How to Plant Bulbs in the Fall for a Stunning Spring Garden
INSIDE: Looking for a step-by-step bulb planting guide? These are my top tips to get your fall bulbs planted fast. Discover when and how to plant bulbs in the fall.
When you first see a flower bulb, it can be hard to imagine the glorious show they’ll put on next season.
They can seem unimpressive.
Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, they’re dry, covered in papery skin, and seem as lifeless as a moon rock.
But inside that unassuming little package is an entire plant waiting to burst out.
And that’s the magic of bulbs.✨
Next spring, when you feel like you can’t take one more grey, chilly day, the bulbs you planted this fall will add pops of cheery color to your garden.
Luckily, they’re easy to plant. Just follow a few simple steps to become a bulb-planting pro!
🌷Keep reading to discover all my tips about flower bulbs to plant in the fall.
Heads up: If you buy something after clicking a link in this post, I’ll earn a small commission. I only link to products I’d recommend to my best friend.
No matter where you live, deciding when to plant your fall bulbs is easy.
1. When to plant bulbs in a cold climate zone
If you live in a cold climate (where your soil freezes for several months over the winter), plant spring bulbs when soil temperatures are around 55° Fahrenheit.
This usually coincides with nighttime temperatures around 40 – 50° Fahrenheit or four to six weeks before you expect the ground to freeze.
- The bulbs need enough time to grow roots before the ground freezes.
- But you don’t want to plant bulbs in warm soil.
- This can cause bulbs to “cook.”
So, in cold climates, planting time is usually from late September to mid-October.
2. When to plant fall bulbs in a warm climate zone
If you live in a warm climate where the ground doesn’t freeze:
- You’ll need to chill your spring bulbs or purchase pre-chilled bulbs.
- Plant your bulbs from mid-October to November.
- You may be able to plant them as late as December. But the later it gets, the bigger a risk you’re taking.
Forgot to plant bulbs? Oops! Here’s what you can do…
If you live in a cold climate zone and don’t get your bulbs in the ground by the end of October, you can still try planting them if your soil isn’t frozen.
Just know that bulbs planted this late might not survive. They may not send out roots and get established quickly enough.
If you don’t want to risk it, or your ground is frozen, you can try to save them by planting them in pots.
- Choose pots that are deep enough for the bulbs you have.
- Add some bulb fertilizer to the potting soil according to the directions on the package.
- Mark the bulbs so you know what’s in each pot.
- Leave the pots in a cool spot, like an unheated garage or shed, for several weeks while they establish roots.
- Keep them well-watered.
- Then, after they’ve grown roots, set them outside in a shady location over the winter.
- When your soil thaws in the spring, plant them in your garden.
Spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils, tulips, and crocuses are the best bulbs for fall planting because they need to go through a cold period in the winter to bloom next spring.
Selecting the right bulbs for your garden is crucial to ensure that they thrive in your garden’s location and climate.
Here are some popular and reliable fall-planted bulbs:
Tulip bulbs are a popular choice for fall planting as they come in a range of colors, shapes, and sizes.
And they’re easy to grow.
Choose larger bulbs for bigger flowers and smaller bulbs for smaller flowers.
If deer are a problem in your area, only grow tulips in spots where you can exclude the deer—tulips are deer candy!
Daffodil bulbs are another low-maintenance option for fall planting.
They come in various colors, including yellow, white, and pink, and are known for their trumpet-shaped blooms.
Like tulip bulbs, choose larger bulbs for bigger flowers and smaller bulbs for smaller flowers.
3. Grape Hyacinths
Growing these charming and delicate flowers is an easy way to add pops of blue, purple, and white to your garden.
They are low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, and easy to grow, making them perfect for new gardeners.
They also naturalize well, which means they multiply and spread, forming beautiful clusters and carpets of flowers.
Crocus bulbs are one of the earliest spring flowers, often blooming before the last frost.
By planting crocus bulbs, you can enjoy an early season burst of vibrant colors like purple, yellow, and white.
Not only do they brighten up your garden and herald the arrival of spring, but crocus flowers are also a valuable source of early-season nectar for bees and other pollinators.
By planting crocuses, you’ll provide a crucial food source for these beneficial insects, supporting their populations and contributing to overall biodiversity in your garden.
5. Dutch Iris
While not technically a “bulb” (they’re a rhizome), Dutch iris bulbs are a stunning addition to any garden.
Their tall, elegant blooms come in many colors, including blue, purple, yellow, and white.
They require minimal effort, making them easy to grow.
Always consider bloom time and flower height when you plan your bulb garden.
Choose different bloom times
Pay attention to bloom times for a steady supply of spring blooms.
If you plan well, it’s possible to have daffodils blooming in your garden for up to two months!
Good bulb catalogs tell you when the bulbs will bloom: early, middle, or late in the season.
Plant them based on height
When you’re planting different bulbs that bloom at the same time, plant the shorter bulbs in front of taller ones.
