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What To Know Before Planting Bulbs in Fall

Updated Mar 10, 2023

Updated Mar 10, 2023

Home > Lawn > What To Know Before Planting Bulbs in Fall

Fall bulbs are favorites among beginner and master gardeners because they easily grow and produce beautiful spring flowers like daffodils and tulips. Planting fall bulbs allows you to start next spring off with a vibrant burst of color in your garden. However, there are a handful of things that you should know before planting bulbs in fall, including the types of bulbs you’ll need, strategies for placing your bulbs, and much more. 

So, how do you plant fall bulbs successfully? In this guide on how to plant bulbs in fall, we’ll cover the following: 

  • What are fall bulbs?
  • What are the best fall bulbs?
  • When should I plant fall bulbs?
  • How to plant bulbs in fall
  • Care tips for fall bulbs
  • Beautiful design ideas for fall bulbs

What Are Fall Bulbs?

Despite their name, fall bulbs don’t actually bloom in the fall. Instead, they’re planted in the fall and bloom vibrantly in early spring. Examples of fall bulbs include snowdrops, daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, and tulip bulbs.

If you’re wondering why we plant fall bulbs in the fall rather than the winter or spring, it’s because these blooms are considered “dormant perennials.” Dormant perennials need time and the cool, moist fall soil to wake them from their dormant states to begin growing roots to bloom in spring. 

The best part about fall bulbs is that they are easy to grow and practical, making them beginner-friendly or a quick, easy plant for an experienced gardener. They also help feed early pollinators like bumblebees. Another benefit of planting fall bulbs is that you don’t have to be outside planting them when it’s hot, like spring-flowering bulbs. Instead, you can enjoy the temperate fall weather as you work on cultivating your bulbs. We also love that many fall bulbs, such as hyacinths or daffodils, tend to be pest and deer-resistant, so you won’t have to worry about these bulbs being dug up by hungry critters. 

What Are the Best Fall Bulbs?

Some of the best fall bulbs to consider include: 

  • Alliums
  • Autumn crocus
  • Daffodils
  • Hyacinths
  • Bluebells
  • Dutch iris
  • Fritillaria
  • Lilies
  • Snowdrops
  • Glory of the snow
  • Siberian iris
  • Ornamental onions (Allium) 
  • Snowflakes
  • Tulips

Before choosing which fall bulbs to plant, we recommend looking at the specific requirements for these plants. Consider if these flowers are susceptible to pests or weeds in your area, which growing zones these flowers do best in, their sun and water requirements, etc., so that you can plant them in the optimal part of your garden. 

We also recommend skipping cheap fall bulbs. While it may be tempting to save money, discounted fall bulbs are not a good value in the long run. They’ll likely grow fewer flower stalks, and many may be rotting or old. Instead, look for bulk pricing or early bird deals if you’re trying to find a good deal on fall bulbs. Purchase your fall bulbs in early September for the best variety, selection, and quality. We also recommend choosing a variety of bulbs so that if a pest or disease affected one type of flower, all of your plants wouldn’t suddenly be affected. 

If you’re interested in growing a huge number of vibrant flowers, consider choosing fall bulbs that naturalize and spread on their own. You’ll need to be patient and wait a few years for these flowers to spread, but the results can be beautiful and impressive. Flowers like daffodils, grape hyacinths, crocus, and snowdrops are known to be great fall bulbs that naturalize well.

How to Plant Bulbs in Fall

When Should I Plant Fall Bulbs?

According to Colorado State University, the best planting time for fall bulbs is in late September, which allows the bulbs enough time to grow roots before the ground freezes. 

However, this can vary depending on where you live and the temperatures that year. Pay close attention to the fall nighttime temperatures and look for regular nighttime temperatures between 40°F and 50°F before you start planting. Some gardeners also listen and watch for signs from animals, such as when crickets no longer chirp and squirrels are burying their acorns before they plant fall bulbs. You can also check with your local garden center to learn their recommendations for planting fall bulbs in your area this year. 

Areas With Warm Winters 

If you live in an area with a warm climate, often zones eight to 11, you’ll need to take additional steps to ensure that your fall bulbs get cold enough. Usually, this will require pre-chilling to make sure that your bulbs bloom correctly next year.

To pre-chill your fall bulbs, leave them in their bags and put them into your refrigerator. Do not place your bulbs anywhere near fruit because ripening fruit releases ethylene gas, which may hurt your flower bulbs. Once the bulbs are chilled, plant them at the coolest time of the fall season in your area. 

Pre-chilling your fall bulbs should happen over many weeks. Here are a few rough guidelines for how long you should chill common fall bulbs: 

Daffodils and Specie Iris: 15 weeks

Hyacinth: 11 to 14 weeks

Tulips, Crocus, Grape Hyacinth, and Scillia: 12 to 15 weeks

Areas with Cold Winters

If you live in an area with cold temperatures, typically zones one to seven, wait until nighttime temperatures average between 40°F and 50°F before planting your bulbs. Ideally, you’ll be able to plant your bulbs between six and eight weeks before the first freeze. However, you can still plant your bulbs if the ground is workable. 

Where To Place Fall Bulbs

While planting fall bulbs, it’s crucial that you take a couple of strategic steps when choosing where to place your bulbs so that they can thrive come next spring. 

Start by keeping a notebook to track where you plant your fall bulbs and have current bulbs or plants already planted. The tracker will prevent you from overplanting in one area, having gaps in your flower bed, and more. 

