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Tips for Planting Fall Bulbs

From the Editors of Traditional Home
  • Planting bulbs is fast, easy, and  almost foolproof. Certainly more economical than buying plants at a nursery in  spring, bulb planting gives you a sense of accomplishment and helps you to  visualize and design your garden.

    When  purchasing fall bulbs, keep three things in mind to ensure you take home healthy bulbs that will produce beautiful spring flowers.

    • Look: Take a peek at the bulbs in the bag to ensure you don’t see any mildew or mold on the bulbs. If you do, skip over that bag. But if you notice some nicks in the bulbs or loose skin (tunic), don’t worry as both of these are okay.

    • Feel: Touch the bulb is to ensure it is firm, not mushy. Soft bulbs are sure signs of rotting.

    • Size: Larger bulbs produce larger blooms. Try to choose the largest sized bulb available for each type of flower.

    Images and tips courtesy of Dig Drop Done, a North American bulb education campaign.  Chart on Slide 5 courtesy of Netherland Bulb  Company. Slides 11 and 13 courtesy of Visions Pictures.

  • Lay out your bulbs on top of the soil where you want to plant them. Afterwards, poke a twig into the soil to mark where you’ve already planted.

  • Generally speaking, the planting depth should be 3 times the height of the bulb.

  • Plant your bulbs as soon as you purchase them. If you must wait, simply store them in a cool place until you are ready for planting so the bulbs won’t dry out. (That extra refrigerator in your garage is a great place).

  • Create a garden that will last from early to late spring. Each bulb has a bloom time. Look on the package for either early-, mid-, or late-bloom times. Plant all three-bloom times for continuous color throughout the spring!

  • Squirrels and deer can't stand the skunky gym socks smell of Fritillaria imperialis bulbs. Interplant these tall, dramatic flowers to ward them off and protect your other bulbs. Here, they are planted among tulips.

  • Squirrels and deer generally don’t like the taste of daffodils. You can also plant them as a border surrounding other precious bulbs you'd like to protect. 

  • Other types of fall bulbs that are considered deer resistant are: alliums, camassia and chionodoxa. Most packages will identify if the bulb is deer resistant as well. (Alliums are shown here.)

  • Once you are done planting, clean up the garden area. Remove any mulch, planting tools and bulb debris. Squirrels and other pests have a nose for those clues, which will lead them right to a meal.

  • Save some for later. Keep some bulbs for winter forcing. Set back a dozen daffodils and keep them cooled for 14 weeks. Then plant them in individual mason jars for bright color in mid-winter.

  • When leaves drop in the fall, rake or scatter a layer of them over newly-planted bulbs. They'll love the extra bedding!

  • Potting mixes are richer, cleaner, more insect and disease-free and lighter in consistency than most garden soil. Plus, they usually retain water for a long time, which keeps flowering bulbs from drying out during growth and flowering.  

  • Consider planting bulbs in containers outside, at the same time as you would plant them in the ground. Remember, though, that freezing temperatures can crack terra cotta pots and ornamental planters. By first planting bulbs in plastic pots and then placing the plastic pot inside the earthen one, you'll create a natural insulation between the two.