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Fall Bulbs: Flower Bulbs to Plant in Fall | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Best Flower Bulbs to Plant in the Fall

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"Bulbs to Plant in Fall" infographic

When to plant fall bulbs for spring flowers

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If you want to see early spring flowers in your garden, pop those bulbs into the ground in fall! What flower bulbs do you plant in autumn? Think daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops, tulips, hyacinths, irises, and alliums. See our zone chart for your location and how to plant fall bulbs for continuous color!

What Are Fall Bulbs? 

Fall bulbs don’t flower in the fall. They’re planted in the fall to then bloom gloriously in the springtime! This is in contrast to summer-flowering bulbs (such as dahlias, elephant ears, caladiums, gladiolus, cannas, and tropicals) which are planted in the spring.

Why do we plant spring-flowering bulbs in the fall? These spring beauties are what we call “dormant perennials.” They need the cool, moist autumn soil to awaken them from their dormancy so that they can begin growing roots in preparation for the spring show.

They’re foolproof to plant—and feed early pollinators such as those drowsy queen bumblebees. 

Another thing to know about fall bulbs is that they’re not all true “bulbs.” Irises, for example, grow from rhizomes, while crocuses sprout from corms. Daffodils and tulips, on the other hand, are true bulbs. Nevertheless, all of these plants are commonly known as “fall bulbs,” so we refer to them as such in this article!

When to Plant Bulbs in the Fall

The best time to plant fall bulbs is when soils are below 60°F in the late fall or about 6 weeks before a hard frost is expected. Consult our Frost Dates Calculator for typical fall frost dates in your area.

This is usually during September and October in the North. (Halloween is a good deadline to set.)  In the South, bulbs are generally planted a little later—in October and November. (Tulips are one exception—you can plant tulips as late as in winter if you can get them into the soil.)

In the warmest parts of the South, you may need to precool some bulbs. Most fall bulbs require a 12- to 16-week cold period in ventilated packages at the bottom of your refrigerator at 40° to 50°F before planting. Check with your bulb supplier to determine whether the bulbs that you purchase have been precooled, or you will need to give them a cold treatment.

Also, in warmer climates, note that some bulbs will bloom only once before 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.

Bulbs to Plant by Zone

See our chart below for a summary of each bulb’s preferences—in terms of hardiness zone, soil type, soil depth and spacing, and other details. Below this chart, we’ll add some additional information to each bulb choice.

Click here for a printable chart.

Fall Bulb Planting Chart
Common NameHardiness ZoneSoilSun/ShadeSpacing (in)Depth (in)Blooming SeasonHeight (in)
Bluebell4–9Well–drained/
fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
43-4Spring8–20
Christmas Rose/
Hellebore
4–8Neutral—alkalineFull sun/
Partial Shade
181-2Spring12
Crocus3–8Well–drained/
moist/fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
43Early Spring5
Daffodil3–10Well–drained/
moist/fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
66Early Spring14–24
Fritillary3–9Well–drained/
sandy
Full sun/
Partial Shade
33Midspring6–30
Glory of the snow3–9Well–drained/
moist
Full sun/
Partial Shade
33Spring4–10
Grape hyacinth (muscari)4–10Well–drained/
moist/fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
3–42–3Late winter
to spring
6–12
Iris, bearded3–9Well–drainedFull sun/
Partial Shade
44Early spring
to early summer
3–48
Iris, Siberian4–9Well–drainedFull sun/
Partial Shade
44Early spring
to midsummer
18–48
Ornamental onion3–10Well–drained/
moist/fertile
Full sun123–4Late spring
to early summer
6–60
Snowdrop3–9Well–drained/
moist/fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
33Spring6–12
Snowflake5–9Well–drained/
moist/sandy
Full sun/
Partial Shade
44Spring6–18
Spring starflower6–9Well–drained loamFull sun/
Partial Shade
3–63Spring4–6
Star of Bethlehem5–10Well–drained/
moist
Full sun/
Partial Shade
2–54Spring to summer6–24
Striped squill3–9Well–drainedFull sun/
Partial Shade
63Spring4–6
Tulip4–8Well–drained/
fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
3–64–6Early to
late spring
8–30
Winter aconite4–9Well–drained/
moist/fertile
Full sun/
Partial Shade
32–3Late winter
to spring
2–4

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

Choosing Bulbs

Generally speaking, higher-quality bulbs are bigger (for their type) and will flower more profusely. Second-rate bulbs don’t germinate as often, have smaller blooms, and often don’t return year after year.

Good bulbs should be fresh and firm, not brittle, rotted, or moldy. Also, choose bulbs with intact husks to better fight any disease. When you receive bulbs, plant them immediately or store them in a cool, dark, dry place at around 60° to 65°F. Temperatures above 70°F may damage the flower buds.

Do you have voles, squirrels, or deer? Well, cross the beautiful tulip and delicate crocus off your list. Or, consider planting your bulbs in a “cage” of chicken wire. Also, see our article on rodent-proof bulbs. 

Where to Buy Bulbs for Fall Planting

We suggest that you buy bulbs from reputable nurseries or local garden centers rather than a generic big box store. It’s also easy to order online; there are many wonderful high-quality online nurseries, including Dutch suppliers. Another advantage to ordering from a bulb specialist is the ability to pick unusual varieties or colors; there are many more choices.

Find out where to buy great bulbs at Flowerbulbs.com!

