Planting Bulbs for Spring Flowers

The Best Bulbs to Plant in the Fall

August 27, 2018
tulips and daffodils

If you enjoy seeing daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths bloom in the spring, keep in mind that these bulbs need to be planted in the fall. See our handy fall-planted bulbs chart for a list of flowers for your zone—and order bulbs in advance—or, mark your calendar so that you don’t forget! See more details—plus, flower photos!

Planting Bulbs for Spring Flowers

Spring-flowering bulbs are planted in the fall to give them ample time to grow roots during winter and come up early in the spring. So, if you think that autumn’s the time to stop gardening, think again! Fall will be bulb-planting time! It’s so easy to stick bulbs in the ground—and so magical to see their colorful blooms emerge in late winter and early spring!

Bulbs can be ordered from a mail-order catalog ahead of time, so that the bulbs arrive right in time for fall planting. Or, make a note in your calendar to buy bulbs in the fall.  Planting time is usually late September to mid-October in northern climate so that bulbs can grow roots before the ground freezes. (Tulips are one exception–you can plant these as late as you can get them into the soil.) In southern climates, plant bulbs in mid-October through November; you can plant them as late as December but the later you wait, the less able the bulbs will be to establish themselves.

Make sure you buy your bulbs from a reputable nursery or garden center. Remember, 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 to Plant in the Fall

Here are some of the most popular spring-blooming bulbs planted in the fall. See the chart farther down this page for planting information on these and other spring flower favorites.

  • Daffodils are a favorite because they are vole- and deer-resistant.

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  • Jonquils 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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  • Crocus are a spring-flowering favorite, and come in a range of colors.

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  • Snowdrop (Galanthus) are little white bells that bloom in early spring.

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  • Hyacinth (including grape hyacinths) are small blue clusters of tiny bell-shaped blooms which are good for naturalizing.

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  • Tulips looks beautiful when planted en masse and bloom after the daffodils. They look great paired with grape hyacinth.

Flower bulbs

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  • Gladiolus have tall beautiful spikes and tend to bloom in late spring to mid-summer, depending on the variety.

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Fall-Planted Bulbs Chart


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

When to Plant Bulbs:

  • Plant fall bulbs after the heat of summer has passed, but before the ground freezes. Consult our Frost Dates Calculator to see when the first fall frost will be in your area. In the lower South, where you may not have a hard freeze, early November is a good time to plant.
  • Ideally, plant your bulbs soon after you purchase them.
  •  If you cannot plant the bulbs right away, store them at around 60 to 65 degrees F. in a dry area. Temperatures above 70 degrees F. may damage the flower buds.
  • See the chart, below, for type of bulbs by hardiness zone. In the warmer South, note that some bulbs need to be treated as annuals instead of perennials; they’ll bloom once and then they’re done. 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.
  • In warm climates, 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 degrees 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.

How to Plant Bulbs:

  • Select a site with lots of sun and well-drained soil. Work a few inches of compost into the soil before planting.
  • Bulbs love great planted in a grove, near the mailbox, as swaths of colors in garden beds, and as colorful borders.
  • Plant bulbs generously in case some do not sprout. And plant them in random order and spacing for a more natural appearance. If you love groves of daffodils and blanketed landscapes of tulips, be prepared to buy and plant a large quantity of bulbs!
  • In general, plant bulbs at a depth of three times the width of the bulb.
  • After planting, apply fertilizer low in nitrogen, such as a 9-6-6 formulation. If your soil is sandy, plant bulbs slightly deeper; in clay soils, slightly shallower.
  • Water well after planting. Apply mulch to keep the weeds down and hold in moisture.
  • 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

2019 Garden Guide

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

allium in Maine

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

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

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

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

Transplant tulip bulbs once

Transplant tulip bulbs once the plant goes dormant.
This happens in early summer after the foliage has turned yellow and the roots die back. Dig a wide hole, so you do not slice into the bulb itself. If you have a spading fork, that works well. It is best to replant the bulbs right away instead of waiting until the fall when you normally plant new tulip bulbs.

I moved to southeastern North

I moved to southeastern North Carolina and in Oct. I planted Allium Purple Sensation, Daffodil and Tulips. The Allium have started to come up. Is this ok? I did throw some more dirt on them and covered with pine straw mulch. No sign of the others. Thank you

If spring bulbs are planted

The Editors's picture

If spring bulbs are planted in warm soil in fall, or if later the soil temperatures warm up, it can spur the bulbs to grow early. As temperatures cool down, growth usually will stop. Bulb foliage is usually fairly cold hardy, but if you don't have snow at this point (which insulates), you can protect the foliage over winter with about a 2-inch layer of mulch, as you have done. Remove the mulch in spring when temperatures warm.

It is October 16 and I live

It is October 16 and I live in central WI. A friend just thinned out her bed of Iris and gave me a lot of bulbs. It appears from the comments that it is too late for me to plant these. If that is the case, how/where do I store these until spring?

Can I plant marigolds in the

Can I plant marigolds in the same spot as hyacinths when they stop blooming and the leaves are dead/removed? We have a very small bed for gardening and I want to put hyacinth bulbs along the border so we have flowers in the spring, but then we will be using the majority of the area for tomatoes later on, and we usually border it with marigolds to keep the critters away.

Be careful not to disturb the

The Editors's picture

Be careful not to disturb the hyacinth bulbs when you plant the marigolds, and everything should be fine.

I have carcous in my flower

I have carcous in my flower bed. they came up this spring but didn't bloom just made leaves, now here it is the end of Sept and they are now blooming. I live in SW Okla and our winters are usually pretty mild, but was wondering why they are now blooming.

Thank you
sharon.

Hi Sharon, You may have

The Editors's picture

Hi Sharon,
You may have planted fall blooming crocuses. There are more than a dozen species that bloom in the fall.

Hello. I just dug up an old

Hello. I just dug up an old garden and unearthed a large amount of bulbs that have been dormant for a few years, possibly from too much crowding. I have many small bulbs along with large bulbs. My question is are the small bulbs worth planting?

We recommend planting new

The Editors's picture

We recommend planting new bulbs.

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