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Planting Bulbs in the Fall for Amazing Spring Flowers

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, next spring I’m so happy I went to all the trouble. After a long, dreary winter, 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 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 Bulbs Planted in the Fall

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:

I purchase many bulbs from online retailers (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.

Yellow daffodils in a spring garden

When to Plant Fall Flower 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 than in rows.
  • If the soil isn’t the greatest, add in some organic matter like compost to ensure good drainage. Adequate drainage is really 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.

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

Tips for Planting Fall Bulbs

  • There are so many bulb planter 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. See 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. 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 trees haven’t fully leafed out in spring.
  • When it comes to tulips and daffodils, the size of the bulb matters – large bulbs mean larger flowers. So purchase high-quality bulbs, if your budget allows. You won’t regret it!

Here’s a Pin to help remind you of this post later. Pin it to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest. There are more pins at the bottom of the post. Thanks for pinning!

How to Grow 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.

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. Below is an image of species tulips in one of my gardens.

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. 

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.

Tulips - Planting Bulbs in the Fall for Amazing Spring Flowers

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.

Grape Hyacinth and Daffodils - Plant Spring Bulbs in the Fall

This mix of Tulips and Grape Hyacinths from my sister’s gardens 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

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:

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

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,
Joanna

p.s. Hey there Gardeners, I could use a favor! Can you please help me out by pinning these pictures. Simply hover in the upper left-hand corner and click the “pin” icon. There are more pins at the bottom of the page. Thanks!!!!

p.p.s. Follow Gingham Gardens on Pinterest for lots of great gardening ideas and tons of gardener’s eye candy.

Pins to Share:

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.

39 Comments

  1. Hi, great article. I’ve been trying to build up my spring garden. I live in zone 4, NE of the cities in WI. What fall planted anemones have you found that work here? Most of the ones I come across are zone 5. Also, have you had much luck planting spring bulbs in pots and keeping in an unheated garage? I would love to make use of some of the late, close-out bulb sales.
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Elizabeth – Thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens. Sorry for the delayed reply. I have had mixed results planting bulbs in pots and keeping them in our unheated, but insulated garage. I’m trying again this year though. I’m hoping to have success and will update this post when I do. I’m not sure of the variety, but I’ve had very good luck planting the bulbs in the fall. I know this isn’t helpful… sorry. The ones I’ve had luck with were purchased from Costco, Longfield Gardens brand. You can also purchase from Longfield Gardens online. I very seldom look at the zone for bulbs, like I do with plants. Just experiment and see what works, especially if the bulbs are on clearance. Happy gardening, Joanna

  2. Hello! I am a gardener in Zone 4 Minnesota. I greatly enjoy spring bulbs and counted how many will arrive in the mail soon. I’m going to be very busy planting but I know it will be a beautiful “spring show”!

    I purchase many bulbs from Holland Bulb Farms as well as Brecks vendor through Home Depot.

    1. Hi Leigh – for bulbs, I’ve ordered online from Dutch Gardens, Bluestone Perennials and Longfield Gardens. The past two years I’ve had really good luck with bulbs I purchased from Costco, which are actually from Longfield Gardens. Locally in the Twin Cities, I love Gertens and Bachmanns. Happy fall, Joanna

      1. I really enjoy your info however i live in Los Angeles and these bulbs don’t grow in LA. Please give me some suggestions on what to plant in LA for spring flowers. Thanks

        1. Hi Carla – With a little extra work you can grow tulips and daffodils in LA, plus other flowers. Here’s what I found: In Southern California, it is too hot to plant in late summer and early fall. Purchase freesia, allium, ranunculus, crocus and daffodil in September, but plan to store them in a dry, dark place until November. Tulips and hyacinths need four to six weeks of chill in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator. Good luck! Joanna

          1. Hi Carla – thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens and taking the time to comment. Good luck planting bulbs and I hope your spring flowers are amazing! Happy fall, Joanna

  3. I bought my first bag of daffodils a few weeks ago. Your post says plant when temp is 60 degrees. My question: is 60 the high temp or the low? I live in central Texas and right now we’re still in the 90’s during the day. Cooler weather is coming soon. When do I plant my bulbs?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Laura – you definitely want to wait until the temps cool down. You can probably get away with planting in late November, but wait until the temperatures are below 60. Thanks for stopping by! I’m hoping you all get some cooler weather soon!

