Bulb blooms are a beautiful sight come spring, but it can be tricky to produce a delightful swath of flowers without enough time to grow.
When to plant spring bulbs? To get that amazing display of floral blooms to come spring, plant the bulbs in fall. However, the fall is quite a long season, and some spring bulb varieties require a precise planting window. As a rule of thumb, plant spring-flowering bulbs at least six to eight weeks before the first frost.
What Are Spring Bulbs?
A bulb refers to any plant that uses an underground structure to store nutrient reserves for its survival.
Typically, bulbs are perennial plants, which means they undergo extended periods of growth, flowering, and dormancy.
While taxonomy breaks down bulbs into six categories, we can classify them further into two types: summer bulbs and spring bulbs.
Also called tender bulbs, summer bulbs begin their life cycle in the spring, and they start flowering and leafing out during the summer.
On the other hand, we plant spring bulbs in the fall, and they spend winter in the soil before they flower in the spring.
Unlike spring bulbs, summer bulbs cannot tolerate the cold, and they require only planting after the ground becomes warm.
Choosing Spring Bulbs
The different flowering plants identified as bulbs that produce the most stunning colors include crocuses, irises, lilies, hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, and alliums.
When purchasing bulbs from your local garden center, some considerations ensure a reliable blooming stock.
For starters, larger bulbs are way ahead of smaller ones of the same variety in the race for storing nutrients.
As such, they tend to be more capable of producing larger, more vivid blooms.
Secondly, each newly purchased bulb should be firm and devoid of mush and mold.
Bulbs showing signs of moisture and moldy spots tend to wither and die or not grow at all.
Planting Spring Bulb in Different Climates
Once you have procured a good selection of bulbs, you should also be able to narrow down when exactly to put them in the ground.
Unlike plants that are only endemic to a particular environment, spring bulbs can thrive in zones with minimum temperatures ranging from -30 to 40 degrees.
However, since plant hardiness varies according to climate, it is essential to know that average planting times for spring bulbs differ from zone to zone.
With that said, you can follow these optimum times for planting spring flower bulbs:
Early September to Mid-October
In zones where the average minimum temperatures are between -30 to -10 degrees Fahrenheit, bulb planting begins in early September and ends mid-October.
These zones get cold fast, and the bulbs will need enough time to grow some roots before storing nutrient reserves.
October to Early November
You can hold off planting until early November in zones with average minimum temperatures ranging from -10 to 10 degrees.
In these areas, the frost kicks in a few weeks later, which means your bulbs have more time to gather resources before they hibernate.
November to Early December
Zones with average minimum temperatures ranging between 10 and 30 degrees are still a few degrees below the freezing point.
However, the first frost comes much later, and the dormancy stage tends to be shorter.
For such zones, it would be best to plant spring bulbs from mid-November to early December.
Late December to Early January
Between 30 and 40 degrees, the only risk of freezing begins at 32 degrees or lower.
As such, zones with average minimum temperatures in this range tend to have minimal to zero chances of frost.
Spring bulbs planted in this climate have better chances of avoiding hibernation.
Consequently, the plants can continuously collect and store nutrients for their next stages of growth.
You can postpone planting until early January if you live in zones with these warmer climates.
How To Plant Spring Bulbs
Anyone who buys bulbs from a proper garden center won’t have difficulty planting as each set of bulbs typically comes with specific planting instructions.
The labels and packaging also make it simpler to keep things organized so that you won’t have problems identifying one variety from another.
Nevertheless, we’re here to provide you with a general set of instructions and tips for planting.
Step 1: Plan and Organize
If you want to achieve greater visual impact when the bulbs bloom, you might want to create a cohesive game plan for planting.
First and foremost, identify your area in the plant hardiness zone map.
With it, you will have a good headstart if you know the average minimum temperatures in your zone.
Since some varieties need to be properly chilled before the bulbs need to be planted, understanding your zone is an actual timesaver.
