Fall Bulbs 101
It’s the time of year to plant bulbs! I’m sure you’ve seen the big bulb displays everywhere from Lowes and Home Depot to Costco and Harris Teeter. But did you know that not all of those bulbs will do well for you? Or come back each year?
Below I’m going to outline some things to keep in mind when purchasing bulbs, planting tips and timing, plus a fun bulb project that I’m trying for the first time this year! So before you hit the store, make sure to take a look.
Where to purchase: This time of year bulbs can be found everywhere from local and big box garden centers, to the grocery store, and even the dollar store. While I would probably avoid purchasing bulbs at the dollar store, any of those other locations are usually fine for the home gardener.
What to buy: My favorite bulbs to plant this time of year are tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, and crocuses. Let’s break each of these down a bit:
Tulips: When selecting tulips, don’t be duped into purchasing those beautiful double bloom varieties. Tulips are from Holland where they have long cold winters and conditions are perfect for them to grow. They require a long “chilling” period to flower well and in our zone 7b/8a, we need varieties that require a shorter chill period and are more heat tolerant. Unfortunately, while they promise to be beautiful, the double and fancy tulip varieties don’t fall into either of those categories. If they do bloom they will bloom on very short stems (like, an inch or two), and sometimes won’t develop a decent flower.
My favorite variety for our zone is Darwin. Darwin tulips come in a wide array of colors and can be found almost anywhere. They’re large single blooms that are guaranteed to put on a show, especially when planted en masse. As mentioned before, our growing conditions are quite different from Holland and tulips are picky flowers. Because of this, only expect one bloom out of your tulips. Plan to pull them (bulbs and all) in the spring and plant new bulbs the following fall.
Tulip fire is a disease caused by bacteria that can live in the soil for up to five years. Once it infects a tulip it will take all other tulips surrounding it down in a matter of days. Plan to rotate where you plant your tulips on a five year rotation to avoid this disease, or replace the soil each year. Tulip fire does not effect other plants or bulbs.
Expect tulips to bloom between mid-February to mid-March, depending on our weather. Protect them from deer who love to munch them!
Daffodils: Coming back year after year these peach, cream, and yellow-toned beauties give you so much bang for your buck! My favorite thing to do is purchase daffodil mixes. They contain an array of colors and sizes, as well as various varieties with staggered bloom times which creates a longer show. Make sure to check out the double varieties such as Replete (large cream and peach/apricot blooms) and White Lion (large white and pale yellow blooms).
Daffodils are squirrel, deer, and rabbit resistant. Once you plant them, they will naturalize (create baby bulblets and spread) and you literally never have to care for them again. Plant in groups of 10 or more for the best show. I plant 50-100 each year in the natural areas of my yard that receive dappled sunlight in spring. Depending on the variety and our weather they bloom around early March through early April.
Hyacinths: Another repeating bloomer – plant once and enjoy blooms for decades to come. Available in purples, pinks, white, and yellow, these fragrant flowers will fill your yard with a light floral scent come early spring. Naturally deer, squirrel, and rabbit resistant.
Beware – hyacinth bulbs can cause skin irritation so wear gloves when planting and wash your hands afterwards. Reactions can range from a mild itching/tingling sensation to hives or a rash.
Crocuses – The earliest bloomer on this list, they come in white, yellow, and purple, and bloom around late January or early February. These are not pest resistant but I had found that pests leave them alone for the most part. Crocuses only need to be planted a few inches deep and they naturalize, returning year after year.
Make sure when you’re selecting your bulbs that you look for plump, firm bulbs. Bulbs that are moldy, hollow feeling, or light are usually duds.
When to plant: You can plant any of these bulbs now through December, as long as the ground is workable (ie – not frozen or wet). However, October and November is the ideal time to plant.
How and where to plant: Your bulb package will include planting instructions but in general, part-shade or dappled sunlight is best (except tulips which can take full-sun). A great place to plant any of these bulbs is under deciduous trees. Bulbs will receive lots of sunlight in the early spring and as the weather warms, they’ll receive increasingly more shade as the trees leaf out. Dig a hole to the recommended depth and add some bulb fertilizer as well as a bit of compost in the bottom of the hole. This will help your bulbs establish roots over the winter.
Bulb lasagna! Have you heard of this? I’m trying it for the first time this year and the idea is to layer bulbs that bloom at slightly different times in a pot for a long-lasting spring show. I used tulips, hyacinths, and crocuses and topped with violas. I’ll let you know how it turns out!
Bonus tip: When your spring bulbs are done blooming, allow the foliage to die back naturally. When it's completely yellowed/brown you can remove it. Bulbs use energy gathered from their foliage as it dies to create blooms for the following year. Cutting off the foliage right after the bulb flowers can prevent flowering for a year.
Got a bulb question I didn’t cover? Please feel free to reach out! I would love the opportunity to chat all things flowers and bulbs with you.