How to Plant Bulbs


Spring-planted, summer-blooming bulbs, such as Gladiolus, Begonias and Dahlias, are some of the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow in your garden. Here are some guidelines to help you get your bulbs off to a good start.

When and Where to Plant

Many spring-planted bulbs originate from tropical climates and won't tolerate cold temperatures. Wait to plant these tender bulbs until all danger of frost is past and the soil temperature is above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Most bulbs should be planted directly in the garden or containers, but Begonias should be started several weeks before bringing outdoors to ensure summer blooms. Learn more about growing Begonias in our blog.

If you’re unsure when to plant, consult a gardening neighbor or call us at (877) 309-7333. If you must store the bulbs more than a few days before planting, read the instructions in Storing Your Bulbs Before Planting in Spring.

Unless otherwise noted, bulbs prefer well-drained soil — soggy soil will lead to rot. If water puddles in the soil after a heavy rain, consider planting the bulbs in raised beds or in containers. For best results follow the recommendations for light levels; for example, bulbs that prefer full sun may grow leggy and topple over if planted in shade.

Preparing the Soil

Loosen soil in the planting bed to a depth of at least 8". Although bulbs contain all the nutrients they need to grow and bloom this season, you may want to mix some compost into the planting bed to help improve drainage. If you want to add fertilizer, mix it into the soil at this time. (Avoid adding fertilizer directly to the planting hole because concentrated fertilizer can burn roots.)

Planting depth is measured from the soil line to the top of the bulb. Planting depth is measured from the soil line to the top of the bulb.

Using a trowel or bulb planter, dig a hole to the recommended depth. This depth is measured from the top of the bulb to the soil line. For example, if the instructions say to plant the bulb 3" deep, and the bulb is 2" high, dig a hole about 5" deep. Plant the bulb by placing it in the hole, then backfill with soil, firming the soil to eliminate air pockets. Which end is up? If the bulb has a pointed end, plant this end up. If you are unsure which is the, plant bulbs on their side — they'll know which way to grow. Bulbs planted with the wrong end up will still grow, but they may take longer than usual to emerge. Water thoroughly after planting to settle the soil around the bulbs.

It may take weeks or even a month for the growth on new bulbs to emerge. How quickly a bulb grows depends on a number of factors, including the species, degree of dormancy and temperature of the soil.

Most bulbs (like Gladiolus) should be planted pointy side up. If you're not sure, plant the build sideways and it will find its way. Most bulbs (like Gladiolus) should be planted pointy side up. If you're not sure, plant the build sideways and it will find its way.

Ongoing Care

  • Apply water as necessary to keep soil moist but not soaking wet. Apply a 2" to 3" layer of organic mulch, like shredded bark or pine straw, after planting to help conserve soil moisture and prevent weeds.
  • Keep an eye out for any soil disturbance, as this could indicate that the bulbs are being dug up by squirrels, chipmunks or rabbits.
  • Weed your bulb bed frequently to keep the bed tidy and so the weeds don't crowd out the bulbs.
  • Tall, top-heavy plants may need staking or another type of support to keep them from falling over from the weight of the flowers. Removing spent blooms will encourage dahlias and other shrubby flowers to continue blooming.

Other than that, most bulbs are relatively maintenance-free during the growing season.

8 thoughts on “How to Plant Bulbs”

  • Robert Cumbee

    Is there a good flower to plant over tulips after they die out? Or should I not plant over tulipst? Thanks

    • Erin Morrissette
      Erin Morrissette March 29, 2011 at 10:27 am

      We recommend planting <a href="" rel="nofollow">annual wildflower seeds</a> over your spring flowering bulbs. This will give you continual color throughout the growing season. We also offer a special mix called <a href="" rel="nofollow">tulip topper</a> that is made for scattering over your tulips and daffodils.

  • Judith Ward-Moran
    Judith Ward-Moran March 26, 2011 at 9:36 am

    What is the best way to stake or cage Dahlias to keep them from falling over? Mine were beautiful last year but all ended up on the ground when all my efforts failed. Thank you

    • Erin Morrissette
      Erin Morrissette March 29, 2011 at 10:29 am

      If you're growing big dahlia plants, staking will be important. The beautiful foliage grows on somewhat brittle stems, and often heavy rain, wind or even the weight of the flowers once they're open can break the plant. You don't want that to happen, especially when it's coming into bloom, so set one or two stout stakes beside each tuber after you plant them, and have the twine or "twist-ems' ready to support the stems as they grow. Don't ignore this instruction. Believe me, it's worth it. With a little effort, the stakes will be completely hidden by the leaves, but your plant is going to need them.
      <a href="//”" rel="nofollow">See our full article on planting and caring for Dahlias.</a>

  • Christine Albright
    Christine Albright March 27, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    I have a it a good idea to plant dahlia bulbs indoors to give them a headstart before they can go in the ground outside? Thank you for your reply.

    • Erin Morrissette
      Erin Morrissette March 29, 2011 at 10:38 am

      We ship dahlia tubers based upon your ground temperature and that you’re planting them directly into your garden. We’re more than happy to send them earlier but please contact us so we can ship them sooner.
      Planting dahlia tubers indoors will bring you blooms several weeks earlier than usual. You should start planting about 6 weeks before your last expected frost date. Use containers that are big enough so that the tubers don’t get squished, a 12” pot in recommended per tuber. Place them in a sunny window or under grow lights in a room 60 degrees F. Make sure to keep the soil evenly moist. If the plants get 12+” tall, pinch them back before transplanting outdoors. When all danger of frost has passed, you can begin to transplant your dahlias outdoors. Begin by moving the containers outdoors in a shady area and slowly move them into full sun. <a href="//”" rel="nofollow">For more information read our full article on planting and caring for Dahlias.</a>

  • Ernest

    I live in mid Michigan. After the glads bloom and die off, what do I do next? Can they remain in the ground hear around?

    • Erin Morrissette
      Erin Morrissette March 29, 2011 at 10:31 am

      Gladiolus bulbs/corms are considered annuals in Michigan so they can’t stay in the ground over the winter. You will need to dig them up and store them until spring. If you plan on storing gladiolus make sure to remove them from the ground before your first hard freeze but not until the foliage dies down after a light frost. Dig them up, shake off any loose soil and cut off the foliage (leaving about 1-2”). Place them in a warm, well vented area to dry (usually 2 to 3 weeks). Once dry, place them in a mesh bag (or other well vented bags) and store them in a cool, dry, well vented place. In spring they’ll be ready to replant.

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