Research the needs of your fall bulbs. If you have shade-loving plants, make sure to plant these bulbs in areas where your garden gets the most shade. If your plants need sunlight, plant them in sunny areas where they’ll regularly be exposed to the full sun. Almost all fall bulbs will need well-drained soil rich in organic matter, so avoid any spaces in your garden or yard where water pools, as this can damage your plants. Double-check if the label for your fall bulb has any specific recommendations for planting and follow them closely for optimal results. 

Plant your bulbs at the optimal depth. Each plant bulb will need a different planting depth, so we recommend referring to the plant’s label and following that recommendation. Typically, big bulbs will need to be planted 8 inches deep, while small bulbs only need to be buried about 5 inches deep. However, this is a general rule of thumb that you should compare to the planting label. Remove any rocks, debris, or weeds near your planting zone before planting your bulbs. 

Consider planting perennial flowers on top of your fall bulbs. Plant late bloomers and perennial plants, such as daylilies, over your fall bulbs to keep this location continuously blooming throughout late spring and late summer. If you plant them at the same time as your fall bulbs, you won’t damage your fall bulbs later on when you dig up the area. 

Plant your fall bulbs with the pointy end upwards. Most flower bulbs have a pointy side where the stem will grow out. The side the root grows out of is much flatter and should be facing downward when you place your bulbs. If your flower bulb isn’t very distinct, lay the bulb on its curved side when you plant it. Laying the bulb on its side will allow the roots to grow downward on one end and the flower stalk to grow upwards from the other side. 

Don’t skip areas that you can’t dig down into. You may avoid areas of your yard or garden with tree roots or clay soil. However, you can still plant your fall bulbs in these areas by piling compost and soil on top of your fall bulbs. The dirt and compost will protect your bulbs from rot and give you a raised flower bed effect. We recommend lining this area with a layer of mulch to keep the bulbs from washing away in rainy or snowy conditions. 

Plant bulbs generously. Fall bulbs can be gobbled down by hungry critters, like squirrels. To avoid your flower beds and spring garden looking sparse, plant your bulbs in a large quantity. 

Care Tips for Fall Bulbs

Once you’ve planted your fall bulbs, it’s natural to want to care for them to make sure that they bloom beautifully in the springtime. Consider the following growing tips for caring for your fall bulbs once they are planted: 

  • Don’t fertilize your flowers until spring. Your fall bulbs will remain dormant in the ground throughout autumn and winter, so fertilizing would be a wasted effort. Once you see the first spring shoots, you can begin fertilizing your bulbs because the shoots indicate that your bulb’s roots are growing and need nutrients. However, you should avoid fertilizing the flower once your fall bulb is flowering because it may inhibit the bulb growth. 
  • Only water the bulbs once after planting. Once the fall bulb is planted, water them once to encourage root growth and fill air pockets in the soil. Then, leave them alone until the plant sprouts in the spring. Overwatering the bulb before it sprouts could make it rot, resulting in an unhealthy bulb or the plant’s death. The only exception to this is that if you live in an area with little precipitation throughout winter, you should consider occasionally watering your fall bulbs to provide them with moist soil. 

Beautiful Design Ideas for Fall Flower Bulbs

Bulbs planted in the fall take up little space but have a massive payoff with their vibrant colors in the spring. For a beautiful display of blooming flowers, consider the following tips: 

  • Plant shorter bulbs in front. When considering the layout of your flower bed or border, place shorter flower bulbs in front so that the flowers in the middle and back of your bed or border can still be seen when everything is blooming. 
  • Mix multiple types of flower bulbs together. Choose flower bulbs that have bloom times throughout different seasons in spring and summer so that your flower beds and garden are continuously blooming and vibrant. 
  • Showcase unusual flowers. Flowers like daffodils or tulips are stunning, but choose a few unique blooms, like foxtail lilies or fritillaries, to add interest or height to your flower display. 
  • Consider planting fall bulbs in containers. Fall bulbs can also be planted in hanging containers, pots, and much more. Double-check that the flower you choose fits in a container and has enough room to grow horizontally and vertically before planting. Then, enjoy your beautiful window display, hanging basket, and more come spring.
  • Create a flower bulb trench or border. Consider planting your fall bulbs in a row or border by digging out a trench and then planting your bulbs in a neat row. Once they bloom, you’ll have an eye-catching, colorful border in your garden. 
  • Group bulbs tightly together in one small area. Grouping many flowers together in one small area will pack a much bigger visual punch than having flowers spaced out throughout your yard and garden. 
  • Choose your color combinations wisely. Many spring flowers are vivid and add excellent spring color, so take care and choose colors that pair well together for the best results. Take this a step further and pair your favorite color combinations in small clusters for an eye-catching display. 
  • Try bouquet planting. Plant several bulbs in the same planting hole for a unique bouquet look. The flowers will sprout up like a bouquet with multiple flowers in the same cluster when they grow. You’ll need to make a wider planting hole to accommodate five to seven bulbs for this. Keep the bulbs in the hole close together but not touching, fill with soil, and enjoy your own “cut flowers” in the spring. 
  • Create double-decker effects. Plant smaller bulbs immediately in front of large bulbs that bloom at the same time. When they are both in bloom, you’ll have an interesting double-decker effect. This design looks especially great in window displays or short flower beds. 

Final Thoughts

Planting fall bulbs requires patience and time. However, the vibrant results are more than worth it come spring. Take your time when considering what flowers you’d like for your garden and what bulbs will thrive in your hardiness zone and specific conditions. Then, use a notebook to track your planting areas and create a design for how you’d like your plants to look when they bloom. We hope our guide gives you plenty of ideas for how to plant your fall bulbs, place them, and care for them properly. 

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