Planting Fall Bulbs for Spring Flowers

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Spectacular Spring Flower Bulbs to Plant in Fall

October 11, 2021
Fall Bulbs EU 2

If you haven’t planted fall bulbs, it’s the perfect time! We’ve listed the best, most reliable bulbs for a glorious springtime display—PLUS, which bulbs are deer-resistant. We also have a wonderful chart that shows which flowers bloom early, mid-, and late spring for color all season! 

What Are Fall Bulbs? 

Fall bulbs don’t flower in the fall. They’re planted in the fall to then bloom gloriously in the springtime! Think crocus, snowdrops, 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.

Why do we plant spring-flowering bulbs in the fall? These spring beauties are what we call “dormant perennial.” They need the cool, moist autumn soil to awaken them from their dormancy so they can begin growing roots in preparation for the spring show.

If you’re a beginner gardener, bulbs are so easy to pop in the ground (and spark your interest in gardening)! They’re foolproof to plant and really lift the spirits, not to mention feed the early pollinators such as the drowsy queen bumblebees. 

When to Plant Fall Bulbs

The best time to plant fall bulbs is when soils are below 60°F in the late fall or about 6 weeks before a hard frost is expected. Consult our Frost Dates Calculator for fall frost dates.

This is usually during September and October in the North. (Halloween is a good deadline to set.)  In the South, bulbs are generally planted a little later—in October and November. (Tulips are one exception—you can plant tulips as late in winter as you can get them into the soil.)

In the warmest parts of the South, you may need to pre-cool some bulbs. Most fall 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.

Our Fall Bulb Planting 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 bulb choice.

Click here for a printable chart.

Fall Bulb Planting 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.

Choosing Bulbs

Generally speaking, higher-quality bulbs are bigger (for their type) and will flower more profusely. Second-rate bulbs don’t germinate as often, have smaller blooms, and often don’t return year after year.

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.

Do you have voles or squirrels or deer? We would consider the beautiful tulip and the delicate crocus off your list. Or, consider planting your bulbs in a “cage” fashioned with chicken wire. Also, see our article on rodent-proof bulbs

Buying Bulbs

We suggest you buy bulbs from reputable nursery or local garden centers versus a generic big box store. But also it’s easy to order online; there are many wonderful high-quality online nurseries incuding Dutch suppliers. Another advantage to ordering from a bulb specialist is picking unusual varieties or colors; there are many more choices. 

Find out where to find great bulbs at Flowerbulbs.com!

Don’t forget to plant extra for cutting so you can bring some of that spring color indoors.

Best Flower Bulbs to Plant in Fall

Below is a list of the most popular and reliable spring-blooming bulbs.

Daffodils

* Deer-resistant!

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.

bouquet-3308298_1920_full_width.jpg

  • 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.

jonquil_0_full_width.jpg

Crocuses

* Do NOT plant if deer are a problem.

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.

crocus-2193619_1280_full_width.jpg

Snowdrops

* Deer-resistant!

Snowdrops (Galanthus) are dainty little little white bells that are just delightful in the late winter and early spring. Deer, voles, and critters avoid these early blooms, so choose snowdrops instead of crocus if you have critter problems. 

When blooming en masse, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a fairy tale. We love them when planted in drifts in groundcover beds. 

Snowdrops are adaptable, growing well in full or partial shade. They do prefer moist soil, unlike many bulbs, so add leaf molk or compost at planting for plentiful blooms. Plant three inches deep and three inches part.

flower-3224622_1920_full_width.jpg

Tulips

* NOT critter-resistant

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 daffodil bulbs helps since critters find daffodil 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.

Grape hyacinths (Muscari) are not actually true hyacinths, but their care is very similar.

Grape hyacinths (Muscari) are not actually true hyacinths, but their care is very similar.

Irises

Although not technically bulbs (irises grow from underground structures called rhizomes), irises do best when planted in fall. 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.

irises-2577560_1920_full_width.jpg

Allium (Ornamental Onions)

*Deer-resistant!

Looking for a deer- and rodent-resistant bulb? Try growing allium—yes, a member of the onion family! 

These purple pom-pom flowers make a dramatic statement in late spring and early summer, especially when when planted en masse. They’re generally a few feet tall and topped with large orb-shaped flowers but there are smaller varieties of addlium, too. The large bulbs do best in loose soil on the sandy side.

