Planting Bulbs for Spring Blooms

Fall is the prime time for planting bulbs for spring. Learn our top tips for planting and trouble-shooting critters and pests.

Planting Bulbs for Spring Blooms

Planting Bulbs for Spring Blooms

A spring blossom bonanza is guaranteed when you plant flower bulbs in autumn.


By Ann Wied
Waukesha County, Wisconsin

At the end of a long winter, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips are some of the first and most welcome signs of springtime. But to enjoy them in spring, you have to plant them in autumn.

Don’t put off buying, even if you’re not yet ready to plant. Get them while supplies are good so you can choose quality bulbs, firm and free from diseases and insects. Then keep them in a dry, shady, well-ventilated place until you’re set to plant. Remove any packaging from the bulbs to let the air circulate.

Base planting time on the weather, not the calendar! In colder climates, plant from midfall until the soil freezes, which can be late November. Aim for the earlier weeks, though, so the plant can establish a healthy root system before the ground freezes.

In warmer areas, plant bulbs when soil temperature (at planting depth) stays below 60 degrees. This could be late December or early January.

Choose a site with sun and drainage. Most of these early bloomers love sunshine, so pick a location that will get at least six hours of full or partial sun each day. Since early-spring bulbs bloom before most trees and shrubs leaf out, it’s fine to plant them underneath one. Good drainage is essential for good blooms. If your soil has a high clay content, work compost, peat moss or other organic material into the top 12 inches.

Plant bulbs at a depth of two to three times their height, about 8 inches for larger bulbs like tulips or daffodils and 3 to 4 inches for smaller ones. Plant with the bulb’s pointy “nose” up and the root plate down; then cover with soil. Discard damaged, soft, sour-smelling, moldy or shriveled bulbs.

After planting, water to encourage root development. One good soaking is usually enough unless there’s an extended period of hot, dry weather.

Spring-flowering bulbs are hardy but still need protection in cold climates. Once the ground freezes, cover them with 2 to 4 inches of mulch—shredded bark, compost, pine needles or other organic matter—to help protect them from the damage that freezing and thawing can do. As soon as the first leaves appear in spring, remove the mulch.

Trouble-shooting Tips to Planting Bulbs for Spring

Critter control

  • Enclose tulip bulbs in wire mesh when planting to keep animals from eating them. Plants will grow through the wire in spring.
  • Fence around plants.
  • Choose daffodils or other spring-flowering bulbs that deer and other animals usually bypass.
  • Experiment with products designed to deter critters to find one that works for you.

Bloom problems

  • Overcrowded bulbs may not bloom well; thin these clumps in spring and replant right away, or hold bulbs in a well-ventilated spot to replant in fall.
  • Check depth. Were bulbs planted too close to the surface?
  • Don’t cut off leaves too soon after flowering, or the bulb may not store enough food to bloom next year.
  • In the South, some bulb varieties won’t flower a second year.

Ann Wied is consumer horticulture educator for the UW-Extension in Waukesha County, Wisconsin.

Photography by COPIT/




M 1 October 31, 2014 at 3:08 pm

When is the best time to fertilize bulbs?


sharon 2 October 31, 2014 at 4:54 pm

When planting bulbs in fall, it’s best to incorporate compost, aged manure or other organic matter into the planting area. Add a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer at the time of planting. Then wait for your beautiful blooms come springtime!


sharon 3 November 3, 2014 at 9:49 am

If planting bulbs, add a fertilizer labeled for flowering plants. These usually have a fertilizer ratio listed such as 5-10-5 or 5-10-10. Mix it in deep so it can be used by the bulb roots and follow the directions on the fertilizer label regarding amount, etc. If these bulbs have already been planted, you can fertilize after the shoots emerge from the soil in spring. For further questions and more detailed recommendations, contact your county Extension office.


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