Fall Bulb Planting Garden Guide

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Fall Bulb Planting Garden Guide

Fertilize First

Organic fertilizers like bone meal or Bulb-tone® are the best fertilizers for bulbs.

  • Mix either of these fertilizers with the soil at the base of your bulbs. Or simply broadcast at the recommended label rate and cultivate into the soil in the entire bed, prior to planting.
  • Soils must be well-drained with ample amounts of organic matter incorporated.
  • Avoid fertilizers with high nitrogen, which can lead to all foliage and little to no blooms.
  • WARNING: Never set bulbs directly onto fertilizer or bulb food. Always blend fertilizers thoroughly with the soil.

  • Some fertilizer may be applied again after foliage begins to emerge to encourage flowering and help replenish the bulb's energy for next year.

Planting Guidelines

  • Optimal bulb planting to achieve the most uniform and formal appearance is to dig up an entire area or bed down to a consistent depth and width.
  • Place all the bulbs with proper spacing then cover all at once with properly amended soil and water thoroughly.
  • TIP: A uniform depth and consistent planting give you the best chance for a uniform spring flower display.

Layering bulbs

Layering or interplanting by size, type, and bloom period can also be done using this consistent uniform planting method.

  • Plant the bulbs that need the most depth first, then cover them with a few inches of soil.
  • Next place smaller bulbs that need less depth and cover with a few inches of soil.
  • Then on the top layer place bulbs that require the least depth and cover them with soil.
  • When done properly, layering or interplanting extends bloom season, and boosts interest and color effects.

Naturalistic or Meadow Plantings

Many bulbs such as Daffodils, Crocus, Chinodoxa, Hyacinth, or Snowdrops work well planted in lawn or turfgrass areas.

  • Natural meadow effects can be achieved by gently and randomly tossing bulbs onto the lawn area rather than using a systematic placement, which can look more contrived.
  • Then, use a bulb planting tool or bulb auger to dig single holes at the proper depth for whichever type of bulb you choose and cover with topsoil.

NOTE: Remember to avoid early-season mowing in any areas where bulbs are planted. Instead, leave them to come up, bloom, and leave their foliage to naturally decline, turning yellow before cutting them down.

Depth and Spacing

NOTE: Planting Depth = The distance to the top of the bulb, not the bottom of the bulb.

More specific information on spacing and depth for your bulbs is provided on the package the bulbs arrive in.

  • The general rule when planting bulbs is to plant them 2-3 times deeper than their height.
  • Examples: 1-inch tall bulb should be planted approx. 3 inches deep. A 2-inch tall bulb should be planted at 4-6 inches deep, etcetera.
  • Larger bulbs such as Tulips, Daffodils, Hyacinths, etcetera are spaced approx. 4-6 inches apart, with smaller species bulbs spaced 2-4 inches apart.

Proper planting depth is critical since this affects both growth and flowering.

Signs or symptoms of improper or inconsistent planting depth include:

  • Few to no blooms
  • Little to no emergence
  • Sporadic emergence
  • Weak foliage.


It is critical to give your bulbs a thorough watering right after planting. Proper soil drainage is also critical for bulb longevity and performance. Please see our Garden Guide titled 'Proper Soil for Fall Bulbs'.

WARNING: For bulbs that are planted late in the season, if a hard freeze is possible, do not water your bulbs after planting. Instead, use a mulch of leaves, straw, fir boughs, or other protective cover. Freshly planted bulbs in wet soil can be ruined by an unexpected hard freeze.

Sun or Shade?

All bulbs can be perennial, given the right conditions. A bulb's leaves produce food reserves via photosynthesis. These food reserves are stored in and used by the bulb for sustenance during dormancy and during early growth the following year. Therefore, it is important to provide most bulbs with full sun. Because many spring flowering bulbs bloom before deciduous trees and shrubs leaf out in the spring, a bulb's early spring leaves usually get plenty of sun, even in areas that are heavily shaded later in the season.

However, in warmer climates (Zones 7-10), planting bulbs where they will get some afternoon shade is beneficial for their longevity, as the late afternoon sun can be too harsh and too intense.

Leave the Leaves

  • Do not remove the leaves before they naturally fade and wither away after blooming, as this can cause bulbs to simply die out.
  • For repeat blooming or perennial bulbs, removing leaves too soon depletes the potential energy they need to store that allows them to bloom the next season.
  • Always allow bulbs to form and grow healthy foliage. Weak or sick foliage leads to poor flowering performance.
  • Once finished, leaves will turn yellow and die naturally; once this happens, leaves can typically be removed with a gentle tug.
  • Know the behavior of the bulbs you are planting. Many bulb varieties may send up foliage when you are not expecting it, months before or after they flower. If you monitor the foliage growth and provide for them as needed, your bulbs will thrive and bloom well during the appropriate season. Colchicum, Lycoris, and Amaryllis Belladonna are all examples of this.
  • Many bulb varieties may send up foliage when you are not expecting it, months before or after flowering. Your bulbs will thrive if you monitor the foliage growth and provide for it.

Prechilling in Warm Climates

Fall planted/Spring blooming bulbs require enough cold to induce flowering. If you live in a warm weather area, prechilling the bulbs may be necessary. (In USDA Zones 6 and colder, pre-chilling is not required.)

  • Prechilling involves storing your bulbs for a specific amount of time at "refrigerator temperatures" prior to planting.
  • DO NOT store bulbs near fresh fruits or vegetables, as the ethylene they produce can kill bulbs.
  • Pre-chill bulbs at 38° to 45°F for 8 to 12 weeks, depending on the variety prior to planting.

NOTE: Allium, Chionodoxa, Crocus, Daffodils, Galanthus, Hyacinths, Iris (reticulata section), Leucojum, Muscari, and Tulips are examples that benefit from pre-chilling.