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Main Content

Plant Spring Bulbs

by The Old Farmer’s Almanac staff

Take out your trowel and kneepads, it’s time to get those bulbs in the ground!

To guarantee color in the garden come spring, plant your bulbs now. It’s important to get bulbs in the ground by the end of fall to give them time to establish roots while the soil is still relatively warm. As spring approaches, they will put energy into flower development rather than root growth. Besides, shopping for bulbs at this time of year, when the pickin’s are plentiful, is fun!

Choosing Spring Bulbs

  • Purchase from reputable garden stores, nurseries, or catalog vendors.
  • Look for bulbs that have a heftiness to them—this indicates moisture and good health. (Picking bulbs is a bit like choosing produce.)
  • Plan on crocuses, tulips, and daffodils—they are always sure bets and there are literally thousands from which to choose. 
  • Mix in a few less commonly used bulbs for greater interest. Good choices include: snowdrops, puschkinias, scillas, aconites, anemones, alliums, frittilarias, cyclamens, English wood hyacinths, and Spanish bluebells.

Planting Bulbs

  • Plant bulbs soon after purchasing them.
  • Choose a time before the ground freezes. In the lower South, where you may not have a hard freeze, early November is a good time to plant.
  • Select a site with lots of sun and well-drained soil.
  • Dig holes large enough for a good number of bulbs. (For big splashes of color, plant 10 to 15 bulbs together in one hole.)
  • Plant at the approximate depth recommended on the package—in general, three times the width of the bulb.
  • Work a few inches of compost into the bottom of the hole as well as the soil you have dug out. Some gardeners also like to mix in green sand, bone meal, and Osmocote for enhanced nutrition.
  • Arrange bulbs in a random order and spacing to create a more natural appearance.
  • Pack down the soil to create a firm, even planting surface.
  • Be sure to place the bulbs with the root side down.
  • Protect your bulbs from snack-seeking critters by placing a cut piece of cage wire over them. 
  • Backfill with amended soil, firmly tamp down, and top with a thick layer of mulch.

Tools for the Task

There are a number of products on the market specifically designed for bulb planting.

When planting large numbers of bulbs in a single hole, a shovel works better than a trowel. There is the option of a long-handled Holland-made bulb planter, which has two 30-inch-long ash handles that allow you to make a hole and deposit the bulb, all in one step; this tool is effective in areas where soil is compacted. Bulb augers work well in similar situations. For smaller spaces and container planting, use a bulb dibble or a hand towel.

Tips for Spring Bouquets

To extend the vase life of your hard-earned bulb blooms, cut stems diagonally, then wrap the upper two-thirds of the flowers in a funnel of newspaper and stand them in cool water for 1 to 2 hours. Take them out and recut the stems. They will last another week.

Did You Know?

  • If you dig up a tulip bulb in midsummer, it’s not the same bulb you planted in the fall—it’s an offspring. As the tulip blooms, the bulb divides to create the next generation.
  • In 17th-century Holland, the newly propagated tulip was all the rage. So beloved were they that a handful of bulbs was worth about $44,000!
  • Tulips are edible. During the Dutch famine of 1944 in WWII people resorted to eating them.

How to Plant Bulbs for the Spring

Getting started with bulbs isn't hard at all. Here we demonstrate the necessary steps that will help you get the best results from planting bulbs. Follow these instructions and you will end up with an extremely colorful bed of flowers when spring arrives.

Fall bulb planting plan - Tractor Supply Co.
Garden expert and author Jodi Torpey designed this planting plan exclusively for Out Here readers. The bed measures 4’ x 8’. The edging around the daffodils is optional.

When shorter summer days give way to fall, it signals the beginning of the end to another gardening season. Instead of dreading it, celebrate it with one last planting push.

Simply put: Think spring.

The best cure for the wintertime blues is looking out the window and seeing the first flowers of a new season. Plant a spring bulb garden now and you’ll reap the rewards of early flowers next year when you need them the most.

Gardeners may enjoy plunking a few spring bulbs into their perennial beds, but designing a new garden can be more satisfying.

Not only will spring flowers brighten an empty space, designing a spring bulb garden stretches a gardener’s creativity. It’s like painting a landscape with flowers.

There are a few design guidelines to ensure the best results. First, plan the garden in proportion to the space around it. A small bed will get lost in a large expanse of lawn, and a big planting bed can overwhelm a small space. Look for an unused area that will spring to life when planted.

Second, choose a palette of colors that either matches the style of existing gardens or sets a mood for the landscape.

Spring bulbs can offer a rainbow of color for an energetic garden of yellows, reds, and oranges or a more serene garden composed of pastels. Even a monochromatic planting of all white flowers could be attractive in just the right place.

Because a bed of bulbs is a long-term endeavor, take time to devise a planting plan. You can use a formal grid to draw the garden to scale or a make simple sketch so you’ll know which bulbs to plant where.

This planting plan designed exclusively for Out Here readers, is like a roadmap to help you picture the perfect garden and avoid mistakes.

For example, it’s important to place short flowers in front along borders and taller flowers in back. It’s also good to have plants that are in proportion to the planting space. None should be taller than one-half the width of the bed.

Plan for a long-blooming spring garden by selecting bulbs with different bloom times. Snowdrops and crocuses typically appear first, followed by early varieties of daffodils and tulips, and then hyacinths.

Adding mid-season and late-season bulbs will help extend the flower show.

If there’s a downside to planting spring bulbs it may be waiting for the foliage to dry before clearing it out of the garden. The leaves need to stay in place until they easily detach from their bulbs. This helps plants to store energy for overwintering and blooming again next year.

Planting perennial companion plants, such as daylilies, adds structure to the flower bed and helps camouflage fading foliage.

Place rocks or stepping stones to allow for walking through the garden to perform routine maintenance.

Select a Sunny Spot

Plant your spring bulb garden in an area that gets full sun to partial shade. Measure the space for the bed using a tape measure or lay out a length of garden hose to create a bed with curving borders.

Clear the area of sod, weeds, or other garden debris and evaluate the soil. Bulbs need soil with good drainage so they can develop healthy roots. Amend the garden bed deeply with compost or other organic matter to turn either heavy clay or sandy soil into a loamy soil.

Add a slow-release fertilizer, such as bone meal, over the planting area or sprinkle bulb food into individual planting holes.

Points For Planting

The secret to planting bulbs is to plant densely. Place several daffodils in each planting hole, cluster tulip bulbs close together, and plant smaller bulbs within an inch or two of each other.

Be sure to plant bulbs at their prime planting depth: snowdrops, crocuses, and grape hyacinths so their tops are at 3 inches below the soil; daffodils and hyacinths at 6 inches; and tulips 4-6 inches, depending on the variety.

For large swaths of flowers, dig a trench to the correct depth and loosen soil. Place bulbs pointed end up or horizontally if you’re unsure which end should be up. Plants will find their way to the surface. Cover with soil.