But if you’re planting bulbs in the same area that don’t bloom at the same time, it can work to place the taller bulbs in front of the shorter bulbs.
Should you plant annual or perennial bulbs?
Many spring bulbs (daffodils, scilla, chionodoxa, alliums, and muscari) are considered perennials.
They’ll bloom again every spring for several years.
And some of these bulbs will “naturalize” or multiply over time.
Tulips and hyacinths are most often treated as annuals because they usually look their best and bloom the most their first spring.
If that’s the case in your garden, treat these bulbs as annuals and plant new ones every fall.
When selecting individual bulbs at a store, choose the largest bulbs in the bin. Typically, larger bulbs of the same variety will bloom more than smaller ones.
Select quality bulbs and buy them at the right time
Where to buy bulbs for fall planting
I always order my bulbs through the mail.
- Catalogs have a better selection than big box stores and even local garden centers.
- And you can order high-quality bulbs in bulk at reasonable prices.
- The best part is that you can place your order months in advance. And they’ll ship your bulbs when it’s bulb-planting time where you live.
Some of the best bulb catalogs are:
But if you plan on buying only a few bulbs and are happy with the selection at your local store, here’s what you need to know.
- Healthy bulbs are plump and firm.
- Avoid bulbs that are soft, dried out, mushy, or have mold growing on them.
- When selecting individual bulbs, choose the largest bulbs in the bin. Typically, larger bulbs of the same variety will bloom more than smaller ones.
Get tips from Next Level Gardening on planting bulbs:
Select bulbs for your growing zone
Most spring-blooming bulbs will grow in all but the coldest hardiness zones.
Always choose bulbs that are hardy in your growing zone.
If you live in a warm climate, most spring bulbs need an artificial chilling period (in a refrigerator) before they can bloom.
You can also purchase “pre-chilled” bulbs that are ready to plant.
Pay attention to the bulb’s sun and soil requirements
When you choose your bulbs, check the sunlight requirements to ensure you can give them the right growing conditions.
- Typically, you’ll want to choose a spot with at least 6 hours of sun.
- But some bulbs prefer a shadier location.
- You can plant early-blooming bulbs under deciduous trees because they’ll get plenty of sun before the trees leaf out.
Most bulbs do best in soil that drains well and stays relatively dry over the winter.
Avoid areas where water pools, such as at the bottom of hills.
If they sit in soggy soil, they’ll rot.
Choose the right colors
Garden designers always work with a color palette in mind.
And they choose colors that work together.
How to create a cohesive and put-together look for your garden:
Limit yourself to 1-3 colors for each bed and bloom period (early, middle, late)
One option is to choose a single color. The effect is easy to create and always has a big impact.
You can also design your bulb plantings around a pair of colors. For example,
- Blue and white,
- Red and yellow,
- Or orange and purple.
You can choose a trio of several related colors if one or two colors aren’t enough.
Good combinations are:
- pink, lavender, and purple
- orange, purple, and yellow
- yellow, orange, and red
Unfortunately, many stores sell their fall bulbs as early as July or August so they can get their gardening supplies out of the way to make room for holiday displays.
This means you’ll either need to store your bulbs properly for one to three months or plan to order from a bulb catalog so you have fresh, healthy bulbs delivered at planting time.
But if you’re stuck purchasing bulbs this early, here’s how to store them if you’ve room in your refrigerator:
- Leave them in the bag they came in.
- Put that bag in a paper bag.
- Label the bulbs with the planting date.
- This allows you to store the bulbs in your fridge without making a mess.
And don’t store your bulbs with fruit. The ethylene gas that fruit gives off will make your bulbs go bad.
If you don’t have room in your fridge,
- Store your bulbs in a dark, cool, and dry place.
- Don’t store them in plastic bags. They need to breathe.
- Label them with the planting date.
No matter how you store them, check them regularly for signs of mold or rot.
Planting bulbs in clusters: The best way to plant bulbs
Clustering bulbs is the easiest and best way to plant bulbs.
It’s easier because you don’t dig individual holes for each bulb. You plant groups of them in wide holes.
And here’s why it’s the best method:
- Visual impact: Planting bulbs in clusters creates a more impactful and appealing display. Instead of scattered individual flowers, clustered bulbs create dense pockets of color that make a striking statement in your garden.
- Natural appearance: Clustering bulbs mimics how flowers grow in the wild. In nature, bulbs often naturalize and form dense clumps or drifts. By clustering bulbs, you can create a more natural and organic look in your garden, resembling the beauty of a wildflower meadow.
- Pollinator attraction: When multiple flowers grow close together, they create a larger target for pollinators like bees and butterflies. This increases the chances of attracting these beneficial insects to your garden.
Another way to cluster your bulbs is to layer them like you’re making a lasagna.
This creates a dramatic, ever-blooming effect.
Lasagna planting: Layer your bulbs for a big impact in a small space
It’s a simple technique.
