Planting Bulbs in Fall for Early Spring Flowers
Flower Gardening With Bulbs
Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Karin Deneke – You will find that planting bulbs in fall will bring great joy come spring. Discovering the first crocus emerging from the barren ground in late winter gives us a clear message that spring is not far behind.
Crocus are one of the earliest bulbs to flower. You can plant them anywhere in your yard, even in your lawn. Once bloomed, the plant will blend in discreetly with your existing vegetation.
The showy yellow daffodils make their entrance not much later, followed by the daisy-like, low-growing anemones, also referred to as windflowers, and the multi-colored tulips. These are just a few of the spring-flowering bulbs you may want to consider.
Planting bulbs in fall into your existing landscaping requires some planning. Draw a layout of your yard and figure out where they would make the best statement. And attention should be given to sun exposure. Daffodils and tulips, for instance, excel in full sun.
When you purchase your bulbs, they should include instructions for where and how to plant them. This will help you determine the best-suited growing location on your property.
I prefer to save my drawing/layout until the following spring to assist me when I search for signs of early emergence. It is exciting to discover the first tiny green shoots peeking out in late winter from underneath a blanket of melting snow.
Your sketch may not help much if there are squirrels in the neighborhood unless you take certain precautions. My property is surrounded by nut-bearing trees such as oaks and shack bark hickories — a habitat for dozens of squirrels. Come fall, these busy little critters prepare for winter by hiding their future provisions in freshly dug holes.
Unfortunately, in their frenzy to fill their ladder, they will also dig up and replant bulbs — bulbs that I had just put into the ground, that they will then hide at a brand-new location.
Don’t worry, there is a solution and it is called landscape fabric. Often sold in rolls, it is lightweight and designed to allow air, water, and nutrients to penetrate. It is available in most garden centers. All you need is a pair of scissors to cut it into the needed shapes to cover the areas where you just planted your bulbs. I use medium-sized stones to weigh the fabric down at the edges. It is a one-time chore because once your bulbs have rooted by early spring and before emergence, they should be squirrel safe.
I recommend before you dig the holes for planting bulbs in fall, to have a supply of bone meal on hand — a plant food sold at garden centers and or nurseries. I bought a four-pound bag that can also be used for my garden crops, trees, shrubs, and roses, to name a few. Its analysis is 2% nitrogen, 14% phosphate, and 15% calcium. For bulbs, I sprinkle 1 tsp of bone meal into the hole I just dug and work it in the best I can. If the soil is dry, it helps to add water.
You must follow the instructions that come with your purchased bulbs for depth of planting, sun exposure, and spacing. Crocus require a depth of three to four inches and they do well in full sun or partial shade. They can be planted in groups or clusters. Anemones require a depth of three inches. Plant in full sun to partial shade.
Daffodils as well, thrive in full sun or partial shade. Plant them about six inches deep with spacing of four to six inches. These early-blooming beauties may achieve a height of 14-18 inches. Tulips on average reach heights of 14-22 inches and prefer full sun, and can be planted four to six inches deep with two to four-inch spacing.
Don’t forget hyacinth in your colorful parade of flowering bulb plants. The fragrance alone is worth the effort. These large bulbs can be planted four to eight inches deep with a spacing of four to six inches, in full sun to partial shade, and reach a height of eight to 14 inches.
Since I just mentioned the wonderful fragrance of hyacinths, I must also bring up the sweet scent of the lily-of-the-valley. This mid to late spring flowering bulb can tolerate sun to partial shade and will reach a height of only four to six inches. In other words, it grows close to the ground. It spreads by forming tight groups. Plant the bulbs a few inches apart, up to three to four inches deep.
HOW DO BULBS MULTIPLY?
Keep in mind that if you are short on space, bulbs multiply at different rates. Most generate so-called offsets or bulbils. It is advised to remove flower heads after blooming so that the bulb does not waste energy producing seeds, but allow leaves to die fully before removing them. As far as tulips are concerned, their propagation is slow. They produce clusters every third season.
Daffodils are considered a low-maintenance plant and propagate in two ways — by seeds and bulbs. If you are short on space, limit the number of bulbs you plant. Your other option is when your daffodil stands become too crowded, dig the new bulbs in late spring, store them in a cool place, and replant in early fall.
Finding the first signs of flowering bulbs pushing through the soil after a long winter is worth all the effort it took to plant them. And how exciting it is when you spot your first colorful crocus in bloom.
Will you be planting bulbs in fall for beautiful spring flowers? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!
Originally published in Countryside September/October 2021 and regularly vetted for accuracy.