How and when to plant bulbs

The best times to plant bulbs.

Pink TulipsTulip and daffodil bulbs should be planted in fall or early winter for spring flowering, and early spring for summer blooms. The best time to plant bulbs is when evening low temperatures are between 5°C to 10°C (40°F to 50°F). Fall planting should be done about six weeks before the ground freezes and spring planting will require a period of chilling before you plant. Check the packaging at the garden center, if it says the bulbs are ‘prechilled’ they’re ready to plant. If they have not been prechilled, keep them in the fridge in a paper bag for a couple of weeks before planting. The chilling period is needed to stimulate the roots so they’ll flower.

How to plant bulbs

Dig the hole according to depth indicated on the package and place the bulb with pointed end up. Larger bulbs should be planted about 8 inches deep and smaller bulbs about 5 inches deep. Replace soil and water thoroughly.

garden1Keep squirrels from eating your bulbs

Squirrels don’t eat daffodil bulbs so plant in groups of 3 or 5 with daffodils around the perimeter to protect your tastier tulips!

Zone guide for planting bulbs

  • Zone 1 – 4  plant bulbs between late August and late September.
  • Zone 4 – 7 plant bulbs from late September through to November or December.

Find your plant hardiness zone

What if I missed planting in early fall?

If you missed fall planting, or if winter set in earlier than normal, plant your bulbs anyway. If you can get a shovel into the ground, the bulbs will be better off planted than in storage. Place them a little deeper than 5 – 8 inches, and top with extra straw or evergreen boughs for additional insulation.

What to do if the ground is frozen

If you’ve missed the window of opportunity completely and the ground is frozen solid, plant bulbs in large pots leaving lots of soil for insulation between the bulb and the sides of the pot. Store them in an unheated garage or shed and water monthly so that the soil doesn’t dry out; they need the cold and should not be too wet. In spring, bring the pots outdoors and transplant bulbs into the garden or let them bloom in the pots.

yellowdaffodilsQuick Tips about Bulbs

  • select good quality, plump healthy bulbs at the garden centre, the bigger the bulb the more blooms it will produce.
  • keep soil well-drained, bulbs will rot if the soil remains wet too long.
  • try to maintain a soil pH level of 6 to 7 for the most brilliant colored blooms.
  • spring blooming bulbs should be planted before the ground freezes.
  • be careful about planting too early in fall, you don’t want them to sprout before winter.
  • summer blooming bulbs should be planted in early spring after the last frost.
  • chill summer blooming bulbs for a couple of weeks before planting in early spring
  • summer bulbs require lots of water immediately; after planting in spring maintain moist but well-drained soil.
  • don’t save bulbs for the next season, plant them within the season that you get them.
  • in zone 1 or 2 (the coldest zones), bulbs may need to be lifted out of the ground for winter. Shake off excess dirt and store in breathable bags in a cool well-ventilated location.
  • bulbs do well in patio containers and may be planted close together for fullness.

Why plant bulbs in fall?

One of the most frequently asked question about bulbs is, ‘why do they need to go into the ground in fall?’

The reason to plant bulbs in fall is that they require a period of dormancy in very cool temperatures to stimulate the roots, which begin developing inside the bulb. Most bulbs that require prechilling need about 16 to 18 weeks of cold temps. If they are not allowed this chilling period the stems and flowers will not be fully formed, stems will be weak and short, and the blooms will be too close to the ground.

Don’t worry too much if shoots from your bulbs have started to appear and then it snows! In Zone 4, particularly in Southern Alberta, spring snow storms are not unheard of but tulips, daffodils and many others, will take a lot of harsh weather. Usually the worst that happens is blooms may become burnt, but the plants themselves will live.

It’s not uncommon to see snowdrops, crocuses and narcissi coming up through the snow. Where winters are seemingly endless, they are our reminder that there is life under the frozen ground!

Spring-flowering bulbs in warm climates – zones 8 and 9

Many spring flowering bulbs will do well in warmer zones, the following do not need to be pre chilled before planting:
• Amaryllis
• Allium
• Neapolitanum
• Allium rosenbachianum
• Anemone de Caen
• Anemone St. Brigid
• Brodiaea laxa
• Crocus chrysanthus (snow crocus)
• Dutch iris
• Freesia
• Ixias
• Lilies
• all Narcissi/Daffodils
• Ornithogalum umbellatum,
• Ranunculus
• Scilla campanulata (wood hyacinth)
• Sparaxis
• Triteleia uniflora
• Tritoni

Whether you’re waiting for the bulbs you planted in fall to appear or you’ll be planting for next spring, I hope they’re awesome for you. Come visit me on Facebook and share your advice about bulbs and garden tips in general!


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