General Flower Bulb Planting and Care

Flowerbulbs are easy to plant and easy to care for. Here we provide general information that applies to all spring-flowering bulbs.

  1. When to Plant
  2. Choosing a Site
  3. How to Plant
  4. Watering
  5. Fertilizing
  6. Care After Bloom
  7. Indoor Bulbs
  8. Southern Recommendations

When to Plant

With the exception of amaryllis and paperwhites, all of the flowerbulbs we offer are spring-flowering bulbs that MUST be planted in fall (Sept.-Dec., depending on your climate). Unless you select a specific shipping date, we will ship your bulbs at the proper time for planting: when soil temperatures in your area are approaching 55 degrees F.

We recommend that you plant your bulbs when you receive them. If you can't plant right away, open all of the boxes so that air can get to the bulbs and keep them in a dry, dark, cool place with good air circulation. Temperatures between 50 degrees and 60 degrees F are ideal, but your bulbs should be fine within a range of 38 degrees to 70 degrees F.You can delay planting for several weeks if you have to, but remember: The bulbs MUST be planted before the onset of winter.

Map Showing ideal fall planting times in the continental US.

Choosing a Site

There are two key considerations when choosing a site for bulbs.

  1. Sunlight

    Most bulbs need ample sunshine to bloom well next spring and to store up the energy required to flower in future springs. Many bulbs--including crocuses and bluebells--can be planted beneath deciduous trees; these bulbs are able to satisfy most of their light needs before the trees leaf out. (See each item we offer for specific light requirements.)

  2. Drainage

    All bulbs need good drainage; never plant bulbs where water collects. The drainage of heavy clay soils may be improved by digging in organic matter such as compost or composted manure.

How to Plant

There are two principal ways of planting bulbs.

  1. Planting a bed

    Excavate the area to be planted and loosen the soil in the bottom. Set the bulbs in the bed, following the spacing recommendations provided in our Bed area Calculations page.. Replace the soil. If the soil is dry, water thoroughly.

  2. Planting bulbs individually

    Dig a hole with a trowel, auger or bulb planter. Drop the bulb (or bulbs--small bulbs such as those of eranthis or anemones can be planted in threes or fours) into the hole. Replace the soil. If the soil is dry, water thoroughly after planting.

NOTE: Don't worry too much about which end is up on a bulb. Bulbs know to send shoots up and roots down. They will grow and bloom even if you plant them upside down.

Watering

Bulbs need ample moisture from fall, when they make new roots, until they finish flowering in spring. If the soil is dry at planting time, water thoroughly after planting. Thereafter water only if rainfall is scarce. Stop watering after the bulbs bloom. Supplemental irrigation after bloom--especially in the Deep South--may cause bulbs to rot.

Fertilizing

The bulbs we ship already have next year's flowers set inside them, so there's no need to fertilize at planting time. If you intend for your bulbs to be long-term players in your landscape, you may want to fertilize them in early spring, when the shoots begin to push through the soil. We suggest that you have your soil tested first to identify any nutrient deficiencies and that you correct those deficiencies with an organic fertilizer, which will release nutrients slowly. Most bulbs are not heavy feeders. You can generally do without fertilizer entirely if you mulch your bulbs annually with 2-3 inches of an organic material such as compost, shredded bark, aged wood chips or shredded leaves.

Care After Bloom

After your bulbs bloom, you may remove the spent flowers or seed heads if they are unsightly (in the case of tulips, removing the seed heads may also help to encourage the bulbs to flower again the following year), but you must allow the foliage to die back naturally (spring-flowering bulbs go dormant in summer, reappearing the following spring). If you cut, braid or tie up the foliage before it yellows and withers, you prevent the bulbs from producing the energy they will need to grow and bloom again next year. Of course, if you intend to lift and discard tulip bulbs after they bloom and replant in the fall, there's no need to wait for the foliage to yellow.

Indoor Bulbs

Amaryllis and paperwhites are grown primarily as indoor bulbs--i.e., they are planted in pots and kept indoors to provide winter color (and, in the case of paperwhites, fragrance). For information on planting and caring for these bulbs, see our Planting & Care Instructions sheet.

Recommendations for the South

Most bulbs do well through Zone 7 in the South. In Zones 7-10, where soil temperatures do not cool down sufficiently in winter, and spring weather is often very warm, many bulbs perform poorly unless they are pre-chilled - i.e., refrigerated for 8-10 weeks prior to planting. Here is a rundown of the bulbs we carry and what special treatment they require, if any, to perform well in the Deep South.

Tulips

Tulips need to be pre-chilled to bloom well in Zones 7b-10. They should be placed in the refrigerator (NOT freezer) in October for 8-10 weeks, then planted in December when the weather cools down. Without chilling, plants will be stunted and the flowers will open down in the leaves. Once you take the bulbs out of the fridge, plant them right away. Don't let the bulbs sit in the sun while you are digging.

In the Deep South (and much of California), tulips should be considered an annual and new ones planted each year. We have lots of southern customers who are comfortable with planting every year but it is really a budget decision. The tulips on our Southern Recommended page seem to handle the cooling process and southern heat pretty well. Some species tulips can return for several years - namely Bakeri Liliac Wonder, and Linifolia.

Daffodils

There are a number of daffodils on our Southern Recommended page that do well through Zone 8 and should come back. They can be planted in November without any pre-chilling. We don't recommend daffodils in southern Zones 9 and 10. On the other hand, most daffodils do well through Zone 9 in the West, if given sufficient moisture. Some will even perform well in Zone 10.

Crocuses

These need chilling. They may come back for a few years in Zone 8, then peter out. Tommies (Crocus tommasinianus) are the best return growers in the South.

Hyacinths

Similiar to tulips. Chill and plant, but don't expect more than one year of bloom.

Grape Hyacinth (Muscari)

We recommend that grape hyacinths be pre-chilled. They may come back for a year or two in Zone 8.

Alliums

Most alliums struggle in Zones 8-10 in the South, so we don't recommend them. Pre-chilling does not help them cope with southern heat.

Starflower (Ipheion)

Naturalizes readily in Zones 8 and 9 without special treatment. We don't recommend it for Zone 10.

Snowflake (Leucojum)

Does well in Zones 8 and 9 without special treatment. We don't recommend it for Zone 10.

Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides)

A good choice in Zone 8. Does not need pre-chilling. We don't recommend it for Zones 9 and 10.

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