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When Should I Plant Bulbs?

Bulbs grow well in aerated soil with good drainage.
Tulip bulbs are normally planted in the fall so they can blossom in the spring.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2014
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Bulbs are a great and low-maintenance way to brighten up a garden. Many gardens around the country use their first shoots to herald the beginning of spring, and they come in a wide array of shapes, sizes, and colors to please every gardener. Planting bulbs can be a fun project for kids and beginning gardeners, and watching them emerge in the next year is deeply pleasurable.

There are a few rules to bulb planting and maintenance that will ensure years of happily blooming plants. In general, they should be planted in the fall, to give them time to fully root before the spring. October and November, before the ground has frozen but after the heat of the summer and early fall, are ideal months to plant them. When storing bulbs before planting, make sure they are in a cool, dry place.

Bulbs grow best in aerated soil that drains well. Gardeners should spade the earth to a depth around 18 inches (45 centimeters), mixing in organic material and sand if the soil is particularly heavy. Fertilizer can be added at this time as well, including phosphorus, which assists with plant's development. The bulbs should be planted at a depth approximately two times their length, with the root mass pointing downwards. It may be helpful to place markers above them so that you do not inadvertently pull up or mow new growth when it comes up.

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Think about the location of your bulbs as well. Some species require more or less sun, and these needs will be outlined on the packaging. You can also stagger plantings, so that later blooming flowers hide the dying foliage of earlier growers. With the exception of very early blooming plants, like snowdrops and hyacinths, mulch the bulb bed to help with temperature regulation and to keep the bulbs moist. Remember to clear the mulch as the plants start to come up, so that growth is not impeded.

Most need to be periodically dug up and redistributed so that they don't crowd together. With some bulbs, this is only necessary every few years, and they can be left underground otherwise, although they will need to be annually fertilized. Others, especially summer bulbs, should be dug and stored every year. Digging should be done after dormancy, when all the growth has died back.

Bulbs like to be moist, but well drained. Over-watering will cause bulb rot, so make sure that the bed is aerated and draining well, and water with caution. When they are blooming, make sure that water does not come into contact with the flowers, as it may damage them, especially in the summer. Bulbs can also be forced, or grown indoors, although they tend to bloom for shorter periods of time than those grown outside.

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SarahSon
Post 9

I plant some hyacinth bulbs every fall. These are some of the first flowers to bloom in the early spring. Many times you will see snow covering their bright purple flowers where we live.

I know some people don't like to go to the trouble to plant bulbs, or dig them up every year, but I have done this for as long as I can remember. I have never been disappointed and mother nature always rewards me for my effort.

bagley79
Post 8

I have some red Calla lily bulbs that I dig up every year in the fall and plant again in the spring. This is just the opposite of what you do with many of the other well known bulbs like tulips.

The reason I have to do this is because we live where the winters get too cold to leave them in the ground all year long. For those who live in a warmer climate, they don't have to dig them up every year.

Sometimes I get tired of doing this every year, but they are so beautiful and stately when they are in bloom that I would miss them if I didn't have them. The bulbs also multiply every year. You may start out with just a few and within a few years have a bunch of them.

honeybees
Post 7

Every fall when I plant my tulip and daffodil bulbs I am already looking forward to spring. I know when I see these bulbs poke through the ground in early spring that their beautiful, cheery flowers won't be far behind.

No matter how old I get there is always something exciting about seeing the first signs of growth in the spring.

I have found that I have the best results if I dig up the bulbs every year instead of leaving them in the ground. You can leave them, but I don't think you get nearly as many flowers.

wavy58
Post 6

Some flowers that bloom in summer need to be planted in spring. Gladiolus bulbs will send up stalks within a month of planting, and they will bloom within three months. So, planting them in winter would be a mistake.

I planted my gladiolus bulbs in April. In just a few weeks, I began to see green shoots, and by June, they were nearly three feet tall and covered in blooms.

Like many flowering bulbs, gladiolus have blooms that last only about two weeks. Then, they are done for the year. The foliage stays green until fall, but it will be plain.

So, next year, I plan to stagger my planting. I will plant a few bulbs every two weeks, starting in April. That way, I will have a summer full of blooms.

cloudel
Post 5

@shell4life – My friend only digs her bulbs up once they have stopped performing well. Sometimes, it's because they have rotted underground, and other times, it's because they have multiplied and the offshoots need to be separated.

When bulbs go bad in the ground, they stop sending up shoots at all. My friend digs them up, puts some sandy soil in the holes, and puts in replacement bulbs. The sand will soak up the excess moisture that caused the rot in the first place.

shell4life
Post 4

Why do people dig up their bulbs? Why not just leave them in the ground, since they will bloom again the following spring?

I have had tulips and hyacinths for five years now, and I've never once dug them up. They are still going strong, and I feel that if I did try to dig them up, I would probably damage the bulbs with the shovel. It's impossible to tell exactly where they are at if the plant foliage isn't present.

kylee07drg
Post 3

I live in the southern United States, and the winters are mild here. The rules for planting flowering bulbs are a little different for my region.

Whereas most of the country might plant them in October or November, I wait until December. They need a period of cooling, and sometimes, the ground just isn't cool enough in fall. So, I wait a little later and let the ground cool off more.

accordion
Post 2

My mother has had many odd things happen when she planted tulip and daffodil bulbs. Like most people, she will occasionally forget where she planted them. At the same time, we have had issues with the many squirrels in our area digging up and replanting bulbs when they were looking for acorns. This leads to spring bulbs in places we never expected.

somerset
Post 1

For hardy, rare and beautiful flowers from the past, you might consider planting heirloom bulbs.

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