Ask A Master Gardener – Spring Blooms Mean Fall Planting

Authored by: Carol Shirk

Fall is steadily creeping up.  Pumpkins ripen, harvest preservation begins, geese arrive in steady numbers, and trees start to show peeks of color.  Cool fall mornings radiate with beauty and peacefulness.  But as one looks ahead to spring and anticipates those fresh, vibrant bits of green growth poking through the soil, the planning must begin now.  Spring blooming flower bulbs must be planted in the fall.

Photo credit: C. Shirk

Nothing brightens a dull gray spring day more than an array of bright blooms from bulb growing flowers.  Tulip, crocus, snowdrops, squill, daffodil, and hyacinth are the earliest blooming plants in the spring and represent a substantial return on the investment of time and energy it takes to plant them in the fall.

Before getting the bulbs, select and prepare the planting bed.  Choose a location with 6–8 hours of sun and well-drained, loose soil.  Work compost or other organic material into the top twelve inches of soil to ensure healthy bulb growth and flower production.  Years of success can be enjoyed with just minor advance preparation.

When buying bulbs, be sure to purchase them from a reliable source.  Look them over carefully and avoid any soft, moldy, sour-smelling, shriveled, or lightweight bulbs.   Late season sales with remnants of bulbs that are lesser quality are not worth the savings.  They will likely not bloom and will be simply a waste of time and finances.


Plant bulbs from mid-September, when ground temperatures drop to 50–55˚, until a few weeks before the ground freezes (usually in November).   For best results, plant by mid-October.  This allows time for a root system to develop before winter sets in.

Plant bulbs at a depth of 2–3 times their diameter.  Larger bulbs like tulips and hyacinth will be planted 6–8 inches deep while crocus might only be 3–4 inches deep.  Planting depth is measured from the bottom of the bulb, not the top. Place the bulb in the hole with the pointed end up and the root plate down.  Flowers from bulbs are most appealing when planted in groups and not singly.  Plant 5–8 per hole with about an inch of space between each large bulb.   Smaller bulbs can be grouped together for a mass of color.

If chipmunks or squirrels like to dig up freshly planted bulbs in your garden, consider planting daffodils or hyacinth as opposed to crocus or tulips since the later are poisonous to the varmints and they soon leave them alone.   Another option is to add an inch of chicken grit above the soil covering the bulbs since these pests do not like to dig through this substance.

Once the bulbs are planted, water them generously to help the root growing process.  Unless it is an unusually dry fall, further watering is unwarranted and should be avoided lest it contribute to bulbs rotting.

With the exception of the very early small bulbs, once the ground freezes, add several inches of mulch to the top of the bulb bed to protect from freeze/thaw damage.  Once new growth appears in the spring, the mulch should be removed or thinned out.

The work is done, now patience is required as you await the spectacular beauty that will come in the spring.

Carol Shirk

Certified Master Gardener


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