Ornamental alliums are great for cutting and bees adore them, too! Learn more about growing allium!

img_4390_0_full_width.jpg

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:

  • Bulbs need at least part sun throughout the spring. They look beautiful growing beneath trees (before the trees leave out) as planted en mass or in drifts, amidst wildflowers, and mixed witih spring annuals in containers.

  • Bulbs need a spot with good drainage or they may 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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. (See the chart above)
     
  • 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 deeply after planting—and remember, if your bulb was planted 6” deep into the soil, that water needs to soak in 6” deep to benefit the bulb. This will help settle the soil in the planting bed plus provide needed moisture for the bulbs to start rooting. 

  • Water again before the ground freezes — the wintertime is when they are developing roots. Don’t overwater which can lead to bulb rot. Gardeners in southern locations can water again in late December or early January if it’s been an unusually dry winter.

  • Apply mulch to the planting area to keep the weeds down, hold in moisture, and avoid heaving from wintertime thawing and freezing.

  • Note: You will not need to start watering again until the flower buds first appear on the plant in the spring. Once bulbs start growing in the spring, water once a week (if you haven’t had any measurable rain) — this is especially important while they’re flowering. Water with a soaker hose to keep water off the bloom. 

Find out where to find great bulbs at Flowerbulbs.com!

Source: 

The Old Farmer's Almanac

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

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

We live in zone 8b, between

We live in zone 8b, between Phoenix and Prescott, elevation 4100 ft. We want to put in some bulbs, of lillys, iris, other flowering flowers. When is the best time to get these in the ground. Our ground doesn't get the hard freeze that Flagstaff gets. Trying to find what temp we need to be at to plant the bulbs. We are in low 70's high and mid 50's to hight 40's for low.

Spring-flowering bulbs need

The Editors's picture

Spring-flowering bulbs need between 90 and 120 days in the ground to come up and bloom in the spring, so they should be planted soon, despite the warm temperatures. Also, you want to get them planted before they start sprouting.

Fall Bulbs

I planted my Spring Bulbs in the beginning of October. However, here in New England we are experiencing warm temperatures. I started to see a few shootings from some bulbs. Will they continue to grow and then die comes winter? Please let me know if I should do something to prevent this from happening. I feel I will not get a any flowers comes April - May. Thanks.

spring bulbs appearing in fall

The Editors's picture

Your bulbs should be fine, Maria; the warm spell is not expected to last. Apply another inch or two of mulch to the areas in which you planted the bulbs, covering any tips that may be showing. Leave the mulch until early spring. While it is not uncommon for bulbs to “pop” during an uncommonly warm fall spell, it’s also possible that you did not plant the bulbs quite deep enough. There is nothing you can do about it now, but if that is a concern, consider lifting (removing) them late next summer—long after they’ve flowered and after the foliage has died—and reset them a little deeper.

In the meantime, the blanket of mulch will halt their growth—and protect them for potentially damaging thaws and freezes in winter. You should get plenty og flowers!

Allium bulbs

Zone 5. We planted the Allium globe bulbs in fall. Wanted them to bloom for a wedding the first week in July. (I even planted them little deeper than rec.) They blossomed much too early! Where can I find Allium bulbs that bloom in the SUMMER...June & July-on. Mine blossomed in late spring and very early summer. They were brown by July 9th wedding. Darn. Any help or ideas what another Allium purple globe would do?

Daliah bulbs

I like in Kansas City and I planted some daliahs about 3 weeks ago since then we've had about 8in of rain. I haven't seen a sprout at all and I planted 8 bulbs. Should I dig them up and let them dry out and try again?

It’s true that the tubers may

The Editors's picture

It’s true that the tubers may rot if the plants have received too much water. It is suggested that dahlias get watered deeply 2 to 3 times a week. It is a good idea to gently dig up a tuber and see if it is rotten or if it has any new growth showing.

tulips

I live in zone 4. My tulips are coming up. No the foliage is coming up. Very few flowers. What did I do wrong?

wrong?

The Editors's picture

You have not necessarily done anything wrong. Tulip foliage precedes the flower. You’re in the northern part of the US. So you are in the part that warms up later than more southerly parts of the US. And you have not indicated whether you planted early, mid, or late season tulips (the packaging usually indicates wich part of the season the bulbs within will bloom).
So wait a while. Let nature take its course.

Allium

In Maine, how long will Allium planted last fall still bloom? Will they still bloom July 9th for a wedding?! Thank you for any information.

allium in Maine

The Editors's picture

Tough one, if only because there are so many allium. Onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions, and chives all belong to the genus Allium, as do about 20 other species of food crops used around the world. Do you have the packaging the bulb/s came in?

