A Guide To Planting Bulbs In Fall

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Planting fall flower bulbs is an autumn task that brings priceless joy come springtime. The window for planting bulbs in the fall is a small one but well worth the effort. An important factor to keep in mind in planting bulbs in the fall is not to wait too long to plant.

When To Plant

In order to receive the benefits of beautiful spring bulb flowers, bulbs must go in the ground six weeks before a frost freezes the ground. Once the ground is hard from frost, bulbs will have a tough time establishing good root development so it's best to plant before. The cold period in which bulbs need to grow is a major factor in producing beautiful spring blooms.

Don't wait too long to plant. However, if there's a lack of time before planting, store bulbs in a dry, dark and cool area with a climate temperature of 50-60 degrees. Refrigerating bulbs in your refrigerator vegetable bin is also a good idea but do keep them away from fruits that are ripening. Choose healthy bulbs to plant and avoid moldy or dried out bulbs. Depending upon where you live, bulbs can be planted as long as the soil is soft enough to dig. Planting before mid-November in regions with cold weather is best. In regions where there is not a freezing winter, pre-chilled bulbs will work, and they can be planted in early spring.

To learn about garden climates and the zone in which you live, visit the National Gardening Association at www.garden.org. Understanding your climate well help give you a timeline on when to plant bulbs.

Common Flowering Bulbs

Planting any or all of these types of bulb will present colorful and noticeable spring flowers in your garden. These bulbs include:

  • Anemone, crocus, freesia, frittilaria, grape hyacinth, hyacinth, iris, lily, lily of the valley, narcissus, which include daffodils, allium or ornamental onion, ranunculus, arisaema, erythronium, galanthus, trillium and tulip.
Ready for Planting Finished Product

How To Plant Large And Small Bulbs

When deciding upon bulbs, keep in mind large bulbs will produce bigger flowers. Bulbs should be planted in gardens and areas that receive good sunlight, have rich soil and decent water drainage. When planting, avoid wet or water pool areas. Dig holes that will hold several bulbs. In addition, planting bulbs together will yield better results. For a small garden, 6-12 bulbs for a planting work well and in larger garden spaces planting 12-24 bulbs together will produce a good showing.

With large bulbs, digging 8-12 inches deep is best for tulips, daffodils and alliums. For smaller bulbs, which can include crocus and snowdrops, dig 4-6 inches. Large bulbs should have at least 3-6 inches space between planting and smaller bulbs can have 1-2 inches away from each other. Plant bulbs with the pointed end up, which is the stem. If you can't decide which end is the stem, place the bulb on its side. Bulbs will straighten as they grow.

After planting, cover bulb plantings with plenty of soil and water. When the weather turns to cooler temperatures, you can cover plantings with 2-3 inches of mulch, compost or shredded bark or leaves. Mulch will help the soil from drying out and provide stable temperatures through the winter.

Planting Tips

Keep in mind squirrels, voles and mice love bulbs, especially tulips and crocuses. After planting make sure the soil is firm, leave no bulb planting debris around and scatter leaves over area to discourage squirrels from digging. If mice and voles are an issue, planting vole and mice resistant bulbs should be a consideration. Voles and mice tend to stay away from daffodil, camassia, chinodoxa, muscari, fritillaria and snowdrops. Placing cages or crushed oyster shells in the hole at planting time can help with saving the bulbs mice and voles love to eat.

Bulb planting tools can be helpful such as a bulb planter, but a spade or hand shovel work well too. Deciding upon how bulbs should look in the spring, plan your space. Bulbs that have been planted in clumps or drifts give a natural presentation-you can toss bulbs in areas and dig holes where the bulbs land. It is a good idea to mark the areas where you plant your bulbs so you don't forget about them and plant something in the same spot.

When planning your garden for bulbs to bloom in the spring keep in mind bulbs can bloom at different times. Combining flowering bulbs with perennial flowers can create continuous blooms throughout your garden. Consider the height of plants and the combination of colors for an overall effect. Planting lots of bulbs together will give more color to an area than spreading the bulbs around. Layering different bulbs can offer continuous blooms too. A bulb that blooms later such as tulip can be planted at the bottom of a hole covered and a smaller earlier flowering bulb can be planted on top such as scilla.

When buying bulbs consult garden stores and read labels. Bulbs come from many places in the world and require a certain amount of understanding to achieve beautiful results in your garden.

Last Updated: October 7, 2011
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About Sabina Dana Plasse Sabina Dana Plasse holds a bachelor's degree in history from Bucknell University, a master's in liberal arts from Johns Hopkins University and a master's in film and video from American University. She is an award-winning writer and editor living in Sun Valley, Idaho. Besides writing on fine arts, lifestyle, home and garden, entertainment, philanthropy and business, she enjoys teaching film and writing screenplays. Sabina has served as the arts and events editor and living writer for the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper, a twice weekly national award-winning newspaper serving Idaho's Wood River Valley. Sabina adores mountain town living where she is an active snowboarding, skier, mountain biker, hiker, supporter of the arts and an avid seeker of practical living ideas.  

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