to partly shaded areas that have good drainage. The bulbs should be planted into well-prepared beds that have been generously amended with organic matter and a light application of general-purpose fertilizer. Here in Louisiana we generally do not plant spring-flowering bulbs as deeply as is recommended for areas farther north. Tulips and hyacinths are planted about 5 inches deep, spaced about 3 or 4 inches apart.

Once planted, you may plant over the bulbs with flowering cool season bedding plants such as alyssum, pansy or viola. Make sure the bulbs will grow taller than the bedding plants and that the colors of the bedding plants and bulbs will look good together when they are both in bloom.

Planting spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and hyacinths in containers is a wonderful way to grow them. When you grow them in containers, you can move the bulbs inside when they come into bloom. As delightful as they are in the landscape, spring bulbs are especially enjoyable indoors.

Any size container with drainage holes may be used to grow spring bulbs. Plant the bulbs in pots using potting soil. The bulbs should be close together but not touching, and the tips of the bulbs should show just above the soil surface.

There is a trick with tulips. Look carefully, and you will see that one side of the bulb is flattened. Plant the bulbs so that the flat side faces the outside edge of the pot. The first leaves the bulbs send up will all face the outside, creating a more attractive presentation.

Place the planted container outside in a shady spot where it is cool. Move the pot to a sunny location when growth from the bulbs is about an inch tall. Only bring the container in on nights when temperatures are predicted to reach the mid-20s or below, and return the pot back outside when the severe cold is over.

When the flower buds begin to show color, bring the pots inside for display. The flowers will last longer if they are kept cool. If you keep your house warm, move the pot to a cool room or outside at night if you can.

Hyacinths are one of the easiest bulbs to bloom in containers and can even be grown in bowls without drainage holes filled with pebbles or stone chips. Plant the bulbs close together but not touching so that about half the bulb is covered by the pebbles, and add enough water to reach the bottom of the bulbs. Add water regularly to keep it at that level. Grow them as recommended above. Bulbs may also be grown just in water in special hyacinth vases shaped like hourglasses.

As the hectic pace of the holidays slows, take some time to plant your bulbs. If you neglect to plant your bulbs for bloom this spring, you cannot hold them until December of next year.

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