Flowering onions (Allium spp.) are early summer perennials. We’d call that June to early July.

David Fuller, here https://extension.umaine.edu/about/staff-directory/david-fuller/ might be better able to help you with more specifics.

 

Question daffodil bulbs

I received daffodil flowers in a small pot at easter. I'd like to keep them and try to grow them again. I live in an apartment so I can't replant them in a garden. The flowers and leaves have started to wilt. I'm in an apartment in San Antonio tx so I don't really have a cool place to keep them. How should I care for the bulbs? Dig the out of the pot? Just let the soil dry out until..? Cut dead leaves and water soil and try to regrow right now?

saving Easter daffs

The Editors's picture

Well, you’re asking a lot of the bulbs, under the circumstances. Normally, we would say, wait until the foliage dies back, then plant them outside. There, they would be rained on occasionally. They would certainly get the benefit of a cold season (presumably that’s the case in your area), and they would have a chance at new life. Having them in a pot indoors for the next 9 to 10 months and watering them occasionally…it’s not the same. You could try putting them into the refrigerator over the fall and early winter (not in the pot). Do not store them in a plastic bag; that would deny them air, and they are living things, even in dormancy. Store them in some peat moss. It’s hard to know if they will come back. (Lots of people ask this question of gift bulbs.) Consider that they were grown, probably forced, for the season/holiday. You might have luck with them…and if it’s not looking good, you can always purchase another pot—or put another one on your list for the Easter Bunny to bring.

Good luck!

My bulbs always come up but do not flower

So I have a lovely bunch of bulbs - they grow lots of leaves and no flowers. It may be all my fault, because I planted a ton of wild flowers in the same area and have no idea how to fertilize them all in a shady desert texas flowerbed... I've added a lot of nice looking soils and have attracted many many snails... So I have a shady, hot, crazy soil (possibly acidic) area that only grows snap dragons and bulbs and mums right now. Should I just stick with these tough guy plants or should I get worried?

Hello I planted over 300

Hello I planted over 300 tulips, crocuses , anemones. And hundreds of other. I live on a small lake so my soil is rather good I would say. But this is my first year gardening. I'm a bit addicted. But my mistake is I did not place fertilizer in the areas where I planted is that bad ?Because of this weird weather in Virginia beach zone 8. I can see the tulips poking from the ground. When is the next time I can fertilize to make up. And will a liquid fertilizer do the job?

Best time to fertilize bulbs

The Editors's picture

Best time to fertilize bulbs is in the fall and in early spring when you see the first leaves. Sprinkle some 10-10-10 or 10-15-10 slow-release fertilizer on top of the soil. Then lightly cultivate the soil to disperse the fertilizer and water.

Early bloomers?

Hello, I live in zone 9 & planted numerous bulbs in November. About half of them are already sprouting 4 to 6 inches, is this normal for early spring bloomers or will it affect the blooms? I am worried about overnight temps killing the sprouts. Thank you!

Hi Cassie,

The Editors's picture

Hi Cassie,

You didn’t mention what kind of bulbs you planted. Most spring-blooming bulbs have leaves that are tough and the flower buds are still safe inside the bulbs. Any cold and snow is not going to hurt them. They should bloom fine when spring comes around.

 

Thank you, I'm not sure which

Thank you, I'm not sure which ones are coming up, but I planted crocus, tulips, daffodils, iris, & lillie's. Some of them are already developing flower heads.

Planting indoor bulbs outdoors

I have a pot with 4 tall asiatic pink lilies. They were beautiful and lasted a long long time. If i cut off the dead flowers and leaves can i replant the bulbs in my izmir garden? If so, should i remove the bulbs from the soil or leave them in the pot until i can replant them injanuary?. There will be no frost then, although we generally have one or two frosts and a bit of snow each year in late winter.

Asiatic lilies

The Editors's picture

Your “izmir garden”—Izmir, Turkey? (We do not know of any other!) In any case, you should not have a problem. If you think you will have a frost or snow late in winter, why wait until January? Cut stems to 5 to 6 inches above ground level. Separate the bulbs, and plant them under 5 to 6 inches of soil. They look best in clumps of 3, if you have that many, rather than one here and there. Recover with soil and mulch heavily to protect against the cold. In spring remove the mulch.

We hope this helps!

fall planted bulbs

I planted tulips and crocuses in pots in October and have them in my basement but it's been too warm and they are starting to grow. What can I do?

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