Don’t forget to plant extra for cutting to bring some of that spring color indoors!

When to Order Bulbs for Fall Planting

Most garden stores start carrying fall bulbs by mid-September. Special bulbs can also be ordered months before planting time from online nurseries; this ensures that you get the varieties you want. The nurseries won’t ship the bulbs to you until the appropriate time for planting in fall; usually, they take no more than a week or two to ship.

Best Flower Bulbs to Plant in Fall

Below is a list of the most popular and reliable spring-blooming bulbs.

1. Daffodils

*Deer-resistant!

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, multicolor)—and their flowers range from trumpets to flat rings to little roselike 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. Daffodils look great in large drifts in ground cover beds, in meadows, and when planted under hostas.

See the Almanac’s Daffodil Growing Guide.

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Daffodils
  • “Jonquil” is the term usually used for a specific type of daffodil known as Narcissus jonquilla. These 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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Daffodils

2. Crocuses

*Do NOT plant if deer are a problem.

One of the earliest spring flowers, crocuses are always met with delight when they appear. These low-to-the-ground flowers come in purple, white, yellow, and striped variations, growing about 4 to 6 inches high. Crocuses 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
Crocuses

3. Snowdrops

*Deer-resistant!

Snowdrops (Galanthus) are dainty white bells that are just delightful in the late winter and early spring. Deer, voles, and critters avoid these early blooms, so choose snowdrops instead of crocus if you have critter problems. 

When snowdrops are blooming en masse, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a fairy tale. We love them when planted in drifts in ground cover beds. 

Snowdrops are adaptable, growing well in full or partial shade. They do prefer moist soil, unlike many bulbs, so add leaf mold or compost at planting for plentiful blooms. Plant 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart.

flower-3224622_1920_full_width.jpg

4. Tulips

*NOT critter-resistant!

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 fertilizer. Tulips look beautiful when planted en masse and bloom after 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 three-quarters of the bulbs to return in their second year and even fewer in their third. 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 daffodil bulbs helps, since critters find daffodil bulbs “stinky.” Let us know if this works for you.

See the Almanac’s Tulip Growing Guide. 

tulip-3316491_1920.jpg
Tulips

5. Hyacinths

These spring beauties bloom at around the same time as daffodils and tulips and have a wonderful fragrance! With small blue clusters of tiny, bell-shaped blooms, hyacinths also come in pale 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 hyacinths (Muscari) are not actually true hyacinths, but their care is very similar.
Grape hyacinths (Muscari) are not actually true hyacinths, although they require similar care.

6. Irises

Although not technically bulbs (irises grow from underground structures called rhizomes), irises do best when planted in the fall. These tall beauties are hardy and reliable,  attracting butterflies and hummingbirds and making lovely cut flowers.

Irises need at least half a day of sun and excellent drainage. Planting on a slope or in raised beds helps to 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 irises be well established before the growing season ends, so we would plant irises at the earlier end of the suggested window (September in the North and October in the South).

Get more information on how to plant irises.

Irises
Irises

7. Alliums (Ornamental Onions)

*Deer-resistant!

Looking for deer- and rodent-resistant bulbs? Try growing alliums—yes, members of the onion family! 

These purple pom-pom flowers make a dramatic statement in late spring and early summer, especially when planted en masse. They’re generally a few feet tall and topped with large, orb-shaped flowers, but there are smaller varieties of alliums, too. The large bulbs do best in loose soil on the sandy side.

Ornamental alliums are great for cutting, and bees adore them, too! Learn more about growing alliums!

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Alliums (Ornamental Onions)

How to Plant Bulbs in the Fall

Planting bulbs is generally an easy task (unless you’ve ordered hundreds!), but there are some things that you want to make sure to get right. Here are tips to keep in mind:

  • Bulbs need at least partial sun throughout the spring. They look beautiful growing beneath trees (before the trees leaf out), when planted en masse or in drifts, amidst wildflowers, and mixed with spring annuals in containers.
  • Bulbs need a spot with good drainage, or they may rot. Before planting, work a few inches of compost or organic matter into the soil 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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. (See the chart above.)
  • Consider the bloom time for each bulb (early spring, midspring, late spring) and plant bulbs with different bloom times so that you have flowers throughout spring!

spring-bulb-planting-chart.jpg

  • 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 with varied 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, although it’s actually fairly simple to plant a bulb without one. If you are planting en masse by the dozens, use a shovel and make a wide hole for planting many bulbs at once.
  • Bulbs look great when planted en masse—in a grove, near the mailbox, as swaths of colors in garden beds, and as colorful borders.

Caring for Bulbs

  • If you have poor soil, sprinkle in a granular fertilizer after planting. It should be fairly low in nitrogen, such as a 9-6-6 formulation. Top-dress around the bulbs; do not add to the planting hole, which can burn the bulb.
  • Water bulbs deeply after planting—and remember, if your bulb was planted 6 inches deep in the soil, that water needs to soak into a 6-inch depth to benefit the bulb. This will help to settle the soil in the planting bed plus provide needed moisture for the bulb 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, retain moisture, and reduce or eliminate heaving from winter thawing and freezing.
  • 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 blooms. 
  • For bulbs that you want to have rebloom in the following year, top-dress with some extra granular fertilizer when shoots first start to appear. For bulbs that you’re treating as annuals, fertilizer is unnecessary.

Find out where to find great bulbs at Flowerbulbs.com!

Growing Flowers in Containers

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