Spring-Flowering Bulbs to Plant in Fall

Plant Fall Bulbs Now for Spring Flowers!

November 3, 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.

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

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

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.

flower-3224622_1920_full_width.jpg

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.

grape-hyacinth-3319108_1920_1_full_width.jpg

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.

irises-2577560_1920_full_width.jpg

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. 

allium_manfred_ruckszio_ss_preview.jpeg
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 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.

  • 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.
  • 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. 

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

2022_gardening_calendar_spring_ad_1.png

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

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?

spring bulbs blooming too soon

The Editors's picture

It sounds like your basement is not cold enough. In order to flower, spring-blooming bulbs need a chilling period of 8 to 14 weeks at temps betw 35°and 40°F. You need to put them in an unheated, frost-free basement, garage, or porch.

A spare refreigerator is an ideal location, emphasis on “spare”: keep bulbs away from fruits and vegetables because them give off wthylene gas, which can cause the bud in the bulb to die.

When you determine a suitable place, mulch the new shoots. In spring, you can remove the excess mulch.

shade

I live in south western Ontario. It is quite unpredictable as to when it gets cold. I would guess probably mid to late October would be best for planting here. I want to plant some nice flowers around my Kitty's grave, but it is in quite a shaded area. What flowers would be best to plant where there is not a lot of sunlight?

fall bulbs for shade

The Editors's picture

Hi, Carol-Ann: To a small extent, this depends on where you are in SW Ontario, but if you are in Owen Sound, there is a 50% chance that your first frost will have occurred by October 15, so you want to make sure that the ground isn’t frozen solid. There are lots of nice spring (i.e., fall-planted) bulbs that do well in significant shade, including lily-of-the-valley, snowdrops, snowflakes, squills, bluebells, cyclamens, and fritillarias. Thanks for the question, and Kitty thanks you, too!

What is the difference

What is the difference between corms, tubers and true bulbs?

Hi Jose, True bulbs include

The Editors's picture

Hi Jose,
True bulbs include tulips, daffodils, onions, hyacinths and lilies. Bulbs are usually round or eggshaped with a pointy end.
Corms are also round but flatter. They include gladiolus, freesia, and crocus. You will see bumps on the upper surface of the corm.
Tubers include potatoes, dahlias and anemones. They are thickened underground stems and are oval or look like fat fingers.
Rhizomes include iris, canna and calla lily. These are swollen underground stems that grow horizontally close to the surface of the soil.
We hope this helps.

i bought a bunch of bulbs

i bought a bunch of bulbs last summer and they were delivered at fall time. An injury prevented me from planting them last fall . I have them in a box in the garage . I live in suburbs of Chicago. Are they dead or can I still plant them

Check the bulbs to make sure

The Editors's picture

Check the bulbs to make sure they are not dried out or rotten. If the bulbs got a suitable "chill" from being in the garage this winter and they look healthy, you can go ahead and plant them now.

when is the best time to

when is the best time to tranplant tulips i live in zone 5 iowa

Pages