12 Tips for Planting Flowering Bulbs

Would you like to add flowering bulbs to your garden this fall? Flowering bulbs are charming and easy to grow. In this article, gardening expert Jill Drago shares tips for growing flowering bulbs.

a shallow bull of bulbs sits in the garden near a paper bag, ready to be planted into the soil.


Planting bulbs in the fall is a great garden task. At this point in the season, there is not a lot of work to be done unless you are getting a jump start on a fall clean-up. Adding bulbs to your garden now is a surefire way to add beauty to your springtime flower beds. 

Spring flowering bulbs must be planted in the fall or winter, depending on where you live. This is because they need to spend a lot of time in cooler temperatures to bloom properly. 

Use these 12 tips to help get yourself organized before planting. After reading this article, you will have the knowledge needed to feel confident about planting your bulbs. If you’re ready, let’s dig in!

Tip 1: Make a Plan

Close-up of a garden trowel full of soil mixture and a tulip bulb, on a table in the garden, against a blurred background of heather seedlings. A garden trowel has a metal blade with a scoop-like end attached to a wooden handle. A tulip bulb is brown and bulb-shaped.
Plan your bulb planting by deciding which varieties you want, where to plant them, and how many you need.

Before you shop, take some time to plan out what bulbs you want to plant, where you will plant them, and how many you will need. This planning can save you time and money in your bulb-planting journey.  

Measure your garden space length by width to find the area. Next, use a bulb calculator to determine how many bulbs you need for your space. You can google the bulb calculator to find this easy-to-use tool, or you can do some math and refer to the package to ensure you have enough.

Spacing will differ depending on what type of bulb you are planting. For example, daffodils can be planted further apart because they tend to naturalize. This means they will come back year after year while also producing new baby bulbs that grow off of the original bulb. On the other hand, tulips can be planted closer together because you will likely pull the whole bulb at the end of its season since they do not return well. 

Using all of this information will help you decide how many bulbs to buy, as well as how much work you have lying ahead for you. 

Tip 2: Choose High-Quality Bulbs

Close-up of a gardener's hands holding many tulip bulbs in the garden, against a blurred green background. The bulbs are medium size, bulb-shaped, with a papery outer layer. They have pointed tips at the tops and rounded bases at the bottoms.
Healthy bulbs should feel firm, while softness may indicate age or infection.

When I say “high-quality,” I do not necessarily mean the most expensive. It means you’re purchasing bulbs that are in good health. They are often discounted in the off-season. 

  • Before purchasing or planting, check for any signs of mold or fungus on the outside of the bulb. 
  • Healthy bulbs will feel firm to the touch. Softness could be a clue that the bulb is old or that it could be suffering from some infection inside the bulb. 
  • The bulb should be proportionally heavy to its size. As it begins to die, it loses density and becomes lighter. 

Tip 3: Chill Your Bulbs

Daffodil bulbs and tulip bulbs close up, on a table covered with burlap. Daffodil bulbs are ovoid or teardrop-shaped with a papery brown outer layer. Tulip bulbs are round in shape, with a brown papery outer layer and pointed tops.
Depending on your location, you might need to place them in the fridge for about three months.

Depending on where you live, you may need to chill your bulbs in the refrigerator or purchase pre-chilled bulbs in the springtime. 

These plants must experience cold temperatures (below 40 degrees) for about three months. If you don’t experience these cool temperatures, you must chill your bulbs. I am looking at you, zones 8-10! Those that are not chilled will grow but not bloom as you expect. The flowers may be deformed or stunted. 

Luckily, this is as easy as sticking your bulbs in the refrigerators in a paper bag or in the mesh bag they came in. Keep them away from your vegetable drawer. The ethylene gasses the veggies emit can damage them. 

Tip 4: Plant in Full Sun 

Close-up of a gardener's hand planting bulbs of flowering plants into the soil under full sun. The soil is dry, loose, gray-black. The bulbs are small, round in shape, covered with a dark brown papery husk.
They generally thrive in full sun, which means at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.

With a few exceptions, bulbs love to grow in full sun conditions. This amounts to about 6 hours or more of direct sunlight. However, dappled sun in the afternoon can be beneficial in some areas. 

Plant in a raised bed if you do not have a big enough patch in your garden with full sun. Raised beds are also great if you have clay soil or soil that holds on to too much moisture, which can lead to rotting. 

