Spring-Flowering Bulbs to Plant in Fall

Plant Fall Bulbs Now for Spring Flowers!

October 19, 2020
Daffodils and Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Fall is the time to plant bulbs! There’s nothing more uplifting than seeing the first early spring flowers pop up from the cold ground! Our updated Spring-Flowering Bulbs Chart lists which bulbs work in your zone, how deep to plant the bulbs, and more information—plus, we highlight the most popular bulbs.

When to Plant Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Spring-flowering bulbs (also referred to as “fall bulbs”) often offer the first glimpse of color that bursts into our garden in late winter and early spring. Think crocus, daffodils, tulips, and hyacinth, among others! This is in contrast to summer-flowering “bulbs” such as dahlias, elephant ear, caladium, gladiolus, and cannas, which are planted in the spring. 

They’re generally planted when soils are below 60°F in the late fall. This is usually during September and October in the North, or October and November in the South. (Tulips are one exception—you can plant tulips as late in winter as you can get them into the soil.) In general, the time to plant fall bulbs is about 6 weeks before a hard frost is expected.

Consult our Frost Dates Calculator to see when the first fall frost is likely to hit your area.

In the warmest parts of the 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°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.

Spring-Flowering Bulbs Chart

See our chart below for a summary of each bulbs’ preferences—in terms of soil type, soil depth and spacing, and other details. Below this chart, we’ll add some additional information to each spring bulb choice.

Click here for a printable chart.

Common Name

Hardiness

Zone

Soil Sun/Shade Spacing (in) Depth (in) Blooming Season Height (in)
Bluebell 4–9 Well–drained/
fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
4 3-4 Spring 8–20
Christmas Rose/
Hellebore
4–8 Neutral—alkaline Full sun/
Partial Shade
18 1-2 Spring 12
Crocus 3–8 Well–drained/
moist/fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
4 3 Early Spring 5
Daffodil 3–10 Well–drained/
moist/fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
6 6 Early Spring 14–24
Fritillary 3–9 Well–drained/
sandy
Full sun/
Partial Shade
3 3 Midspring 6–30
Glory of the snow 3–9 Well–drained/
moist
Full sun/
Partial Shade
3 3 Spring 4–10
Grape hyacinth 4–10 Well–drained/
moist/fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
3–4 2–3 Late winter
to spring
6–12
Iris, bearded 3–9 Well–drained Full sun/
Partial Shade
4 4 Early spring
to early summer
3–48
Iris, Siberian 4–9 Well–drained Full sun/
Partial Shade
4 4 Early spring
to midsummer
18–48
Ornamental onion 3–10 Well–drained/
moist/fertile
Full sun 12 3–4 Late spring
to early summer
6–60
Snowdrop 3–9 Well–drained/
moist/fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
3 3 Spring 6–12
Snowflake 5–9 Well–drained/
moist/sandy
Full sun/
Partial Shade
4 4 Spring 6–18
Spring starflower 6–9 Well–drained loam Full sun/
Partial Shade
3–6 3 Spring 4–6
Star of Bethlehem 5–10 Well–drained/
moist
Full sun/
Partial Shade
2–5 4 Spring to summer 6–24
Striped squill 3–9 Well–drained Full sun/
Partial Shade
6 3 Spring 4–6
Tulip 4–8 Well–drained/
fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
3–6 4–6 Early to
late spring
8–30
Winter aconite 4–9 Well–drained/
moist/fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
3 2–3 Late winter
to spring
2–4

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

Buying Fall Bulbs

Bulbs are easy to find at all the local garden centers and even big-box stores and grocery tores. We suggest you buy bulbs from reputable nursery or garden centers. 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.

Bulbs can also be ordered from a mail-order catalog to ensure high quality. Another advantage to ordering online is to find more unusual varieties. There are many wonderful high-quality online nurseries incuding Dutch suppliers such as Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

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°F. Temperatures above 70°F. may damage the flower buds.

Spring-Flowering Bulbs to Plant in Fall

Here are some of the most popular spring-blooming bulbs planted before winter. 

Daffodils

We prefer daffodils over any other bulbs because squirrels, deer, and chipmunks leave them alone! Daffodils come in many colors, not just yellow (pink, orange, white, multi-colored) and their flowers range from trumpets to flat rings to little rose-like cups. They grow best in well-draining soil that has been amended with organic matter or compost. They should be planted at least 6 inches deep and 6 inches apart. They look great in large drifts in groundcover beds or in meadows or planted under hostas.

