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How to Plant Bulbs in Fall for an Unforgettable Spring Garden

Looking for ways to get early spring color in the garden? Learn how to plant bulbs in the fall with these simple tips to grow a beautiful spring garden.

After a long, cold winter there is nothing quite like seeing early spring blooms emerge from the ground.

It’s exciting to see them start to grow. And even better to watch them bloom.

They bring great joy after a long cold winter.

Without planting bulbs, the garden will stay dull and dreary until spring nursery stock is available.

If you want a garden that’s always and bloom, plant bulbs in the fall to get early spring color.

There are lots of beautiful spring flowering bulbs to choose from too.

And today, I’m going to show you how to plant bulbs in the fall for an unforgettable display of spring garden flowers.

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How Deep Should I Plant Bulbs in the Fall?

In general, plant bulbs 3x the size of the bulb.

So larger bulbs will get planted roughly 6-8″ deep. While smaller bulbs will be planted around 4-5″ deep.

While these figures are a general guide, always consult the plant tag that the bulbs arrived in. The grower knows best how to plant and grow their bulbs.

So follow the grower’s recommendations for planting and care.

tulips that bloom like peonies

Should I Soak Fall Bulbs Before Planting?

No, it is not necessary to soak fall bulbs before planting the outside.

There is a notion to pre-soak roots located at the base of the bulb before planting. However, it is not needed when planting outdoors because there should be sufficient soil moisture in the ground.

Simply open the bag they arrive in and start planting!

Close up of daffodils in a garden that - I cut some for afor a centerpiece idea

Do You Water Bulbs After Planting in Fall?

Yes, it is a good idea to water the bulbs well after planting them in fall to give them a good start in the garden.

What Kind of Bulbs Can Be Planted in Fall?

There are lots of great options of bulbs that can be planted in fall for beautiful spring garden flowers.

Here are a few that I enjoy growing.

  • Tulips
  • Daffodils
  • Crocus
  • Hyacinths
  • Grape Hyacinths
  • Fritillaria
  • Alliums
  • Anemones
daffodils and double flowering tulips blooms in the spring garden

What Happens If You Plant a Bulb Upside Down?

While it will still grow, planting it upside down will stress out the plant. And because it gets stressed, could die.

And we don’t want that!

So the best way to know whether you are planting a bulb correctly is to look for the roots which is usually found at the wide base. And the pointed tip should be upright.

narcissus planted en masse

How to Plant Bulbs in the Fall for an Unforgettable Spring Garden

Although the gardening season is coming to a close, now is a great time to plant bulbs for beautiful spring flowers.

Spring-flowering bulbs need to be planted in fall so they have time to develop a good root system before winter.

It is best to wait until soil temps are below 60 degrees F before planting. So depending on where you live, the best time to plant is generally in mid-September or October.

I live in hardiness zone 6a, so I typically wait until the end of October to plant when temps are more consistently cool.

Bag of narcissus bulbs to be planted for spring flowers -How to Plant Bulbs in Fall

Supplies Needed

The best part of about planting bulbs in the fall is shopping for it of course.

While you can pick up spring flowering bulbs to plant in fall from a local nursery or big box store, you can find lots of different varieties online from other growers.

But the trick is, you’ll be shopping for them in the winter. So get on the grower’s email list so you know as soon as they go on sale.

Here are some of my favorites.

And here’s a list of supplies that you need to plant bulbs in the fall.

  • Shovel or hand trowel
  • Bulbs
  • Bulb Fertilizer
  • Garden Soil
  • Organic Matter like Peat Moss
Bag of Daffodil Bulbs to plant for spring garden flowers -How to Plant Bulbs in Fall

Directions For Planting Bulbs in the Fall

  1. When shopping, look for bulbs that are large, firm, and have good color.
  2. Choose a site in your yard that has good drainage and receives at least six hours of direct sunlight per day.
  3. Before planting bulbs, place them in the garden to plan their design.
  4. Dig holes to the recommended depth. I prefer to dig larger holes and plant in groupings of odd numbers than to dig individual holes for each bulb. Planting 100s of bulbs goes much faster this way too!
  5. Plant bulbs upright with the pointed ends up and root side down at the recommended depth (see plant tag for how deep to plant bulbs). But as a general rule, plant bulbs three times as deep as the bulb’s greatest dimension.
  6. Before backfilling the hole, add organic matter like peat moss to add drainage and help enrich the soil.
  7. Mix in a special bulb fertilizer. Avoid using bone meal if rodents, skunks, or other small mammals are an issue. Bone meal attracts them.
  8. Backfill the holes.

Because deer tend to leave daffodils alone, I’m planting 100s of them this fall! And this year, I am choosing a few different varieties to enjoy in my spring garden.

The pointed end is the top of the bulb -How to Plant Bulbs in Fall

This is the top part of a daffodil bulb where the flower grows.

Keep this end up when planting.

Because that is where the flower will emerge.

This is the bottom of the bulbs where the roots grow.

Place this end down when planting.

Always plant bulbs with the root side down -How to Plant Bulbs in Fall
Daffodil bulbs ready to be planted in fall -How to Plant Bulbs in Fall

Place bulbs where you want to plant them to get an idea of how it will look.

You can plant them in individual holes or group tothem gether.

I prefer groupings because it is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye when they flower.

Digging a hole to plant bulbs in the fall -How to Plant Bulbs in Fall

Read the plant label before planting.

Dig the hole according to the label’s directions.

Plant bulbs, fertilize, and then backfill. I also like to backfill with some fresh garden soil and soil amendments like peat moss that help with drainage.

When plants emerge in spring, fertilize lightly with bulb fertilizer at least two inches from the plant.

