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Planting Bulbs in the Fall for Amazing Spring Flowers

Planting spring 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, those spring blooms the following year make me so happy that I went to all the trouble. After long, dreary winter months, there’s nothing better than to see those bits of green popping up through the soil, and then the flower buds, and then the resulting bright and cheery spring flowers.

Gardener planting bulbs in the fall.

You don’t even need a large flower bed for bulb planting. Bulbs can totally be planted in small spaces.

If you’re a beginner gardener, or this is your first year planting bulbs, you’re in the right place. If you’ve planted bulbs before, but ran into a few problems, this is the article for you too.

When I start seeing these displays in our local garden centers in late summer, I tend to go a little overboard. Can you relate?

Bulb Display at Gertens - Planting Bulbs in the Fall for Amazing Spring Flowers

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Spring Flowers Grown From Fall-Planted Bulbs

There are many varieties of spring flowering bulbs. To achieve the best spring color, I recommend planting several varieties. Also different bulbs have different bloom times, from early spring right through late spring. Here is a list of the most popular types of bulbs:

Purchasing Flower Bulbs Online for Fall Planting

I purchase many bulbs from online retailers (John Scheepers, Dutch Gardens and Eden Brothers) 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.

Flower bulbs for fall planting can also be purchased from Amazon. When purchasing online, be sure to read reviews and information about hardiness zones.

If your mail order bulbs arrive and they are soft, mushy or have mold on them. Return them immediately and do not plant them.

Yellow daffodils in a spring garden

When to Plant Spring-Flowering Bulbs

It’s important to determine the right time for planting. The best time to plant bulbs is when temps are below 60 degrees fahrenheit (15 degrees celsius), but before the ground freezes. Here in my zone 4 gardens, I like to plant in late October, but bulbs can be planted into late fall or as long as you can dig.

One year in early September, when it started getting chilly, I got in a hurry and planted bulbs. Then they started coming up a few weeks later when we had a period of warmer temperatures. The following spring when they were supposed to come up, they did not. Fortunately, I had ordered from a reputable company and they replaced the bulbs.

For those of you in warmer climates, since bulbs need a cold period of dormancy, you may need to chill your bulbs before planting.

How to Plant Fall Bulbs

First, rake back any mulch from the area where you want to plant your bulbs.

Next, you will need to dig a hole. It’s always a good idea to follow the package instructions, but as a general rule of thumb, bulbs need to be planted 2-3 times their size (the height of the bulb). For instance, if you have a tulip bulb that is about 3 inches, you will want to plant it at least 6 inches deep.

Plus, you will want to dig wide enough to hold anywhere from 8 – 12 bulbs. Remember, bulbs look better planted in drifts or en masse than in rows.

If the soil isn’t the greatest, add in some organic matter like compost to ensure good drainage.

For the best results, well-drained soil is important because if you don’t have it bulbs can rot. I have a few garden beds that have snow piled on them in the winter and I have lost a lot of bulbs in those areas due to soggy soil.

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 placed pointed end 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 a thick layer of mulch over it.

Pro Tip: Notice in the image below how I’m planting bulbs right up against other perennial plants. When those plants emerge in the spring they will eventually cover the dying foliage of the tulips.

Image of spring bulbs being planted

How to Layer Bulbs When Planting

Do you like the look of different bulbs blooming together? To achieve these look, simply layer the bulbs when you plant.

Plant your largest bulbs first.

Add soil and then plant the smaller bulbs to the depth they require.

Tips for Planting Fall Bulbs

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. We’re talking flowers here, not soldiers. I never plant bulbs 3 inches apart or whatever the instructions say, but it is necessary to leave room so the bulbs have room to multiply.

Although most spring flowers need full sun, a planting area that is normally in partial shade will also work to, because deciduous trees haven’t fully leafed out in spring.

When it comes to tulips and daffodils, the size of the bulb matters – larger bulbs mean larger flowers. So purchase high-quality bulbs, if your budget allows. You won’t regret it!

Tulip bulbs often come in early season, mid-season and late season bloomers. If you do choose to plant tulips, purchase bulbs in each of these categories so you can extend the bloom time of tulips.

