If you enjoy seeing daffodils, tulips, and colorful flowers in the early spring, you need to plant bulbs in the fall. See our handy fall-planted bulbs chart for a list of flowers for your zone.
When to Plant Bulbs
Spring-flowering bulbs are planted in the fall to give them ample time to grow roots during winter in preparation for the spring show. 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 energe in early spring to lift your spirits.
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.) 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. You can plant them as late as December but the later you wait, the less able the bulbs will be to establish themselves.
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 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.
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 degrees F. Temperatures above 70 degrees F. may damage the flower buds.
Selecting Bulb Varieties
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.
- 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.
- Crocus are a spring-flowering favorite, and come in a range of colors.
- Snowdrop (Galanthus) are little white bells that bloom in early spring.
- Hyacinth (including grape hyacinths) are small blue clusters of tiny bell-shaped blooms which are good for naturalizing.
- Tulips looks beautiful when planted en masse and bloom after the daffodils. They look great paired with grape hyacinth.
- Irises are hardy, reliable, and easy to grow, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds and making lovely cut flowers.
- Gladiolus have tall beautiful spikes and tend to bloom in late spring to mid-summer, depending on the variety.
Fall-Planted Bulbs by Zone Chart
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.
Bulb Planting Tips
- Select a site where the bulbs will receive at least part sun throughout the spring.
- Bulbs will need soil that drains nicely or they will 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.
- Bulbs look great planted en mass—in a grove, near the mailbox, as swaths of colors in garden beds, and as colorful borders.
- In general, plant bulbs at a depth of three times the width of the bulb. (That means about 4 to 6 inches deep for small bulbs like snowdrops, crocuses, and grape hyacinths, and about 8 inches deep for large bulbs like hybrid tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths.)
- You can use a bulb-planting tool 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.
- Place shorter bulbs in the front of beds and 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!
- 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 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!