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.
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
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
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
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
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:
- Daffodils (some varieties do better in full sun)
- Snow Drops
Tip 5: Plant at the Right Time
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:
|Zone||Estimated Planting Time|
|Zone 1-2||Early September|
|Zone 4-5||Late September to Early October|
|Zone 7-8||Early November|
|Zone 9||Early December|
|Zone 11||Late December|
Tip 6: Prepare Your Soil
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
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
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 Type||Planting Depth|
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
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
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
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
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.
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!