Fall is bulb-planting time! It’s so easy to stick bulbs in the ground—and so magical to see their colorful blooms emerge in early spring to lift your spirits. Our Fall-Planted Bulb Chart covers tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinth and more beauties, detailing hardiness zones, sun/shade, planting depth, and spacing.
When to Plant Fall Bulbs
Planting time for fall bulbs 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.) This gives them ample time to grow roots during winter in preparation for the spring show.
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.
In the warmer South, 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.
Also, in warmer climates, note that some bulbs will only bloom once and then they’re done for the season. 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.
Full-Planted Bulbs Chart
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.
- 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.
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.
- Consider bloom time for each bulb (early spring, mid-spring, late spring) so you have blooms throughout spring!
Now that you’ve mastered the art of the fall bulb, check out our page on how to grow spring-planted bulbs!