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Fall is the Time to Plant Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Posted on October 9, 2021

Spring-flowering bulbs, like tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocus, are the first group of plants to bloom in the spring. The vibrant colors and new green growth announce to us spring is on the way. However, even though we enjoy these beautiful flowers in spring, fall is the season to plant these bulbs.

Buying Bulbs

When buying your bulbs, keep the following in mind:

  • Bulb varieties differ not only in color, but also in height, flower form, fragrance, and time of bloom.
  • The larger the bulb, the more food is available for the developing blossoms. The larger bulbs often cost more but also produce more and larger flowers.
  • Moldy or shriveled bulbs or bulbs that are damaged indicates poor quality or disease. Also, avoid buying soft, sour-smelling, or lightweight bulbs. These will usually not bloom.
  • Buy from a reputable source. Word of mouth can lead you to a reliable source. Mail order is also popular.
  • There are good sales and bad sales. An early-season sale is probably a good buy, but a late-season discount may be offering bulbs other gardeners have chosen not to buy.
  • If you purchase bulbs before you are ready to plant them, keep the bulbs dry and in a shady, well-ventilated location. If packaged, unpack the bulbs at least partially to allow good air circulation.

Planting Bulbs

Choose a sunny site for your spring-flowering bulbs. Most bulbs need at least six hours of full or partial sun each day and do best when planted in an area that has good drainage. If the soil contains considerable clay, mix in some organic matter such as compost, peat moss, or rotted manure. At planting time, you may also want to mix into the soil a slow-release bulb fertilizer,

Plant spring-flowering bulbs from mid-September until the soil freezes (usually in November). For best results, plant bulbs by mid-October. This will give them a chance to establish a healthy root system before the ground freezes and will assure a quick start in the spring. But … if time gets away from you and it is late fall, plant your bulbs anyway. Many a bulb has bloomed in the spring after being planted late in the season.

Plant bulbs at a depth equal to two to three times their diameter. Plant bulbs a little shallower in heavy (clay) soils. When planting, be sure to identify either the root plate and face it downwards or find last year’s shriveled flower stalk and face it upwards. If unsure, compare with pictures/diagrams often found on the bulb package wrapper or in gardening books/magazines.

After planting, bulbs will start to form roots immediately and need water for this process. Soak the bulbs thoroughly so that the soil around the bulbs is moist. One good soaking is usually enough unless we experience an unusual hot and dry fall.

Although spring-flowering bulbs are hardy, they need winter protection. Once the ground freezes in late fall, place two to four inches of mulch over the soil. This will keep the soil frozen once it freezes and help prevent freeze/thaw damage. Remove the mulch in spring after the first leaves appear. The new leaves may rot if you allow them to remain in contact with the mulch.

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