See the Almanac’s Daffodil Growing Guide.

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  • Jonquils is the term usually used for a specific type of daffodil known as Narcissus jonquilla. They 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.

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Crocuses

One of the earliest spring flowers, we’re always delighted when crocus appear. These low-to-the-ground bulbs flower in purple, white, yellow, and striped variations, growing about 4 to 6 inches high. Crocus prefer well-drained soil and will grow in partial shade or full Sun. They are perfect for garden borders and even look great when planted in a lawn. They’ll finish their bloom before it’s time to start mowing!

See the Almanac’s Crocus Growing Guide for more planting information.

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Snowdrops

Snowdrops (Galanthus) are dainty little little white bells that are just delightful in the late winter and early spring. When blooming en masse, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a fairy tale. They are adaptable, growing well in full or partial shade and in moist or dry soil but they do need plenty of organic matter (compost) for plentiful blooms. Plant three inches deep and three inches part. We love them when planted in drifts in groundcover beds. 

Like daffodils, snowdrops are rodent-adverse. See our article on Rodent-proof Flower Bulbs.

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Tulips

One of the best-known spring bulbs, tulips come in a rainbow of colors and variations. They prefer well-drained or sandy soil that is rich in fertlizer. Tulips looks beautiful when planted en masse and bloom after the daffodils. They look great paired with grape hyacinth.

A word of caution: Tulips today are often one-season wonders. Due to hybridization and the fact that squirrels love these bulbs, we tend to treat them as annuals. Expect no more than ¾ of the bulbs will return in their second year and even less in their third year. You’ll just need to plant more tulip bulbs every year (it’s not hard) or protect the bulbs with a nylon mesh. 

Some readers claim that planting tulips with allium or daffodil bulbs helps since critters find the latter two bulbs “stinky.” Let us know if this works for you.

See the Almanac’s Tulip Growing Guide

tulip-3316491_1920.jpg

Hyacinth

These spring beauties bloom around the same time as daffodils and tulips, and have a wonderful fragrance! Small blue clusters of tiny bell-shaped blooms, hyacinth are also good for naturalizing. (They also come in paler pinks, baby blues, yellows, and white). An annual application of compost should provide adequate nutrients. Flower size may decline in subsequent years, so some gardeners treat hyacinths as annuals and plant fresh bulbs each fall. 

See the Almanac’s Hyacinth Growing Guide.

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Irises

These tall beauties are hardy, reliable, and easy to grow, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds and making lovely cut flowers. Irises need at least a half a day of sun with EXCELLENT drainage. Planting on a slope or in raised beds helps ensure good drainage. If your soil is heavy, coarse sand or humus may be added to improve drainage.

It’s imperative that the roots of newly planted Iris be well-established before the growing season ends, so we’d plant irises on the earlier end of the range (September in the North and October in the South).

Get more information on how to plant irises.

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Ornamental Onion (Allium)

Ornamental alliums are great for cutting and bees adore them, too! Planted in the fall for spring blooms, these purple pom-pom flowers make a dramatic statement when planted en masse. Even better, they’re from the onion family so they are generally deer- and rodent-resistant. Depending on variety, these easy-to-grow plants add color to the flower garden from spring through fall. Select a site with well-drained soil in full sun. Learn more about growing allium. 

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Photo Credit: Manfred Ruckszio/Shutterstock

How to Plant Fall Bulbs

Planting bulbs is generally an easy task (unless you’ve ordered hundreds of them), but there are some things that you want to make sure to get right. Here are tips to keep in mind:

  • Of course, the first tip is to remember to plant bulbs with the point facing up! Examine bulbs carefully before placing them in the planting hole, being sure to set them with the roots facing downward.
  • Bulbs need soil that drains nicely or they are prone to 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. If your soil is sandy, plant bulbs slightly deeper; in clay soils, slightly shallower.
  • The general rule is to plant bulbs at a depth of three times the width of the bulb, but refer to our chart above for specific planting depths.
  • Consider bloom time for each bulb (early spring, mid-spring, late spring) and plant bulbs with different bloom times so that you have flowers throughout spring!

spring-bulb-planting-chart.jpg
This diagram shows the bloom time, average bloom height, and planting depth for common bulbs.

