Planting Bulbs

Planting spring-flowering bulbs is easy. The hardest part may be deciding which flowers and how many to plant in your garden.

Daffodil 'Love Call'

Daffodil 'Love Call'

Daffodils like ‘Love Call’, sometimes called jonquils or narcissus, are the birth flowers for March. Because they often bloom in early spring, they symbolize new birth, beginnings, happiness and joy.

Photo by: Longfield Gardens

Longfield Gardens

Materials Needed

  • high-quality bulbs
  • trowel or bulb-planting tool
  • shovel
  • bulb fertilizer
  • mulch
  • water and nozzle

Step 1: When to Plant

The best time to plant spring-flowering bulbs depends on where you live. Ideally, wait until the soil temperature is below 60°F. As a general guide, plant in September through early October if you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 or 5; October to early November in zones 6 or 7; and November to early December in zones 8 and 9. Plant bulbs that have been refrigerated for 8 to 10 weeks in late December to early January in zone 10.

Step 2: Where to Plant

Bulbs grow best in a location with full sun. Choose planting beds where bulb foliage will receive at least 6 hours of sun during spring through summer. Most bulb species also prefer well-drained, not soggy, soil.

Step 3: Ideas for Plantings

Plant "mild-winter" tulip species that thrive in zones 8 through 10, such as the lady tulip (T. clusiana), the Candia tulip (T. saxatilis), and the Florentine tulip (T. sylvestris). These tulips do not need chilling before planting. Or try layering two different species, such as tulips and grape hyacinths, in the same bed for exciting color combinations. Plant tulips first, then add enough soil to achieve the proper depth for the grape hyacinths. Plant the grape hyacinths between the tulips.

Step 4: Dig Holes

Dig individual bulb holes or one wide hole to plant groups of bulbs. Digging up the whole bed makes bulb spacing, layering, and soil amending easier. The depth of the hole should equal three to four times the bulb height. For example, dig a 6- to 8-inch-deep hole for a 2-inch-high bulb. To discourage voles or gophers, add a handful of sharp gravel to the planting hole or plant bulbs in wire or fabric baskets. Don't mulch where rodents are a problem.

Step 5: Arrange Bulbs

Tulip Bulbs

Tulip Bulbs

Choose healthy tulip bulbs that are firm and dry. The papery wrapper should be intact. With bulbs, you get what you pay for—bigger is better.

Photo by: Steven Bemelman for iBulb.org

Steven Bemelman for iBulb.org

Set the bulbs in a planting bed or in separate planting holes with their roots or basal plate downward. Space bulbs according to supplier's recommendations. In general, smaller bulbs are planted closer together than larger bulbs. Fill the planting hole with soil and firm it gently.

Step 6: Water and Mulch

Water the bulbs right after planting to help initiate growth. In mild-winter areas, mulch right after planting to help keep soil cool and moist. Apply mulch after soil freezes in cold-winter areas to prevent the ground from heaving during winter thaws and pushing the bulbs too close to the surface.

Step 7: Fertilize

Each autumn, maintain existing tulip and hyacinth plantings by sprinkling 1/2 cup of 9-9-6 fertilizer per 10 square feet. Daffodils and snowdrops thrive on a 5-10-20 mixture. Three-fourths cup of 5-10-12 mix per 10 square feet works on any type of bulb. First-year bulbs don't need fertilizer.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Planting Bulbs in Containers

Follow these easy steps for planting bulbs in containers and you'll have a display that brings spring to your doorstep.

Grow Guide: Planting Bulbs

Gardening expert Felder Rushing offers tips on planting bulbs.

Tips for Planting Bulbs

How to choose the best bulbs and give them a good start.

How to Save and Replant Forced Seasonal Bulbs

In general, the most resilient candidates worth saving are small bulbs that naturalize or reproduce readily in the garden.

Calculating the Number of Bulbs to Buy

Use this guide to decide how to buy and plant bulbs.

Plant Hyacinth Bulbs This Winter

It's not too late to plant hyacinth bulbs for a burst of color come spring.

Q&A: When Is It Too Late to Plant Bulbs?

If you miss the optimum planting time for spring-flowering bulbs, go ahead and plant them anyway.

Timing Spring Bulb Planting

Spring-flowering bulbs need to be planted in fall in order to bloom come show time. The bulbs need a certain amount of time to get established before winter's freezing weather sets in, and they need enough time exposed to cool soil temperatures to be properly chilled. 

Planting Tulips

Few flowers herald spring quite like tulips do. Follow these steps to create a stunning display in your yard or garden.

Planting Spring Bulbs in Fall

Whether you want masses of spring color or collect a few heirloom bulbs to share, all are easily planted in the fall.

On TV

Tiny House Hunters

6:30am | 5:30c

House Hunters

8:30am | 7:30c

House Hunters

9:30am | 8:30c

House Hunters

10am | 9c

House Hunters

10:30am | 9:30c

House Hunters

11am | 10c

House Hunters

11:30am | 10:30c

Fixer Upper

12pm | 11c

Fixer Upper

1pm | 12c

Fixer Upper

2pm | 1c

Fixer Upper

3pm | 2c

Fixer Upper

4pm | 3c

Fixer Upper

5pm | 4c

Fixer Upper

6pm | 5c

Fixer Upper

7pm | 6c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Fixer Upper

8pm | 7c

Good Bones

9pm | 8c

House Hunters

10:30pm | 9:30c

House Hunters

11pm | 10c

House Hunters

11:30pm | 10:30c

Good Bones

12am | 11c

House Hunters

1:30am | 12:30c

House Hunters

2:30am | 1:30c

Fixer Upper

3am | 2c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.