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 get a little carried away and purchase a ton of bulbs, or you’re simply running out of good weather?

  • There is a video in this article that shows me using a 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 in this article, but if you need to get it done quickly, this is the best way to accomplish the task.

Using a Bulb Auger vs. Using a Shovel to Plant Bulbs

There are so many bulb planter gadgets! I tend to steer clear of them because I think I have the perfect shovel for planting bulbs. When I happened upon a great sale on this gadget, I decided to buy one.

See 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.

The auger worked wonderfully in compacted, dry, sandy 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.

To not have your arm ripped off, you do have to keep a good hold on the power drill with both hands, especially in hard, compacted soil. 

Overall, I prefer a shovel over the bulb auger.

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Image of allium flowers in a spring garden with text overlay - Planting Bulbs in the Fall for Beautiful Spring Flowers

How to Keep Squirrels and other Critters From Eating Your Bulbs

There’s nothing more frustrating that to go to the work and trouble of planting bulbs, just to have a squirrel dig them up. If you have a problem with critters digging up or eating your planted bulbs, here are a few things you can try:

  • Be sure to plant bulbs deep enough! If you have a 2 – 3 inch tulip bulb, plant it at least 6 inches deep, or up to 9 inches deep. Squirrels are too lazy to dig that deep.
  • I’ve read good things on gardening forums about Bonide Repels All Granules especially to keep squirrels from digging up bulbs. 
  • Sprinkle red pepper flakes or cinnamon on top of bulbs before you push the soil back over them and then on top of the soil and mulch, and that will repel various critters. This works especially well for small bulbs like crocus that aren’t planted deep.
  • 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.

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.

Pro Tip: 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.

Below is an image of species tulips in one of my gardens. They aren’t at all what you think of when you think of tulips, but they are sweet, little blooms.

Yellow species tulips
Species Tulips

As an alternative, grow any variety of tulips that you want, but just expect that they will only be good for one season. You can always plant fancy tulip bulbs every fall.

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.

How to Keep Deer and Rabbits From Eating Tulips

It can be so incredibly frustrating to see beautiful buds forming on your new tulips, just to see them eaten off by deer or rabbits.

I highly recommend spraying your tulips and other perennial plants, as well, with Liquid Fence. You will need to reapply it on a regular basis just to keep an edge over wildlife. 

White tulips in a spring garden.

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 this beautiful, welcome sight the following spring. Although not instant gratification, next year you’ll be so happy you took the time to plant bulbs in the fall. 

These were some of my all time favorite tulips. And, you guessed it, they only lasted one season.

Tulips - Planting Bulbs in the Fall for Amazing Spring Flowers

More glorious tulips. Look at the inside of these – God’s amazing paintbrush!

Tete-a-tete are a miniature version of daffodils. They work perfectly for borders in spring gardens.

A border of bright yellow daffodils

The combination of these bright yellow daffodils and the grape hyacinths are striking. If you’re curious about using color combinations in your flower gardens, check out this post when you’ve finished up here.

Grape Hyacinth and Daffodils - Plant Spring Bulbs in the Fall

This mix of tulips and grape hyacinths from my sister’s spring garden in Colorado is another gorgeous color combination.

Tulips & Grape Hyacinths

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, into late spring. You can bet I’m planting more anemone bulbs in my gardens this year.

Anemone Flowers

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.

Hyacinth Flowers

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:

Quick & Easy Steps for Fall Garden Cleanup
All About Seed Collecting
Tips for Keeping Potted Mums Looking Great
How to Overwinter Tender Plants & Bulbs
How to Keep Geraniums Over Winter

Fall is the best time to plan next year’s Gardens!
Garden Planning – How to Plan Next Year’s Garden

These instructions are pretty simple, right? Anyone can have a beautiful spring garden and you don’t need a green thumb. So buy some bulbs this fall and plant away!

Those of you who 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.

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.

Happy gardening,

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Images of spring flowers with text overlay - How to Plant bulbs in the Fall for beautiful flowers next spring.


Images of spring flowers with text overlay Step-by-Step Directions for planting spring flowering bulbs this fall.