Planting Fall Bulbs for Spring Flowers

Fall-Planted Bulbs by Zone Chart

September 24, 2019
tulips and daffodils

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.

Buying Bulbs

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.

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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 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!

Source: 

The Old Farmer's Almanac

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Reader Comments

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Late planting

My bulbs arrived after the first frost. The top of the ground is frozen
Help please what are my options at this point ?

Bulb planting

I was very surprised that you didn't mention using Epsom salts when planting. It gives the bulbs some extra fertilizer and seems to keep the squirrels and mice and voles away

Tulips

I live in zone 7 in MS. I put my tulip bulbs out at the end of December. All my tulips have come up and are blooming. Our weather has so messed up this year. The tulips look beautiful but I sure hope they won't be hurt by this weather.

Tulips

I live in northern Ohio. Planted in fall and first year they came up great. Second year only the leaves came up great but no flowers. Don't seem to know what's going on?

only foliage...

The Editors's picture

It’s hard to know for certain why they didn’t bloom again, but heat in the early part of the season may cause blooms to fail. Or poor growing conditions in the prior year—despite appearances. If you cut off the foliage after the bloom last year you removed the bulb’s survival strategy; the foliage makes energy for the next year. It’s too late to try again for this spring, but don’t give up entirely. Plant some bulbs this spring that will bloom later this year. See for details: https://www.almanac.com/content/growing-guide-spring-planted-bulbs

Daffodils

Hello I live in Ashville Ohio, we really didn’t have much of a fall season & I was somewhat busy in addition. I ordered pink daffodils from Holland & I have been planting them on the nice weekends we have had here and there. I went 6 inches deep. I am concerned when the ground actually freezes, should I just mulch them heavy to help protect them so they can grow their roots ? I just planted them 2 weeks ago and a lot this weekend 11-26-18,I need advice please

mulch the daffs

The Editors's picture

Mulch will not hurt them at all. Spread a couple of few inches. Should be lovely in spring!

Zone 10 Fall Planted Bulbs

Hello, I am in zone 10 Southern California. I have some bulbs of tulip, narcissus and Dutch iris and now is November 12. It's late to chill them now, can I plant them in the containers and store in the cool back yard? Please help. Thank you.

Zone 10

The Editors's picture

We can’t guarantee anything, and the first thought is, sure, try it. Then on second thought, maybe try a few…and give a few a chill for even a couple of weeks (sorry; this is being posted weeks later than you wrote—but there is still time!). Bottom line, try it!

Zone 10 Spring flowers (update)

I planted 70 bulbs of single & double tulips in November without pre-chilling.
Only 10 red tulips bloomed, the rest didn't grow or grew leaves only, no flowers at all.
Dutch Iris, Chinese Narcissus, Ranunculus, Lily bloomed without pre-chilling.
This year, I already chilled some bulbs in mid Sept (and some more in Oct) and waiting for the time to plant them.
I have one more question, Editor, please help.
Can I grow the Spring flowering bulbs in the fabric pots, in zone 10? Thank you.

When to plant roses

When is it time to plant roses and do I cut back roses at anytime of the year also I live in north Florida

cutting daffodils

I was told if I cut a daffodil bloom that that bulb won't flower again. Is that true.

How often daffodils bloom

The Editors's picture

Yes, that’s true. Daffodils bloom once a year. Their bloom will last 6 weeks to 6 months, depending on the variety and your location. After blooming, do not cut off the leaves if you want blooms next year. The plant needs to rebuild its bulb. The leaves stay green while this is happening. When the leaves begin to yellow, then you can cut the leaves off but not before.

Will the bulb flower again if I cut a bloom?

If you cut the flowers, the bulb will, in fact produce more flowers, but not until the next year. I think THAT was actually what you were asking.

Late planting of bulbs ?

Help! Is it too late to plant my spring flowering bulbs ? We got too busy remodeling the house and forgot about them in the garage in a paper bag.

Planting Bulbs in Winter

The Editors's picture

Planting spring-flowering bulbs as late as January or February typically results in sub-par blooms, as the bulbs have not had enough time to root before blooming. 

You could try forcing the bulbs to bloom inside or planting in mulch.

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/blog/gardening/garden-journal/amaryllis-how-grow-amaryllis-bulbs
https://www.almanac.com/blog/gardening/garden-journal/forcing-bulbs-indoors-winter-blooms
https://www.almanac.com/blog/everything-almanac-blog/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?

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