If you do not have much sun at all and are looking for bulbs to grow in the shade, here are a few options:

  • Allium
  • Crocus
  • Daffodils (some varieties do better in full sun)
  • Fritillaria
  • Hyacinth
  • Scilla
  • Snow Drops

 Tip 5: Plant at the Right Time 

Close-up of gardener's hands holding daffodil bulbs before planting in the ground. The bulbs are oval-shaped, covered with a brown-orange papery husk and have sprouted shoots on the pointed tips. The gardener's nails are painted red.
Plant when temperatures cool to 40-50 degrees at night, but the timing depends on your local climate.

Plant when the weather begins to cool. The goal here is nighttime temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees. The time to plant your bulbs will vary greatly depending on where you live and what your climate is like.

If you are ordering from an online bulb supplier, they will not ship until an appropriate planting time for where you live. So helpful! 

Planting times by zone:

ZoneEstimated Planting Time
Zone 1-2Early September
Zone 3Mid-September
Zone 4-5Late September to Early October
Zone 6Mid-October
Zone 7-8Early November
Zone 9Early December
Zone 10Mid-December
Zone 11Late December

Tip 6: Prepare Your Soil

Close-up of a gardener's hands holding a handful of fresh black soil against a background of freshly planted tulip bulbs. There is also a paper bag on the soil from which tulip bulbs are poured out for planting. The bulbs are medium in size, round in shape, with pointed tips. They are white, covered with a brown papery husk. The gardener is wearing a bright yellow sweater.
Prepare your soil by adding compost and tilling it together.

Preparing your soil before you dig your holes is important. This is a great time to add compost. Dump the compost on top of the area where you will plant. If you can, till the soil and compost together. This will loosen the soil to make digging easier while incorporating the rich nutrients from the compost. 

This is a great time to talk about fertilizer. You do not need to add bulb fertilizer if your soil is healthy and fertile. If you fear your soil could use some love, grab a soil test kit and find out. 

There are a lot of products on the market that are specifically made for this purpose. Of course, they can help provide nutrients to your soil if you need them. The downside to fertilizer is that many bulb fertilizers have blood and/or bone meal as the main ingredients, and the smell of these ingredients can attract critters. 

Tip 7: Use the Right Tools

Close-up of gardener's hands planting flowering plants with bulb planter, in the garden. The gardener is wearing blue jeans and blue and white gloves. Three bulbs of flowering plants are planted in the soil, and a paper bag full of bulbs lies nearby in the garden bed. Freshly planted bulbs are large, oval in shape, with slightly pointed tips, from which young shoots grow. The paper bag contains many small oval-shaped bulbs with purple papery skins. A bulb planter is a garden tool that consists of a long, cylindrical metal tube with a sharpened end and a handle at the top.
Bulb planters are an option, with measurement markings for hole depth.

This may seem like an odd tip, but it can be useful. Every planting situation is different, and some soil types can be difficult to plant in. Here are a few tools that can make this task a bit easier:

  • Hori Hori knives are one of the handiest garden tools and one of my favorite tools to use. The knives are useful for planting bulbs if you are planting in an area that has some fibrous roots from nearby plants. Most hori hori knives have measurements to help you dig a deep hole. 
  • Planting augers are very handy tools if you are planting a lot of bulbs. These augers attach to your power drill and dig perfectly uniform holes. These tools can save your back a lot of aches and pains. Drill down into your soil until you have reached the appropriate depth. Drill a new hole every few inches, depending on what you are planting. After drilling all your holes, place bulbs in each hole. Finally, cover the holes with the dug-up soil and lightly walk across the area to compact the soil into place. 
  • Trowels or cultivators are excellent for prepping the area and digging holes, especially for smaller bulbs. These tools can manipulate soil as you need them to, making small or larger holes with ease. 
  • I learned how to plant as a child using a bulb planter. These tools are pretty handy, although there are more convenient options now. Simply plunge the planter into the soil. Use the measurement markings on the side to determine how deep your hole is, and pull the soil out. Place the bulb in the hole and replace the soil. Repeat. 

Tip 8: Plant at the Right Depth 

Close-up of gardener's hands planting flowering plants in the garden. The gardener is wearing blue jeans and blue and white gloves. She sits on a green rectangular piece of foam. She plants grey-white oval bulbs with pointed tips from which shoots grow. In a paper bag lying nearby there are many small purple bulbs. There is also a bulb planter nearby.
Plant at a depth of three times their height for frost protection and critter deterrence.

There is a general rule regarding planting: plant your bulb three times as deep as the bulb is tall. The depth will change depending on what type of bulb you grow and where you are growing it. Planting depth is important because it can prevent the bulbs from freezing. It can also help keep critters from digging them out of the ground. 