  4. I have always been an AVID gardener—ever since I was a teenager (in the 50’s !) I found this site and like it VERY much. My “gardening” partner is gone now, so it’s just me; but I would rather be out in my house yard/garden then dusting, bookkeeping, and other mundane jobs! Oh, yes, I do like to bake (small recipes!) Please keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Betty – thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. I’m so happy you’re enjoying Gingham Gardens! I’m always happy to hear from another gardener that loves it as much as I do. I’m curious what zone do you garden in?

  5. Oh, I love the spring bulbs! All winter long I anticipate seeing the green tips starting to emerge, signaling the advance of spring! I have some of those grape hyacinths in my yard, too. I let them go to seed and then sprinkle them around my yard to eep spreading them around. Each year I try to add more daffodils, tulips, crocus, etc. We just put all new windows in our house, so now I’m working on the side yard to make it prettier now that it’s more easily seen out of the crystal clear new windows. I’ll be planting some bulbs and other things there very soon.

  6. Oh man, I cannot wait to plant bulbs! Just like you, I don’t care for the work, but man the result is beautiful! Since I reworked my front bed this summer I have to replant the tulips that I dug up. I also have several trees in my backyard that I want to plant bulbs around. I bought my first bag of daffodils at Costco yesterday, but really want to go over to Gertens and buy some there. I heard dunking your bulbs in repels-all before planting will keep critters from digging them up.

    1. Hi Tiffany, I bought a few bags of bulbs from Costco too. I have had really good luck with their bulbs. I picked up some hyacinth bulbs at Gertens last week and hope to get back there to get some more. Happy gardening for a little bit longer.

  7. OMG – this is the way we have been planting bulbs for over 30 years. The first year we planted them this way we had over 100 bulbs and using a bulb planter just was not going to work. Your pictures are just beautiful and am envious of your cooler temperatures. In OK we have the heat and dryness to deal with and always welcome the bulbs beauty in the Spring just like you do.

    1. Hi Carol, thanks for stopping by. I know lots of people plant the way we do, but there are more that don’t. I think flowers look so much better in mounds. We are finally getting some much needed rain which has cooled the temps down. Fall will be here soon so hang in there.

  8. Got my last bulbs in the mail saturday. Only a few so it should be easy to plant them out this week.

  9. Nothing like the wonderful color of spring bulbs after a long dreary winter! I have a lot of daffodils and Hyacinths, but the deer here will not leave the tulips alone. I’d like to try some one year and just continually spray them with deer repellent and see what happens. Can’t wait to see these spring beauties in bloom! Thanks for sharing with SYC.
    hugs,
    Jann

  10. Hi Joanna, I like your gardening tips. I used to plant bulbs in the Fall, but when something came along & ate to the ground my first tulip of the season, I never planted bulbs again. Ha! Isn’t that lazy of me? I know it is. Planting bulbs can be a lot of work because my soil usually has to be amended quite a bit. I can relate to how much work it is, but I know it’s worth it in the end. You’ll have to show us your garden in Spring!

    1. Hello Florence – thanks for stopping by. Go out this fall and buy a bag of daffodils – nothing eats daffodils. Then follow my simple directions for planting. You’ll be so happy with yourself in the spring. Oh sorry, I can be a bit bossy. Can you tell, I’m a wee bit passionate about gardening and have to remind myself regularly that not everyone is. Have a great week!

  11. Looking forward to seeing how these grow…I wish I had a larger yard to plant more…Thanks so much for visiting again!!
    Hugs,
    Deb

  12. I can not wait to see those flowers bloom. I need to plant some, but i have been so distracted with the sell of my home and trying to find a rental. Crazy week. thanks for linking up. where did you see my party.
    Maria

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