  • Place shorter bulbs in the front of beds and borders.
  • Plant bulbs generously in case some do not sprout (or are devoured by hungry squirrels). Plant them in random order and spacing for a more natural appearance. Or, if you love groves of daffodils and blanketed landscapes of tulips, be prepared to buy and plant a large quantity of bulbs together!
  • You can use a special bulb-planting hand tool to assist you, 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.

bulbs-beautiful-21895_1920_full_width.jpg
Bulbs look great planted en masse—in a grove, near the mailbox, as swaths of colors in garden beds, and as colorful borders

  • After planting, apply fertilizer that’s fairly low in nitrogen, such as a 9-6-6 formulation.
  • Water bulbs well after planting and make sure they do not dry out before the ground freezes.
  • 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.

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

Source: 

The Old Farmer's Almanac

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Amarylis

Why is amarylis not mentioned?

bees

It would rally be nice to know which of these are honey bee friendly.

Honey Bees

The Editors's picture

Honey bees will be happy to see any of these spring flowers, but you can’t go wrong with crocus and daffodils!

Transplanting daffodils

I was given potted daffodils for Mother's Day, they bloomed beautifully. Can I now transplant them into my flower bed? If so, when should I do so? Thanks for your help!

when to plant daffs?

The Editors's picture

Daffodils are planted in the fall. Do not cut off the foliage, do not water the plant. You can leave it in the pot/container or take it out and put it in a cool, dark place. Plant it in October or November, depending on how soon winter comes your way. (You want to plant well before the ground freezes.)

Fall planted bulbs

Hi The Editors, I live in San Diego Zone 10. My Tulip, Hyacinth, Daffodil bulbs have been chilled from September 15, some are chilled from Oct and November, until now in refrigerator. I haven’t planted them yet because the grower websites recommend that they need to be chilled at least 15 weeks. Please let me know when I can plant them. Can I plant them now or I need to wait until Jan 2020? Thank you so much for your advise.

Late planting

My bulbs arrived after the first frost. The top of the ground is frozen
Help please what are my options at this point ?

Bulb planting

I was very surprised that you didn't mention using Epsom salts when planting. It gives the bulbs some extra fertilizer and seems to keep the squirrels and mice and voles away

Tulips

I live in zone 7 in MS. I put my tulip bulbs out at the end of December. All my tulips have come up and are blooming. Our weather has so messed up this year. The tulips look beautiful but I sure hope they won't be hurt by this weather.

Tulips

I live in northern Ohio. Planted in fall and first year they came up great. Second year only the leaves came up great but no flowers. Don't seem to know what's going on?

only foliage...

The Editors's picture

It’s hard to know for certain why they didn’t bloom again, but heat in the early part of the season may cause blooms to fail. Or poor growing conditions in the prior year—despite appearances. If you cut off the foliage after the bloom last year you removed the bulb’s survival strategy; the foliage makes energy for the next year. It’s too late to try again for this spring, but don’t give up entirely. Plant some bulbs this spring that will bloom later this year. See for details: https://www.almanac.com/content/growing-guide-spring-planted-bulbs

Daffodils

Hello I live in Ashville Ohio, we really didn’t have much of a fall season & I was somewhat busy in addition. I ordered pink daffodils from Holland & I have been planting them on the nice weekends we have had here and there. I went 6 inches deep. I am concerned when the ground actually freezes, should I just mulch them heavy to help protect them so they can grow their roots ? I just planted them 2 weeks ago and a lot this weekend 11-26-18,I need advice please

mulch the daffs

The Editors's picture

Mulch will not hurt them at all. Spread a couple of few inches. Should be lovely in spring!

Zone 10 Fall Planted Bulbs

Hello, I am in zone 10 Southern California. I have some bulbs of tulip, narcissus and Dutch iris and now is November 12. It's late to chill them now, can I plant them in the containers and store in the cool back yard? Please help. Thank you.

Zone 10

The Editors's picture

We can’t guarantee anything, and the first thought is, sure, try it. Then on second thought, maybe try a few…and give a few a chill for even a couple of weeks (sorry; this is being posted weeks later than you wrote—but there is still time!). Bottom line, try it!