Average Planting Depths: 

Bulb TypePlanting Depth
Allium6 inches
Crocus3 inches 
Daffodil6 inches 
Tulip6 inches

You can eyeball these measurements, or if you are using a hori hori knife, you can be precise and use the depth markers on the knife. 

Please remember that these are just average planting depths, and they could vary between different bulb species. You should always reference the package’s planting directions. 

Tip 9: Plant Pointy Side Up 

Autumn planting of tulip bulbs. Close-up of a gardener's hands planting tulip bulbs with the pointed side facing up. The bulbs are round in shape, with pointed tips and flat bottoms. They are covered with a papery brown-orange husk.
Plant with the pointy side up for better root contact, straighter stems, and stronger growth.

This may seem silly, but it can help your bulbs to grow straight and strong. Bulbs are amazing plant powerhouses and contain everything the plant needs inside a tiny little package. From the bulb will grow roots, foliage, stems, and of course, stunning blossoms.

When you are looking at a bulb, it is easy to tell which side is pointy and which side is more rounded. The rounded side, or the bottom, is the section of the bulb that will produce roots for the plant. The pointy side is where the stems, leaves, and flowers will come from.

Planting the bulb upright with the pointy side up will allow it to make better contact with the soil for its roots. It will also give the foliage, stems, and flowers the easiest route out of the soil. This will result in straighter stems and a stronger blossom. 

Tip 10: Use Mulch 

Close-up of a gardener's hands in white gloves showing bark mulch in the garden. Bark mulch is a garden material made from shredded or chipped tree bark. It appears as small pieces or chunks of various sizes and are dark brown.
After planting, add mulch to control weeds, retain water, and maintain consistent soil temperatures for even blooming.

Now that you have all your bulbs planted, consider adding a layer of mulch to your garden. Mulch is great at repelling weeds and retaining water. It is also a master of temperature control.

Mulching will help to keep the soil temperatures consistently cool throughout the winter. This will help to ensure that your bulbs bloom at the same time. It will also prevent them from blooming too early if the soil warms from the winter sun. 

Tip 11: Water After Planting 

Close-up of watering freshly planted tulip bulbs from a large gray-green watering can in a sunny garden. The bulbs are medium-sized, round in shape, with pointed tips on top. They are covered in a dark brown papery husk. The watering can has a white spray nozzle.
Water your newly planted bulbs once after planting, but avoid overwatering.

Once you have finished planting, give the area a thorough watering. This will help all the dirt settle around the bulb while also giving the bulbs a little drink.

You do not want to make watering your bulbs a regular habit. Snow and rain from the winter will give them what they need in terms of water. Too much water can cause the bulb to rot, so it is best to leave this task to Mother Nature until springtime arrives. At that point, water once a week unless it is rainy. 

Tip 12: Protect Your Bulbs 

Close-up of a large green spray bottle with repellent near blooming Hyacinth and daffodils in a sunny garden. Hyacinths are spring-blooming bulbous plants known for their striking appearance. They feature tall, dense spikes of small, fragrant, and densely-packed flowers of bright pink color. Hyacinth leaves are strap-like, growing from the base of the plant, and they are bright green in color. Daffodils, also known as Narcissus, are distinctive spring-blooming flowers. They boast a central trumpet-shaped corona surrounded by six petal-like tepals, creating an iconic flower shape. The flowers are bright yellow.
Protect your bulbs from critters by planting deer-resistant varieties, using netting, and applying animal repellents.

If you have grown bulbs before, you probably know they are a favorite snack of critters. They love to dig up the bulbs and carry them off for a nice little meal. Luckily, there are a few things you can do if you struggle with wildlife in your gardens.

  • Plant deer or critter-proof bulbs such as daffodils, grape hyacinth, crocus, or snowdrops. 
  • Cover the area you have planted with deer or other type of netting. If you do not mulch your area, cover it with leaves before lying the netting down. Gently secure the netting with stakes. This will make it more difficult for animals to remove the bulbs from your garden. 
  • Once leaves emerge, you can spray them with deer-off or your favorite animal repellent. Animals that might not typically go for bulb foliage will eat anything early in the spring if they are hungry. These sprays must be reapplied every 1-2 weeks or after rain. 

Final Thoughts

These tips will set you on the right path to having a beautiful garden full of spring-blooming bulbs. Bulbs are amazing and will often bloom without much help from us gardeners. However, doing a little work while planting can make their environment even more conducive for perfect blooming bulbs. These above tips are general, and planting and growing conditions can change depending on where you live and how you plan to grow your bulbs. Use my tips as a starting guideline, and grow from there! Happy planting!

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