Here are our best tips for when and how to plant bulbs, as well as a bulbs planting guide featuring popular spring-blooming bulbs.
When to Plant Bulbs
The only universal rule for when to plant flower bulbs is before the first hard frost. As a general guideline, the colder your climate, the earlier you plant. Plant your bulbs as soon as the ground is cool. In most areas in the US, this coincides with the first frost, when nighttime temperatures reach 40 to 50° F.
The ideal planting window is six weeks before the ground freezes in your area
. In colder northern climates, for example, plant in September or October. In warmer climates, you may need to plant bulbs in December (or even later).
It’s best to plant bulbs as soon as possible after bringing them home. If necessary, bulbs can be stored for a month or longer. Keep them in a dry and cool place that’s between 50° and 60° F. For long storage periods, a refrigerator vegetable compartment can be used, but be sure to keep them away from ripening fruit. The gas emitted by fruit’s ripening process can ruin bulbs. However, when in doubt, bulbs belong in the ground. They won’t last long unplanted!
List of Spring Bulbs to Plant
Tulip blooms come in many colors and can be double, fringed, star-like or cup-shaped.
The intensely fragrant flowers of hyacinth are a sign that spring has arrived.
Crocuses are a welcome sign of spring that often flower before the last snow melts away.
There are lots of sizes, from mini to large, and daffodil flowers come in a range of colors.
Grape hyacinth flowering bulbs spread easily and make a good small-scale groundcover.
Dainty blue or white Siberian squill flowers make fun, miniature cut flower bouquets.
Ornamental onion is rabbit- and deer-resistant and has impressive, globe-shaped flowers.
The fragrant early spring blooms of dwarf iris thrive in well-drained soil, like a rock garden.
Prepare to Plant Spring Bulbs
Most spring-blooming bulbs will thrive in either full or part sun (three or more hours of sunlight each day)
. But flowering bulbs can be planted pretty much anywhere in your garden if you have good drainage. The bulbs will rot in standing water so avoid areas prone to flooding, such as the bottom of hills or under drainpipes.
Bulb Gardening Tips
- Keep the label and the flower bulbs together until you’re ready to plant. Without the label, you can’t tell the difference between red tulips and white ones just by looking at the bulbs.
- Prepare the soil by breaking it up until it’s loose and workable. Remove any weeds and small stones. If it’s a new garden, the soil could benefit from adding organic matter such as compost.
How to Plant Bulbs
1. Dig a trench to plant a row of flowering bulbs, or dig individual holes for a small cluster of bulbs or to plant individual large bulbs. Note that a group of flowers is more striking to the eye than a lone bloomer.
2. Plant large bulbs (two inches or more) about eight inches deep. Bury small bulbs (one inch) about five inches deep in the soil. Space large bulbs three to ten inches apart and small bulbs one to two inches apart.
3. Place the pointy end of the bulb up – it’s as simple as that. Even if you don’t get it exactly right, the flower bulb will still find its way topside.
4. Cover the bulbs with soil and water generously. Add two to three inches of mulch on top of the garden. The mulch provides added protection from the cold and keeps the soil from drying out.
Fertilizing Spring Blooming Bulbs
Bulbs are natural storehouses of food. No fertilizer is needed to flower the first year.
For a bulb garden that returns for several years, there are two easy options to feed bulbs. In the fall or spring of the bulbs’ second year:
1. Spread good organic compost or well-rotted cow manure on top of the soil.
2. Apply a slow-release bulb food according to the package instructions.
Bulb Gardening Design Tips:
- Plant low-growing bulbs, such as grape hyacinths, in front of taller flowers, such as tulips.
- Always plant bulbs in groups, either in small clusters or throughout a garden. A single flower standing alone is not very dramatic.
- Look at pictures for bulb gardening ideas and inspiration.
- Plant scattered clusters of early-flowering bulbs, such as crocus, throughout your lawn to achieve a “natural” look.
- Experiment. You know best what flowers you like. Pick a flower bulb variety on a whim and try a small planting. If it does well for you, add more next year.
You can also plant clusters of spring-flowering bulbs in an area that is not mowed often. These early flowers will add a colorful accent to your landscape and, if left on their own to wilt away, will return year after year. Well-selected and mature plantings of naturalized bulbs can add value to your home, just as mature trees and shrubs do. Find out more about how to use Spring Flowering Bulbs for Groundcover or Filler