How to Plant Fall Flower Bulbs

A Mix of Daffodils in BloomA Mix of Daffodils in Bloom

Planting flower bulbs is fast, easy, and nearly foolproof

Fall-Planted Flower Bulbs, such as Tulips, Daffodils, Crocus, Hyacinths, Grape Hyacinths, Scilla, and Snowdrops, which bloom in spring, are loved by both beginner and master gardeners alike! They are easy to grow, so gardeners can put all the effort into the fun part of gardening – designing!

The cooler weather allows spring blooming bulbs to winter over – an essential process that's needed for Fall Bulbs in order for them to bloom in spring! Plus, the cool weather in fall helps to make a more enjoyable experience when working outside in the garden.

When To Plant Fall Bulbs


Areas With Cold Winters (Zones 1-7)

Fall Bulbs should be planted as soon as the ground is cool, when evening temperatures average between  40° - 50° F. Ground temperatures reaching 40° - 50° F during fall is most common in cold climates (zones 1-7), generally 6-8 weeks before the ground freezes. However, as long as you can dig and your ground is workable, you can still plant! You can, if necessary, store bulbs for a month or longer if you keep them in a cool, dry place.

Find Your Current Soil Temperature With This Interactive Map


Areas With Warm Winters (Zones 8-11)

Planting Fall Bulbs in warm climates (zones 8-11), where bulbs will not experience enough cold temperatures in the ground, will require pre-chilling in order to bloom. To pre-chill, leave bulbs in their bags and place in a refrigerator. Be careful not to store bulbs near fruit, especially apples, because all ripening fruit gives off ethylene gas, which can damage or kill the flower inside the bulb. Once bulbs have chilled, plant them at the coolest time of the year. Most importantly, bulbs won't last till next season, so make sure to plant them!

Hyacinth: Chill for 11-14 weeks

Crocus, Grape Hyacinth, Scillia, and Tulips: Chill for 12-15 weeks

Daffodils and Specie Iris: Chill for 15 weeks

How To Plant Fall Bulbs - Step By Step Instructions

First, read the label: Try to keep the label together with the bulbs until planting. Without the label, you can't tell the red tulip bulbs from the white tulip bulbs just by looking at the bulbs.

Choose where to plant: You can plant bulbs just about anywhere in your garden, as long as the soil drains well. The Dutch say, "bulbs don't like wet feet." So, avoid areas where water collects, such as the bottom of hills. Bulbs like sun, and in many areas, the spring garden can be very sunny since the leaves on the trees are not out yet. So keep in mind when planting in the fall that you can plant in many places for spring blooms.

Illustration of bulb - pointy side upIllustration of bulb - pointy side up

Prepare the planting bed: Dig soil so it's loose and workable. If it's not an established garden bed, chances are the soil could use the addition of some organic matter such as compost or peat moss, available at most local garden retailers. Loosen soil in the planting bed to a depth of at least 8”. Remove any weeds, rocks or other debris. You can mix in compost, other organic matter or slow releasing fertilizer if your soil lacks nutrients.

Plant: Depending on the bulb, follow the recommendation on the label for planting depth. As a general rule, plant big bulbs about 8" deep and small bulbs about 5" deep. Set the bulb in the hole pointy side up or the roots down. It's easy to spot the pointy end of a tulip, and tougher with a crocus. If you can't figure out the top from the bottom, plant the bulb on its side, in most cases, even if you don't get it right, the flower will still find its way topside.

Water: Now that the bulbs are planted, back fill with soil over the hole, lightly compress the soil but do not pack it. Water once to stimulate root growth and to fill any air pockets. There is no need to water continuously unless you live in an area with low precipitation in the winter months.

Now, all you have to do is wait for warm spring weather and blooms!

Learn More: Quick & Easy Trench-Style Planting For Big Color

Recommended planting depths for Fall-Planted BulbsRecommended planting depths for Fall-Planted Bulbs
Recommended planting depths for Fall-Planted Bulbs

Watch: How to Plant Tulips & Daffodils


Aftercare In The Spring & Summer

Fertilizing: For bulbs that are intended to naturalize, or return for several years, or for bulbs that are coming into their second year, spread an organic fertilizer such as compost, or a slow release bulb fertilizer on top of the soil. 

Pruning: When the flowers have completed blooming, cut the flower head off, but do not cut the foliage. Bulbs will use the foliage to gather nutrients from the sun and store for the following seasons. Once the foliage have turned yellow or brown, you can cut them to ground level.

Design Ideas For Fall Flower Bulbs

  • Plant flower bulbs in clusters. If you plant one flower bulb alone, or make a long thin line along the walk, the impact is less desirable. Clusters give a concentration of color for greatest impact. Even if you don't have enough bulbs for a big bed, small clusters can make a super spring show.
  • Plant low bulbs in front of high. This is a good general rule for bulbs that bloom at the same time. Of course there are times to break this rule. For example, if the low growing bulbs bloom early and the tall bulbs bloom late, plant the tall in front. Their display will camouflage the dying foliage of the smaller bulbs!
  • Try a double-decker effect. You can plant small bulbs in a layer right on top of large bulbs. If you plant bulbs that flower in the same period you can create an interesting double-decker effect.
  • Stagger bloom time. Plant mid- and late-season bloomers together, creating a spring display that blooms in succession, for a whole season of color!

Learn More: Designing With Fall-Planted Bulbs in Small and Large Gardens


In the end, what you do with fall flower bulbs is limited only by your imagination. A few hours one brisk autumn afternoon can yield months of colorful excitement in your yard or garden next spring. For more information on planting bulbs in the fall visit Flower Bulbs Planting Guides. We want you to be successful in your garden all of our plants are backed by our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee.

how to plant fall bulbs pinterest how to plant fall bulbs pinterest

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