Planting bulbs in the fall is honestly not one of my favorite gardening tasks, and I’m usually out there cursing myself for buying so many. BUT, come spring I’m so happy I went to all the trouble. After a long Minnesota winter, there’s nothing I like better than to see those bits of green popping up through the soil, and then the resulting bright and cheery flowers.
When I see these displays in the garden centers, I tend to go a little overboard.
Spring Flowers Grown From Bulbs to Plant in the Fall
There are many varieties of spring bulbs, but some of the most popular are:
- Tulips (see the section on tulips below)
- Grape Hyacinth
- Wood Hyacinth
I purchase many bulbs online (I like Dutch Gardens and Longfield Gardens) and from local nurseries. I’ve had very good luck with bulbs from Costco and the last few years their bulbs have been Longfield Gardens brand.
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Tips for Planting Bulbs
- Make sure the temps are below 60 before you plant bulbs, but before the ground freezes. Last year, I got in a hurry and planted bulbs to soon and they started coming up a few weeks later when we got a warm spell. This spring when they were supposed to come up, they did not. Fortunately, I had ordered from a reputable company and they replaced the bulbs.
- There are so many bulb planting gadgets and I’ve never even tried them, because I think I have the perfect shovel for planting bulbs. I did break down this year when I happened upon a great sale on this gadget and bought one. Below is the video where I compare the bulb auger to a shovel. Even after I made the video, I continued to use the bulb auger and the more I used it, the more I liked it. It worked wonderfully in compacted, dry soil, but not as well in soil that was moist. I used the bulb auger more like a miniature rototiller to loosen up the soil, instead of making individual holes. You do have to keep a good hold on the power drill with both hands. I will definitely use it again both for planting of bulbs and for general planting.
- Plant bulbs close to other perennials (like daylilies or hostas) that come up later, so their foliage will cover the dying foliage of the bulb after they are done flowering.
- Planting bulbs in mounds or groups is so much more aesthetically pleasing than planting them in rows. I never plant bulbs 3 inches apart or whatever the instructions say. We’re talking flowers here, not soldiers.
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How to Plant Fall Bulbs
- First, rake back the mulch from the area where you want to plant your bulbs.
- Next, dig a hole as deep as the instructions on the package call for (typically 2-3 times the size of the bulb) and big enough to hold anywhere from 8 – 12 bulbs.
- If the soil isn’t the greatest, add in some compost.
- Add in a small scoop of bulb fertilizer. I believe this makes a huge difference in the overall quality and quantity of the flowers the bulb produces.
- Next, dump in the bulbs. Space the bulbs out a bit leaving a little room in between and make sure the bulbs are turned right side up. If I’m planting different colors or different varieties, I like to alternate the different bulb varieties.
- Lastly, fill the hole back up, pack it down and spread the mulch back over it.
How to Keep Squirrels and other Critters From Eating Your Bulbs
So far, knock-on-wood, I haven’t had a problem with critters digging up my bulbs and/or eating them. If you do, here are a few things you can try:
- I haven’t personally tried it, but I’ve read good things on gardening forums about Bonide Repels All Granules especially to keep squirrels from digging up bulbs.
- I recently read to sprinkle red pepper flakes on top of bulbs before you push the soil back over them and that will repel various critters. Cinnamon has worked well for me too.
- Spread chicken wire over the area where you’ve planted bulbs and then cover it with mulch. Before the bulbs start sprouting in the spring, the chicken wire can be removed, or it can be left and the bulbs will grow up through it.
- I’ve also seen gardeners fashion a cage made out of chicken wire and bury the bulbs in it.
- Try planting daffodils in the same hole as tulips because critters don’t like daffodil bulbs. They also will not mess with fritillaria bulbs or allium bulbs. They’re both pretty stinky.
- Always be sure to cover any freshly planted areas with mulch. If squirrels see an area that looks freshly dug, they will be all over it.
How to Plant a Large Amount of Bulbs Quickly
Sometimes life gets in the way of our best intentions. So what do you do when you got a little carried away and purchased a ton of bulbs, or you’re simply running out of good weather? I introduced and talked about the drill attachment and yes I use it, but when I really want to get the job done quickly, I just grab a shovel. So take a shovel, dig a hole, dump the bulbs in the hole, turn the bulbs pointy side up and cover them. Of course, you need to follow the other best practices for planting bulbs included in this article, but if you need to get it done quickly, this is the best way to accomplish that.
Why Didn’t My Tulips Flower?
I see this question so much. Tulips have been hybridized over the years with traits to satisfy the floral industry and not home gardeners. When you purchase tulip bulbs they will likely only last a season or two. There are two things you want to look for when buying tulip bulbs; if you want tulip flowers that return, either purchase species tulips or perennial tulips. Look for the words “species”, “perennial” or “naturalizing” in the description of the tulip bulb.
Unless you’re just crazy over tulips, I would recommend going with daffodils. Daffodils are just so much more reliable and you don’t have to worry about critters eating them. Grape Hyacinths are also very reliable and easy to grow.
The Results of Planting Bulbs in the Fall – Amazing Spring Flowers
The after, or the results of a few minutes (or a few hours in my case) of taking the time to plant bulbs in the fall is amazing spring flowers. Come spring you’ll be so happy you took the time to plant bulbs in the fall. These were my favorite tulips this spring.
More glorious tulips. Look at the inside of these – God’s amazing paintbrush!
I love the combination of these bright yellow daffodils and the grape hyacinths.
This mix of Tulips and Grape Hyacinths from my sister’s gardens in Colorado is another gorgeous color combination.
Anemones are one of my new spring favorites. Not sure why, but I’ve never grown them until the last few years and I’m in love. They bloomed longer than most other spring bulbs. You can bet I’m planting more anemone bulbs in my gardens this year.
Hyacinths smell amazing! Plant some by your front door, so you, your family and visitors to your home, will get a nice whiff of their fragrance when coming and going from your home.
I tried to keep these instructions pretty simple, so anyone could follow them. Those of you that have never planted bulbs in the fall, I would encourage you to give it a try this year. Start with something easy like daffodils and don’t go overboard like I do.
What to Do When Spring Bulbs Finish Blooming
Unfortunately spring bulbs do not last forever and when they finish their bloom cycle, there’s ugly foliage left to deal with. It’s not a good idea to cut the foliage off, because it helps the bulb rejuvenate for the following season. My best tip for hiding the dying foliage is to tuck the bulbs in around other perennials so that the other plants’ foliage cover the spring bulb foliage. Once the foliage turns brown, it practically falls off. For more tips and instructions on what to do with the foliage of bulb plants after they have finished blooming this You Tube video from the University of Illinois is very helpful.
Here are some other Fall Gardening posts you might enjoy:
Fall is the best time to plan next year’s Gardens!
Garden Planning – How to Plan Next Year’s Garden
Thanks so much for stopping by Gingham Gardens! I hope you enjoyed these tips for planting bulbs. What bulbs are you going to plant this fall? Leave a comment and let me know. Or, if you have questions about planting bulbs, just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.
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