Placing bulbs in the hole before backfilling with garden soil and peat moss -How to Plant Bulbs in Fall

Spring-Flowering Bulb Tip: When the flower petals fade, remove the flower parts and stem before the plant goes to seed.

Don’t cut leaves back until they turn yellow though. This allows the bulb to store more energy for next year’s flower production.

Design Tip: Bulb foliage that is dying back can be hidden by planting bulbs in between perennials and annuals.

The benefit of planting bulbs this way will provide color while perennials emerge and are camouflaged by perennials while they die back.

tulips and daffodils in a spring garden - how to plant bulbs in the fall

Some of My Favorite Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Shop for Spring-Flowering Bulbs

close up of allium globemaster in the garden -Top 5 Spring Garden Supplies

Tip to Protect Tulips and Other Early Spring Flowers from Deer Damage

While most of the above list is deer resistant, deer LOVE to eat tulips.

We get herds of deer in my yard every year, all season long and they will decimate my tulips if I don’t protect them.

I protect them using this deer spray repellent. It is very effective if you are aggressive with the application.

  • As soon as bulbs emerge, spray it heavily with repellent.
  • When the bulbs grow a few inches from the ground, douse it again with repellent.
  • Apply repellent again when the tulip heads form.
  • When the tulip starts to bloom, douse them again.
tulip angelica

And while we are on the subject of tulips, this is my favorite tulip. I’m purchasing them this year to plant in my garden – I love how colorful they are!

Click here for more tips to deter deer from eating your garden plants and flowers.

And after all that hard work, your spring garden flowers lack or fail to bloom, click here to troubleshoot the cause and how to fix it. i

close up of pink Tulips that are amazing spring garden flowers that bring joy

How to Plant Bulbs in Fall for an Unforgettable Spring Garden

Looking for ways to get early spring color in the garden? Learn how to plant bulbs in the fall with these simple tips to grow a beautiful spring garden.
Prep Time10 mins
Active Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 10 mins
Calories:
Cost: 100

Instructions

  • When shopping, look for bulbs that are large, firm, and have good color.
  • Choose a site in your yard that has good drainage and receives at least six hours of direct sunlight per day.
  • Before planting bulbs, place them in the garden to plan their design.
    Daffodil bulbs ready to be planted in fall -How to Plant Bulbs in Fall
  • Dig holes to the recommended depth. I prefer to dig larger holes and plant in groupings of odd numbers than to dig individual holes for each bulb. Planting 100s of bulbs goes much faster this way too!
    Digging a hole to plant bulbs in the fall -How to Plant Bulbs in Fall
  • Plant bulbs upright with the pointed ends up and root side down at the recommended depth (see plant tag for how deep to plant bulbs). But as a general rule, plant bulbs three times as deep as the bulb’s greatest dimension.
    The pointed end is the top of the bulb -How to Plant Bulbs in Fall
  • Before backfilling the hole, add organic matter like peat moss to add drainage and help enrich the soil.
    Placing bulbs in the hole before backfilling with garden soil and peat moss -How to Plant Bulbs in Fall
  • Mix in a special bulb fertilizer. Avoid using bone meal if rodents, skunks, or other small mammals are an issue. Bone meal attracts them.
  • Backfill the holes.
  • Water well if no rain in the forecast.
    narcissus planted en masse

Notes

If the bulbs don’t bloom in spring, click here to troubleshoot what happened and how to fix it.
Spring-Flowering Bulb Tip: When the flower petals fade, remove the flower parts and stem before the plant goes to seed.
Don’t cut leaves back until they turn yellow though. This allows the bulb to store more energy for next year’s flower production.
Design Tip: Bulb foliage that is dying back can be hidden by planting bulbs in between perennials and annuals.
The benefit of planting bulbs this way will provide color while perennials emerge and are camouflaged by perennials while they die back.

Looking for More Flower Garden Ideas?

If you love flowers and want to grow more in your garden, here are some posts that will get you on your way.

From tucking in flowering plants that are deer-resistant or ones that attract more butterflies and hummingbirds, to shade-loving flowers like the lenten rose, these posts will get you on your way to growing a garden that will bring joy for years to come.

Here are more cut flower and cottage garden growing tips, tricks, and design inspiration.

view of the front porch cottage garden with sugar pumpkins, sedum autumn joy, rudbeckia, celosia and snapdragons

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how to plant bulbs in the fall for unforgettable spring garden flowers - close up of narcissus planted en masse
How to Plant Spring Bulbs in Fall
How to Plant Bulbs in Fall
How to Plant Bulbs in Fall
How to Plant Bulbs in Fall
How to Plant Bulbs in Fall

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17 Comments

    1. Yes! There’s still time! As long as the ground doesn’t freeze you are good to go! I am hoping to get a few in the ground if I can up there too!

  1. Hi- I love the information you post on your site. I would like to ask what bulb fertilizer you recommend that doesn’t contain bone meal. I do have skunks , chipmunks and squirrels that love to dig in my garden and are attracted to the bone meal. The ones I have located say to feed the bulbs right after blooming, not when planting for the first time. Thanks!

    1. Hey Karen! I’d have to research products for you – I was just looking online and most have bone meal. Another option is to plant bulbs wrapped in chicken wire. Have you ever tried that? If you try this, make sure the chicken wire holes are big enough to allow for the flower stalk to grow through from the top part of the bulb (the pointy end) through the wire. In the meantime, I’ll look at products at the nursery when I head out there this week to read the ingredients on some bags.

    1. Alliums are my favorite! I’m so excited for you! It is really fun to see them peak through the ground after a cold winter. xoxo

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