Next, keep your store-bought bulbs sorted and labeled at least until you are ready to plant.
This way, you know which ones to plant where and when to plant them.
Some spring-blooming bulbs require deeper planting depths than others, which is why keeping your bulbs organized is of utmost importance.
Finally, decide whether to plant in large clusters, in succession, or with a random mix of varieties.
Step 2: Avoid Planting Bulbs Too Early
One of the most common mistakes with planting bulbs is getting them from a late summer sale and planting them straight away.
Of course, nights and mornings seem cooler in some regions come late August.
However, at this point, the soil temperature is still too warm, and you might effectively end up ruining a good batch of bulbs.
Planting bulbs too early when the soil is still warm will have a drastic effect on the blooming capabilities of the plants.
Step 3: Choose a Good Planting Spot
With the right amount of sunlight and good drainage, beautiful bulbs can thrive and produce stunning blooms just about anywhere.
While good drainage keeps the bulbs from rotting, adequate sunlight ensures that the plants retrieve enough nutrients before hibernating.
You can plant bulbs that bloom in early spring under trees that shed their leaves in the fall.
These early bloomers will have gathered enough sunlight before the trees start growing new leaves.
However, planting bulbs in such a spot might only produce blooms during the first year.
In order to bloom the next year, the bulbs need to get at least six hours of sunlight each day.
Unfortunately, this won’t happen if the trees’ new leaves block the sunlight.
Step 4: Prepare the Soil
If you have had experience with other plants, you already know that you need to improve soil quality.
Soften up the soil by breaking down any clumps and removing rocks.
Also, remove any weeds, and add some peat moss or compost to improve drainage and soil quality.
Step 5: Dig Right
If you’re unsure how deep you should plant a bulb, dig a hole at least two or three times deeper than the bulb’s height.
Planting too deep will either cause the plants to bloom late or not bloom at all.
Alternatively, planting too shallow exposes new growth to surface soil that is warm or too cold.
Step 6: Plant and Mulch
Put the bulbs in the ground with the roots down and the pointy end up.
If you’re unsure, place the bulbs sideways and give its new growth better chances of sprouting upward.
Replace the soil over the bulbs, and cover the topsoil with about two inches of mulch.
Finally, let the bulbs settle by giving them a good soak.
Step 7: Add a Layer of Protection
Spring bulbs are a favorite meal for mice, squirrels, chipmunks, and voles.
If your garden is prone to these critters, you might as well protect your newly planted bulbs.
One way to prevent critters from burrowing into the soil is by laying wire mesh over the beds and staking it down to the ground.
Come springtime and when shoots start to emerge from the soil, remove the mesh to give the plants some growing room.
How To Grow Spring Bulbs
As long as you plant spring bulbs to get at least six hours of sunlight daily, you can rest easy after planting.
However, here are a few things to keep in mind as you go through the relatively long process of growing spring bulbs.
Food and Water
The key to growing spring bulbs is giving them enough fertilizer and water during the right intervals.
Add fertilizer once at planting time and once more as the plants emerge in spring.
Also, remember to soak the soil until the planting depth of each bulb right after planting, and do the same before the ground freezes.
As they grow in the spring and until the foliage dies back, water them once a week.
Finally, it is critical to stop watering them in the summer when they become dormant, or else the bulbs may rot.
Avoid harvesting the flowers too early – let the foliage naturally turn yellow to indicate that the flowers have fully developed.
Also, as soon as some of the flowers start to fade, it is a reminder to complete the harvest.
Otherwise, your spring bulbs will pour all their energy into producing seeds instead of the same beautiful flowers in the coming year.
Spring bulbs are among the many plants that require lots of patience to grow.
The best guarantee for having wonderful spring blooms is planting your bulbs at just about the right time.
However, it’s alright if you plant them a bit late.
They may not put on a spectacular show the first year, but they should improve over time with the right care.