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

2020 Almanac Calendar Club

Reader Comments

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We recommend planting new

The Editors's picture

We recommend planting new bulbs.

I live in Nova Scotia,

I live in Nova Scotia, Canada. When should I plant the bulbs in the fall? Would the first week of September be too early?

Hi, Amy: You need to get them

The Editors's picture

Hi, Amy: You need to get them in the ground before the first frost, which on average may come as early as Sept. 20 in your neck of the woods. So get goin'! And thanks for asking!

I live in Region 5, we are

I live in Region 5, we are moving our daffodils to a different garden. Can we plant these now or do what do we need to do to them until fall?

You can transplant daffodils

The Editors's picture

You can transplant daffodils into a new garden now (late summer) and anytime up until 6 weeks before the first frost date.

I live in Dallas, Texas

I live in Dallas, Texas 75237. What is the best time to plant bulbs.

In Dallas, plant bulbs around

In Dallas, plant bulbs around October 1 as long as the temperatures are beginning to cool.

Can I put daffodil bulbs in

Can I put daffodil bulbs in fridge now and plant them later? Someone just gave these to me.

Spring-flowering bulbs such

The Editors's picture

Spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils should be planted in the fall. The bulbs usually arrive from growers in September. You can store them in a cool place for a few weeks and plant the bulbs when the ground has cooled (September through November depending on how warm your climate is).
We do not know where you live, but you've got nothing to lose by planting them whenever you get get them in the ground. They may not do much this year, or they may flower next year.

I live in region 2 (KY) if

I live in region 2 (KY) if transplanting day Lillie's from one spot to another, do I need to cut the stems off & just plant the bulbs. Thank you

In Kentucky, you transplant

In Kentucky, you transplant in the early spring (February through April) or late summer (late July through the mid-September with Autumn Equinox considered the latest possible day).  When doing this in the Fall, at least 6 weeks before the first frost date is a general rule.
   Cut apart the fans at the base or crown. Cut back the foliage by at least half. You want to dig up the entire clump, including about 6 – 8 inches of soil surrounding the clump.

When is the best days to

When is the best days to plant bulbs in region 2?

Plant spring early summer

The Editors's picture

Plant spring early summer flowering bulbs in the fall in order to develop a root system and satisfy the cold requirement of the bulbs.  Wait until soil temperatures are below 60 F (16 C) before planting.  In places such as North Carolina (region 2), this is usually late October to November.

I planted Tulip bulbs in the

I planted Tulip bulbs in the Fall and they are emerging now! Hooray! Do I need to fertilize them throughout the Spring?

Lucky you! No, you do not

The Editors's picture

Lucky you! No, you do not have to fertilize tulip bulbs in the spring. You could apply fertilizer low in nitrogen, such as a 9-6-6 formulation, again next autumn.

I planted my bulbs in

I planted my bulbs in October, I live in Southern Ontario, and they have started to grow. I can see nearly all of them sprouting up through the soil. Is this okay? Will the frost kill them when it happens?

Most spring blooming bulbs

The Editors's picture

Most spring blooming bulbs are resilient. The leaf tips may be damaged, but as long as the flower buds are below ground they will be fine come spring.

i live in massachusetts. is

i live in massachusetts. is it too late to plant bulbs?

October is the ideal time to

The Editors's picture

October is the ideal time to plant bulbs in your zone but you can plant up til the ground starts to freeze. Some of our readers say, "If you can get them in, they should do fine!" Most bulbs need well-drained soil and full sun. Ideally, you have loosened the soil and worked in organic matter.

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