You layer bulbs in a container or garden bed to create a continuously blooming display.
Start by planting the largest bulbs at the bottom of the hole, then cover them with a layer of soil, then plant the smaller bulbs, and so on.
How to plant bulbs and perennials together
Integrating bulbs with perennial plants is a great way to add more color to your spring garden.
When planting bulbs amongst perennials, it’s crucial to remember that most bulbs prefer to be kept relatively dry when they’re dormant in the fall and winter.
So, it’s best to plant them in well-draining soil.
And avoid planting them in soil that tends to hold water, like heavy clay.
How deep to plant bulbs in the fall: Ensuring proper growth for stunning blooms
How deep you plant your bulbs depends on the size of the bulb. Bulbs can be as large as a baseball and as small as a grape.
- The general rule is to plant them at a depth that is 2-3 times their height.
- And space them twice their width.
- Larger bulbs, like tulips, should be planted deeper than smaller bulbs, such as crocuses.
Planting bulbs too shallow exposes them to temperature spikes.
And planting them too deep can prevent them from emerging in the spring.
Clustering bulbs is the easiest and best way to plant bulbs.Cheryl Spencer, certified gardener.
How close together do you plant bulbs?
When planting bulbs, it’s essential to space them properly to ensure they have enough room to grow.
A good rule of thumb is to space bulbs two to three times their width apart.
This gives them enough room to grow and develop properly.
Which way to plant bulbs: Orienting bulbs for optimal growth
When planting bulbs, make sure to plant them with the pointed end facing up.
This is where the stem and leaves will emerge from, so it’s crucial to plant them in the correct orientation.
If it’s unclear what’s the stem end vs. the root end, plant that bulb on its side.
Now that your bulbs are planted, here are some tips on caring for your bulbs.
Should you water bulbs after planting in the fall?
Yes, you should water your bulbs after planting them.
This will help settle the soil around the bulbs and remove any air pockets that could cause your bulbs to dry out.
Watering after planting is especially important if you live in a dry climate or if you have sandy soil that drains quickly.
How often to water bulbs after planting
After planting, water your bulbs thoroughly.
Then, keep the soil moist but not wet until the ground freezes.
If you live in an area with regular rainfall, you may not need to water your bulbs again until spring.
But if you live in a dry area, you may need to water your bulbs every two weeks.
Mulch your bulbs after planting
It’s important to mulch your bulbs after you plant and water them.
Choose an organic mulch.
It’ll help keeps the bulbs from heaving over the winter, and prevent weeds in the spring.
Your bulbs will easily push up through the mulch, but most weed seeds won’t be able to sprout.
Should you fertilize bulbs in the fall?
Skip the fertilizer unless you’ve had a soil test.
Phosphorus is the most often recommended nutrient needed by bulbs.
- But most urban and suburban garden soil in the U.S. has plenty of phosphorus. You don’t want to add more if your soil has enough.
- More phosphorus won’t help your plants, and excessive phosphorus in soil can lead to fertilizer runoff that enters our waterways, causing algae blooms.
- The only way to know how much phosphorus your soil has is to get a professional soil test done by a garden soil testing lab.
If your soil test says you need to add phosphorus, add it next spring when you see the first bulb shoots.
And spread it evenly over your entire bed, not just where you’ve planted your bulbs.
Before choosing a fertilizer, get your soil tested.
If your soil test indicates phosphorus deficiencies, the best fertilizer for planting fall bulbs will be high in phosphorus.
Phosphorus helps develop strong roots and promotes flower production.
You can use a granular or a liquid fertilizer.
How to mark where bulbs are planted: a simple technique for organized gardening
After planting your bulbs, it’s important to mark where they are so you don’t accidentally dig them up in the spring.
To keep track of where your bulbs are planted, you can use:
- small flags
- wooden stakes
- a hand-drawn map
If you plan to use flags or stakes, ensure your writing will last over the winter.
How to keep weeds out of bulb beds: Maintaining a tidy garden
Weeds can compete with bulbs for nutrients and water, so controlling them is essential.
The best way to keep weeds out of bulb beds is to mulch the area with a layer of organic matter, such as shredded leaves, or my personal favorite, wood chips.
This will help suppress weed growth and retain soil moisture.
When can you cut back bulb foliage in the spring?
Leave the foliage in place until it yellows and withers.
If you don’t, the bulb can’t make food for next year’s blooms.
Once it’s dried out, feel free to remove it.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when planting bulbs in the fall:
- Plant bulbs at the proper depth. Most bulbs should be planted at a depth that is two to three times their height.
- Choose a well-draining location. Bulbs don’t like sitting in water, so ensure the soil is well-draining.
- Plant bulbs in groups. Planting bulbs in groups will create a more natural look and have a bigger impact.
- Water and mulch your bulbs after planting.
Planting bulbs in the fall is a great way to ensure a beautiful spring bloom.
But don’t forget to plant your bulbs before the ground freezes for the best results!