The temperatures are cooling, the days are getting shorter and your flower garden is looking a little tired. Now is not the time to give up on your garden. There are a few things you can do this time of year to keep you busy outside. How about doing a late summer clean-up and then planting some fall annuals? (Refer to Fall Flower Gardens for more suggestions.) Or how about planting some fall bulbs for next spring? Yes, next spring. Now is the time to get down and dirty and plan for a beautiful show of color when you’re most desiring it…..after a long winter. Read on to see what bulbs to plant in the fall to create spring beauty!
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Convenience of Bulbs
Bulbs are relatively easy to plant and easy on your wallet. With just a little bit of effort and a small expense now, you will be wowed with a variety of colors from late winter through mid spring.
When to Grow
You want to plant bulbs after the ground cools to a temperature of about 50 to 60 degrees F (10 – 15.5 degrees C). In colder climates the soil usually reaches this temperature about 6 to 8 weeks before the ground freezes. This is typical in zones 1-7 on the USDA planting zones chart. Below is a chart from Garden Design as to when to plant spring flowering bulbs.
- September to October — Zones 4 and 5
- October to early November — Zones 6 and 7
- November to early December — Zones 8 and 9
- Late December to early January — Zone 10
Where to Plant Bulbs
Sun loving bulbs can be planted anywhere that has sunlight and good drainage. Bulbs like loamy and slightly sandy soil. This kind of soil provides nutrients and good drainage.
Early bloomers can be planted underneath deciduous trees (that is, trees with leaves that fall in the fall!). Flowers will bloom before the new foliage on the tree has the opportunity to sprout. However, the bulb may not produce flowers in the subsequent spring if the tree canopy is very dense. The bulb needs sunlight to gather nutrients from its leaves and stems in order to fertilize the bulb for the next year’s blossom. Therefore, be careful where you plant them and be sure your canopy tree is light and airy.
Plan Out Your Area
Bulbs can be planted in many ways. They can be planted as a small grouping, a large grouping, under trees, scattered in lawns or scattered throughout your garden.
Be sure to think this out thoroughtly because they will be with you for many years to come. Here are some ways to plant your bulbs and things to consider when planning out your yard.
- Plant in large groupings for a WOW factor.
- Bulbs that have shorter leaves and stems should be in the front of your garden and conversely for taller plants. Arrange them from front to back according to size.
- Consider the surrounding foliage and plant complementary colors and textures.
- Remember to factor in bloom time. Plant early, mid and late spring blooms.
Planting in One Layer
You can either dig one hole at a time for each bulb using a bulb digger such as a plant bulb augar found at Amazon, or dig out a larger area and plant many bulbs at one time. Either way, if you do not have good fertile, well-drained soil, amend the soil with a good organic product, such as Espoma Company Organic Vegetable and Garden Soil sold at Amazon.
Place a little bulb fertilizer, such as Burpee Organic Bone Meal sold at Amazon, in the bottom of the hole or area. This will give the bulb an extra boost for the roots to take hold throughout the winter. Follow the instructions on the package.
Plant your bulb at its desired depth. If it is not specified on the package, a good rule of thumb is plant it 2 to 3 times as deep as the bulb is high. So, if your bulb is 2 inches, plant it between 4 and 6 inches deep. Face the pointy side up. If you can not determine which side is pointy, place it on its side. Nature will figure it out for you!
Cover your bulb or bulbs with soil and top it with 2 to 3 inches of mulch. Water it thoroughtly.
Lasagna Layering – A Form of Planting Bulbs
You can have a continuous spring bloom of flowers in the same spot by layering your bulbs as you plant them. This is similar to layering lasagna, hence the name! Select bulbs that bloom in early, mid and later spring.
Select the depth of the container relative to how many layers you would like. For instance, 14 inch depth if you’d like 3 layers, or 10 inches deep if you’d like 2 layers.
- After choosing the pot, line the bottom with gravel for drainage.
- Place 3 inches of good organic potting soil mixed with bulb fertilizer into the bottom.
- Add bulbs, such as tulips, that require a depth of 8 to 9 inches, about 1/2 inch apart. These will usually bloom in late spring. Remember to face the tips up.
- Add 2 to 3 more inches of good potting mix.
- Place the next layer of bulbs that require a shorter depth around 5 to 6 inches (usually mid spring bulbs such as earlier tulips and daffodils). Space them 1 and a 1/2 inches apart to allow for the bottom bulbs to grow through them.
- Add another 2 to 3 inches of soil.
- Place the early spring bulbs such as snowdrops and crocuses next. They only require a depth of about 2 to 3 inches. Remember tips up.
- Cover with 2 to 3 inches of soil.
- Water well to fill in any air pockets.
- Place a layer of mulch on top.
Below is a video of how to use the lasagna method.
In the Ground
Find a sunny area with good drainage. Dig down around 14 inches and amend with good organic soil and bulb fertilizer. Any size will work, even a 2 foot square or a 2 feet by 1 foot area will produce a beautiful display in the spring. Then follow the above directions.
IMPORTANT LAST MINUTE INSTRUCTION!
DO NOT cut back the leaves of the flowering plant in the spring until they have naturally faded and browned out. The dying leaves nourish the bulb with important nutrients in preparation for next year’s blossoms.
Those Nasty Critters!
Squirrels, chipmunks, and deer like certain kinds of bulbs and will dig them up during the late fall and winter months. Refer to my post, Keeping Critters Out of a Garden, for some suggestions as to how to control them.
You can also deter critters by adding layers of wire mesh between the layers in both the pots and the ground. Then cover the area with another layer of mesh to prevent them from digging out the bulbs.
Try scaring them away with a dog or cat!
Intersperse the favorite critter bulbs with those they do not like. Below are a few suggestions.
Remove the papery sheaths from tulip bulbs before planting them. They contain a scent which deer, squirrels, and chipmunks like.
A Variety of bulbs Critters Do Not Like
Allium – Ornamental Onion They grow from one foot to a few feet tall. They bloom late spring to early summer and come in purple and white.
Grape Hyacinths – Muscari They are the little brother to hyacinths. They top out at only a few inches tall. They bloom in May and are either dark purple, blue or white.
Daffodils – Narcissus These beauties appear in the early to late spring and range in height from 6 inches to 30 inches tall. They come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes.
Snowdrops – Galanthis nivalis They appear in very early spring, sometimes when snow is still on the ground. Snowdrops are 6 to 8 inches tall and are all white.
Siberian Squill – Scilla siberica These grow from 5 to 8 inches and bloom in April. They can be used as a ground cover under treees and can be spread by seeds. Siberian Squills have a beautiful cobalt blue flower.
Spanish Bluebells – Hyacinthoides hispanica These lovelies bloom in May or later and are 15 to 18 inches tall. They come in spikes of pink or blue shaped bells.
Three Types of Bulbs Critters Love
Deer, squirrels, and chipmunks like tulip bulbs, hyacinth bulbs, and some varieties of crocus, so plan your garden well. Use the above suggestions to deter these animals from feasting on what will be your gorgeous garden in the spring!
Learn more about the many varieites of tulips here, Everything About Tulips.
Tulips – Tulipa Bloom mid to late summer and come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes.
Hyacinths – Muscari Hyacinths bloom mid to early spring and produce one stem 8 to 10 inches tall.
Crocus Crocus bloom late winter to early spring. They are generally 4 to 5 inches tall.
What Flower Bulbs to Plant in the Fall
After reading this article I hope you have learned that there are a few precautions you should take when selecting bulbs for spring blooms. Follow the instructions above to almost guarantee a lovely showing in the spring.
Please leave a comment and some photos below. I’d love to hear from you!