Spring Bulb Planting 101: Beautiful Blooms Through Winter

Winter is over, and it’s time for warm weather. After cold and snow, the first spring flowers of the season are always a welcome sight.

Tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are popping up with their pretty colors and eye-catching blooms, and they have one thing in common: they all grow from bulbs.

To enjoy them best, you need to know how and when to plant bulbs. Your goal is to give them enough time to grow roots before the ground grows cold again. After enough time in cold temperatures, they will start growing leaves and flowers. 

Best spring-blooming bulbs

  • Allium Moly: These can go 2-12 inches deep, plant them pointy side up. They do best in Zones 3-9.
  • Crocus: Plant 4 inches deep and grow successfully in zones 3-8. 
  • Iris: Plant about 4-inches deep, 3 inches apart, when fall temps are between 40-50 degrees. They do best in zones 5-7. 
  • Glory-of-the-Snow: Plant in late fall, when it’s 40-50 degrees, about 2-inches deep. They grow well in zones 3-8.
  • Striped squill: Plant about 4-inches deep, 4 inches apart. They grow well in zones 4-8. 

The planting process is not too difficult. Just plant the bulb about twice as deep as the height of your bulb. Add a bit of mulch on top of the soil and it will do well when the plant emerges in the spring. 

Figuring out the depth is simple. Figuring out when is the best time to plant the bulbs is a little bit less specific — it’s more about where you live than anything else. Generally, aim for about four to six weeks after your area’s expected first fall frost. That gives your bulbs enough time to sprout the roots but will not produce any leaves or blooms. 

Prepare your soil

Loosen the soil in the planting bed to a depth of about 8 inches. Bulbs have all the nutrients they need to grow, but it doesn’t hurt to add a bit of compost to improve drainage. And if you want to add fertilizer, this is the time to do it. 

Colder climates

If you live in zones 1-7, you’ll need to protect your bulbs from the cold. Dig them up and place them in a cardboard box filled with sawdust or peat, of if you’ve potted them, just bring the pots inside. 

Warmer climates

If you’re in zones 8-11, your winter is probably mild enough that your spring-planted bulb can be left where it is for the winter. Simply keep the beds protected with mulch during the colder temperatures. 

Average planting times for spring bulbs

  • September to October — zones 4, 5
  • October-early November — zones 6, 7
  • November — early December — zones 8, 9
  • Late December-early January — zone 10

As long as you know your bulbs will have good drainage and sunlight, it doesn’t really matter where you plant them. 

A few more tips:

  • Plant your bulbs in clusters to create a more striking visual impact.
  • Consider the bloom time of your bulbs. Plant a combination of early, mid, and late-season bloomers so you can extend your blooming season. 
  • Layer according to plant height, tall in the back, if you’re planting varieties that will bloom at the same time. 
  • Don’t forget container planting. Many bulbs are perfect for this, and you can bring them front and center while they’re blooming for all to enjoy. 

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do plant bulbs in the same season they’re purchased. They won’t last until next year. 
  • Do place a marker in the ground during the dormant times, so you’ll remember where they are. 
  • Don’t store bulbs in plastic, as they need to breathe. 
  • Don’t store fruit or vegetables in the refrigerator at the same time bulbs are being stored. 

One more thing

Many bulbs can multiply and produce more plants, which can start to cause overcrowding in your flower bed. If your bulbs aren’t producing as many blooms as they used to, it might be because of overcrowding.

You can begin dividing your bulbs when they start the dormant period, usually after the last bit of foliage dies. Dormancy is a brief period so do not put this off too long. Dig them up, separate the biggest bulbs, and replant. 

Planting bulbs is a wonderful way to add lots of seasonal color to garden beds and containers, and if you plan correctly, you could have something blooming from fall into late winter.

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