Fall Bulb Planting: Top Three Things to Remember

Nothing says spring like a daffodil. If critters are eating your bulbs, try daffodils instead of tulips.

It seems we write about planting bulbs in fall every year, and there's a reason for that. Even if you have a good display of bulbs in your garden, bulbs sometimes peter out after a few years. So, it's a good idea to refresh your display from time to time—plus, the more the merrier with bulbs. If you have a new garden, as I do, fall bulb planting is a great way to add to the spring beauty of your garden before your shrubs and perennials come into their own.

So, before the fall gets too far away from us, here are the Top Three Things to Remember when planting bulbs.

Bigger is Better: This is not one of those things where going all minimalist is chic and subtle. Nope, nope and not at all. A bigger bulb display—especially if you are using some of the daintier bulbs, such as crocus or scilla—has a bigger impact. Plant them by the dozens, by the hundreds if you can. You also want to purchase the plumpest, healthiest looking bulbs you can find, too, as these big-for-their-size bulbs are more likely to bloom next spring and for several springs afterward.

This photo of Chicago's Lurie Gardens shows a river of chionodoxa (glory of the snow). Bigger is better, even if you don't have a skyline for a backdrop.

Shape Your Bulb Plantings. Even the biggest bulbs will never have the impact of a flowering shrub or large perennial on their own, so they need to be planted in groups. You should think about what shape you want to have your planting to take. I've seen rivers of bulbs, patchwork quilts, blobs of bulbs. An easy way to plant bulbs is to dig a hole that is the proper depth for the bulb you are planting (usually three times the bulb's height) and the size and shape of the display you want -- so an oval or kidney bean or whatever. Save the dirt from your digging. Then place the bulbs more or less evenly (but not in rows) in the hole and cover it up. Come spring, you will have a bulb garden in the shape you want.

With luck and a little care, tulips will bloom for several years.

Take Care of Your Bulbs. Be careful not to nick or cut the bulbs when you are planting them. This may allow disease to get at the bulb. Depending on the fertility of your soil, you may want to add a bit of compost or fertilizer to the bulb's hole. Water the bulbs in after planting, but don't worry about continuously watering during the fall. Bulbs usually have everything they need to grow. After the first year of bloom, be sure to let the bulb foliage stand until it gets brown. This is how the bulb feeds itself for the next year's bloom.

Here are a few more bulb planting tips you might enjoy.



  1. Kim Trombley on October 4, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    I lay chicken wire over the top of the bulbs before covering with soil. This helps to keep the squirrels from digging them up. I’ve also heard you can wrap them in steel wool as a critter deterrent.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on October 4, 2017 at 12:57 pm

      Those are great ideas if you have a lot of squirrels and voles in your area!

  2. […] tulips frustrate me. Planting them is a lot of work and the task produces absolutely no instant gratification. You dig a hole, place […]

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