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Planting fall bulbs for spring bloom

Photo: selbe B. / flickr

Autumn is the time to plant fall bulbs that bloom in spring and early summer — including daffodils, tulips, freesias, and hyacinths — and summer bloomers such as iris.


Bulb is the common name for any of a group of plants that have underground “storage organs.” These accumulate nutrient reserves to ensure the plant’s survival during the dormant season, and supply energy for growth and blossoming in the year to come. Whether your plant is a true bulb, rhizome, corm, tuber, or tuberous root, there are a few things to remember when selecting bulbs for planting in your garden.

Choose bulbs that are plump, firm, and heavy. Don’t buy any that feel soft, mushy, or shriveled. Larger-sized bulbs will often yield more flowers but may be expensive. Alternatively, you may wish to choose more economical mid-size specimens — the plants will grow over the next year or two and eventually bloom as richly as the larger bulbs.

When purchasing bulbs, watch closely for the plant origin. Avoid buying wild bulbs — in many cases, these bulbs have been so extensively dug in the wild that the plants are considered endangered species in their native habitats. Any commercially grown plants will probably be labeled as a named variety or a hybrid; they should also be marked “commercially propagated” or “from cultivated stock.” If the bulbs are not labeled, make sure to ask about their origin before buying to avoid contributing to the loss of these plants in the wild. The bulbs can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks until you are ready to plant them. Keep them in a sealed plastic bag away from food.


Most bulbs prefer full sun. Some, like iris, crocus, and freesia will appreciate some shade once they are finished blooming. Bulbs may be planted among other plants, or in a bed all to themselves. Each bulb should be planted in its own individual hole.

Good soil is crucial to winter and wet season survival as well as bloom performance in subsequent years. Drainage and moisture retention are key — saturated soil will drown or rot bulbs over the winter months. If the drainage in your garden is poor, you might consider planting on a slope or in raised flowerbeds.

Soils that don’t absorb moisture may be nutrient-poor. Amendments like compost, peat moss, and fine-textured mulch will provide the organic matter for a good bulb bed. Fertilizers like bone meal, superphosphate, or specialized bulb mixes are highly recommended to add slow-release phosphorus for fantastic flowers next year. Work a complete fertilizer into the soil or, if you are planting around already established plants, dig up to a teaspoon (depending on the type) of fertilizer into the bottom of each hole, then add an inch or two of compost (or other soil amendment) before planting the bulb. Each spring-flowering bulb variety has its preferred depth, but a general rule is to plant at a depth equal to twice the bulb’s height. In a hot area or in sandy soils, you can plant slightly deeper; in heavy soil, plant more shallow.


Caring for your bulbs once they have sprouted is quite simple. If you like, you may apply a light fertilizer just before bloom time. This can be done with either a water-soluble or granulated fertilizer or compost worked into the surface of the soil.

Let the plant continue to grow until it completely dies off and turns brown. This enables it to come back the following year. It’s tempting to remove all the leftover yellowing foliage when the plant has finished blooming, but the longer the leaves remain on the plant, the more nutrients the plant will be able to store in its bulb for the upcoming dormant season.

Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful flowers in your garden next spring.

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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator for Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].