Zone 10 Spring flowers (update)

I planted 70 bulbs of single & double tulips in November without pre-chilling.
Only 10 red tulips bloomed, the rest didn't grow or grew leaves only, no flowers at all.
Dutch Iris, Chinese Narcissus, Ranunculus, Lily bloomed without pre-chilling.
This year, I already chilled some bulbs in mid Sept (and some more in Oct) and waiting for the time to plant them.
I have one more question, Editor, please help.
Can I grow the Spring flowering bulbs in the fabric pots, in zone 10? Thank you.

When to plant roses

When is it time to plant roses and do I cut back roses at anytime of the year also I live in north Florida

cutting daffodils

I was told if I cut a daffodil bloom that that bulb won't flower again. Is that true.

How often daffodils bloom

The Editors's picture

Yes, that’s true. Daffodils bloom once a year. Their bloom will last 6 weeks to 6 months, depending on the variety and your location. After blooming, do not cut off the leaves if you want blooms next year. The plant needs to rebuild its bulb. The leaves stay green while this is happening. When the leaves begin to yellow, then you can cut the leaves off but not before.

Will the bulb flower again if I cut a bloom?

If you cut the flowers, the bulb will, in fact produce more flowers, but not until the next year. I think THAT was actually what you were asking.

Late planting of bulbs ?

Help! Is it too late to plant my spring flowering bulbs ? We got too busy remodeling the house and forgot about them in the garage in a paper bag.

Planting Bulbs in Winter

The Editors's picture

Planting spring-flowering bulbs as late as January or February typically results in sub-par blooms, as the bulbs have not had enough time to root before blooming. 

You could try forcing the bulbs to bloom inside or planting in mulch.

Potting a bulb

Hello I’m new to gardening and was wondering if it’s okay to plant bulbs into a pot or does it have to be planted out in a yard?

bulbs in containers

The Editors's picture

You can definitely plant bulbs in containers, even force them to bloom indoors for a special occasion. The following articles give you some tips on forcing bulbs:
https://www.almanac.com/video/spring-bulbs-perfect-present-any-gardener
https://www.almanac.com/news/gardening/gardening-advice/amaryllis-how-grow-amaryllis-bulbs
https://www.almanac.com/news/gardening/garden-journal/forcing-bulbs-indoors-winter-blooms
https://www.almanac.com/news/everything-almanac-news/fooling-mother-nature-forcing-bulbs

Bulbs can be grown outside in containers, too. Just follow the same directions as if planting in the ground, for depth, spacing, etc., choosing a soil mix that drains well and gives enough depth and width to accommodate the number of bulbs you wish to plant in the container. If you live in a cold climate, you’ll need to either select a pot that can be stored outdoors over winter, and protect it with insulation such as several inches of straw, or you can move it to an unheated garage. Water less frequently in winter. When growth starts in spring, remove the mulch and move the pot outdoors once temperatures are warm enough to make your particular bulb happy. When your bulbs are growing, be sure your pot is placed in the appropriate light, and check the water requirements for the bulb(s) you have. Some bulbs, such as summer bulbs, will like warm temperatures. Other bulbs require a chilling period over winter to encourage spring blooms next year.

Just a tip if anyone bothers

Just a tip if anyone bothers to read these comments, don't plant bulbs where you mow. Because it is a pain to mow around the standing foliage after the flowers have faded. Remember for 6 weeks to leave the leaves, so plant out of the way.

Daffodils

When do I plant daffodil bulbs in San Francisco where the climate is mild and there is no frost?

Daffodils in California

The Editors's picture

The area around San Francisco ranges from Zones 9b–10b, which means it would be best to plant your daffodil bulbs in early to mid November.

Planting bulbs as well as daylillies

My question is, I live n SE NC but am planning to share bulbs and daylillies with a friend in the Cincinnati, OH area. My thought is plant bulbs later Oct, but uncertain about the daylillies and will they winter over ok. Also amaryllis bulbs and succulents. Where we are, it's not an issue but my friend has a new house with a big yard.

Nothing Ventured ...

The Editors's picture

Hi, Renee: What a pleasure to respond to someone with your last name! Tulip bulbs really should have at least a few weeks in the soil before the first hard frost, and conditions are optimum if the soil temperature is above 60 degrees, but if your ground is not yet frozen, you might as well put them in and give it a shot (and hope for a mild December!). Thanks for asking!

Live In Cleveland OH

We tulips that we ordered but haven't planted them yet.Can we still plant them? Thank you.
Renee

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