Quick Tips for Planting Spring-Flowering Bulbs

spring flowering bulbs

The Keukenhof in full bloom is an amazing sight!

Do you love daffodils, tulips, crocus, freesia, and other wondrous signs of spring? If so, get ready to do some digging!

Fall or autumn is the time to plant spring-flowering bulbs. With these few tips, you’ll have your bulb planting done in no time, and a wonderful display come spring!


Select bulbs that are ideal for your growing zone

Bulbs like tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocus do best in Zones 4-7 and most require a winter freeze. Warm-climate gardeners can often purchase these as pre-chilled bulbs and plant them in the spring.

Warm climate gardeners also have other great options to choose from, including lycoris (Z 7-10), ranunculus, tritonia (Z 8 -11) and freesia (Z 9-11). Some reputable bulb companies like Colorblends also offer warm and moderate-climate bulbs.


growing daffodils

Daffodils are perhaps the easiest to grow spring-flowering bulbs

Choose the right bulbs for the right location

Although most flowering bulbs prefer full sun, you may have an area that’s shaded for much of the summer but still offers full sun before surrounding trees leaf out. There are also a number of shade-loving bulbs including woodland bulbs like dog-tooth violets, Spanish bluebells and trillium.

Regardless of their location, bulbs need well-drained soil to prevent them from rotting. Adding organic matter like chopped leaves or compost to the soil is the easiest way to improve both heavy clay soil and light sandy soil.

Spring-flowering bulbs come in a variety of sizes and shapes, from taller globe alliums to tiny anemones.  When selecting bulbs, think about where they’ll be best viewed and enjoyed and remember to plant taller bulbs in the back and shorter in the front. Tulips and daffodils are available in a variety of bloom times, so to enjoy the longest bloom period, plant a mix of both.


Buy from a reputable supplier

If you’re buying from a local garden center, choose bulbs that are firm. If you’re buying from a online or mail order catalog, go to Dave’s Garden Watchdog first to check out the company’s rating before making your purchase. As is the case with many purchases, with bulbs you do get what you pay for. Less expensive bulbs tend to be smaller and will take longer to naturalize and/or come to full size and are more susceptible to harsh weather conditions.


Plant at the right time

You can plant bulbs as long as the soil is still soft enough to dig. In areas with cold winters, it’s best to plant before mid-November to give the bulbs time to establish themselves before the ground freezes.

planting flower bulbs

Mixing colors when planting bulbs adds interest and texture.

types of tulips

Griegii Tulips are native to Turkestan and are fairy short, making them ideal for the front of a bed or in rock gardens.

Planting basics

  • Most bulb packages will include a plant-depth chart but the general rule of thumb is to plant at a depth that’s 2 -3 times the height of the bulb.
  • Rather than digging individual holes for each bulb, it’s faster to dig larger holes, spread the bulbs around and then cover them back up.
  • If you’re planting daffodils or other bulbs in a naturalized setting, simply dig up a section of sod and lay it to the side. Dig the hole to the appropriate depth, plant the bulbs, then lay the sod back over the top.
  • Plant bulbs with the root system down and the pointy end up.
  • For the best displays, plant your bulbs in clusters or groups of a minimum of 3-6 bulbs. Larger bulbs can be planted 3-6 inches apart and smaller ones can be closer together.
  • If you are in colder zones (4-6), adding a few inches of mulch after the soil has cooled down (but before the ground freezes) can help to retain soil moisture and keeps the ground from “frost heaves”.
  • The foliage from bulbs should not be cut back after the flowers have faded because the foliage supplies food for the following season. So, as your planting your bulbs think about planting them next to perennials that will hide their unsightly dying foliage. For instance, daylilies and phlox come into full size just as daffodils are fading and therefore make a nice companion plant.
planting spring flowering bulbs

The dying foliage on these daffodils will be hidden by azaleas.

interplanting bulbs

Mixing bulbs together creates a lovely effect. Here are pink hyacinths inter-planted with anemone.


We’re not the only ones who love bulbs!

Rabbits, squirrels, mice, chipmunks, voles and other critters love to dig them in the fall and deer and rabbits will chomp to their hearts content come spring. Here are a few solutions:

Deer resistant bulbs

Fritillaria are lovely but are offensive to deer.

If you struggle with critters in your yard, choose bulbs that are deer and rabbit resistant. For instance, if ingested, daffodils are toxic and so are generally avoided by them and other garden pests. Fritillaria and alliums have strong odors that are offensive to deer. On the other hand, tulips are a real delicacy to deer and so interplanting them with bulbs that are offensive can help to repel the deer.

Many gardeners add a handful of bone meal to each hole as their planting. The downside to this is that dogs and other critters may sniff it out and dig out the bulbs. Sprinkling a bit of mole & vole repellent over the spot will help to keep those critters out of your newly planted bulbs.

Although you’ll find plenty of remedies for keeping critters away from your bulbs, the most sure-fire protection is to lay chicken wire or other wire mesh on top of the beds. Make certain that the mesh holes are large enough for the bulbs to grow through or lift it in the spring. Small wire cages that can be easily made with chicken wire are also helpful in areas with burrowing pests.


And finally, enjoy a bit of armchair traveling . . .

Most of us won’t have a chance to visit the tulip fields or the Keukenhof in Holland when the gardens are in full bloom.  So, we thought we’d share a few photos from Anthony Tesselaar as inspirations for your own gardens.

Keukenhof gardens

Mixed varieties of daffodils edge a stream.  Mix daffodils with various bloom times for long-lasting beauty

spring flowering bulbs

Keukenhof in full bloom, with grape hyacinths (muscari) lining the stream.

growing spring flowering bulbs

Fields of tulips before harvesting

types of tulips

The number of tulip varieties available to home gardeners continue to expand thanks to tulip trials

planting spring bulbs

Tulip fields in Holland

Keukenhof gardens

Quintessential Keukenhof image of grape hyacinths (muscari) creating a “river”.

planting tulips

Anthony Tesselaar enjoying a field of tulips.

cut-flower arrangement

Flowering bulbs make great cut flowers too! Purple globe alliums add lots of texture to this arrangement.

growing bulbs in containers

Bulbs can also be grown in containers. Striped squill and white anemones are paired with white pansies to create this Victorian display.





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