Spring Bulb Plants

When to Plant Them to Enjoy a Rich Landscape Harvest in Spring

Fritillaria (image) isn't common. But this spring-flowering bulb is spectacular.
David Beaulieu

When winter's snows start to recede, I want color in my landscape immediately, which can be accomplished by incorporating spring bulb plants in a landscape design. But to enjoy these vernal wonders, you must train yourself to have an autumnal mindset. That's right: you can't wait till Old Man Winter departs to install these bulbs. By then, it is too late.

Below is a list of links (beginning with tulips) to resources on some of the individual spring bulb plants, each of which features growing information and a picture of the flower.

Other such photos can be found in my List of Flowers With Pictures.

  1. Tulips
  2. Daffodils
  3. Squill (Scilla siberica)
  4. Picture of Grape Hyacinths
  5. Picture of White Narcissus
  6. Hyacinth Flowers
  7. Crocus (technically "corms")
  8. Snowdrops
  9. Fritillaria imperialis
  10. Glory-of-the-Snow
  11. Reticulated Iris
  12. Allium schubertii (the flowering onion that looks like fireworks bursting)
  13. 'Ambassador'
  14. More on flowering onions, with a focus on purple alliums

Several of the above provide some of the earliest flowers in the spring landscape. If you need a spring bulb plant to extend the season, grow Spanish bluebells, which bloom later in the season.

Conspicuous by Its Absence

Are you wondering why Easter lilies are not on the list above? Some of you may give and/or receive them as potted gifts annually in March or April, their white trumpet-flowers set off by colorful foil straight from the florist shop. But the only reason that these fragrant classics are in blossom so early in the year is that greenhouse operators manipulate their blooming time, gearing it to their namesake holiday.

Have you ever tried planting Easter lilies outside? Then perhaps you're aware of the ruse. In my zone-5 landscaping, they bloom in July.

When to Plant Spring Bulb Plants

You have to remember to plant these beauties in fall, according to the growing zone in which you live (as follows):

  • For zones 2-3, plant spring bulb plants in September.
  • For zones 4-5, plant in October.
  • For zones 6-7, plant in November.
  • For zone 8, plant in December.

How Far Down Should You Plant Bulbs?

A good guide to go by, generally speaking, is the height of the bulb (not of the foliage, but the height of the bulb, itself). Dig a hole three times deeper than the height of the bulb. So for a tiny one (1 inch tall, say), you'd only go as deep as 3 inches. One that's twice that tall would need a hole twice as deep (6 inches). In case you forget this, remember at least to check for instructions on the packaging (the companies I buy from send out the product in packaging that specifically tells you how far down you'll need to dig).

Unlike what some beginning gardeners may think, orientation also matters. It makes a difference which way you place the bulb into its hole. Inspect the bulb for either a point (tip) or tiny roots. If you find a point, that's the top. If you find roots, that's a bottom. You should place the bulb in the ground such that the point (top) points to the sky.

If what you're able to discern, instead, are tiny roots, make sure the end with those roots sits at the bottom of the hole.

Care Information

One of the most important things for beginners to remember about the care of spring bulb plants is to leave the foliage alone after the blooming period is over for as long as it remains green. Your spring bulb plants are taking in nutrients through photosynthesis during this period that will serve them well over time. You will deprive them of this nutrition if you rob them of their leaves. This deprivation could well diminish future color displays.

True, the leaves don't look very good in most cases after blooming. But this is a case where practicality surely trumps aesthetics. Many gardeners use the ploy of disguising the unsightly leaves via the fresher foliage of perennials. These perennials are interplanted with their daffodils, for example, precisely because the former will be starting to leaf out fully just as the latter are beginning to look ratty.

If you are interested in dividing, whether for purposes of rejuvenation or propagation, you may do so after the leaves have turned completely brown. You can purchase fertilizers designed specifically for your spring bulb plants, although many years I use nothing more than compost, myself. The best time to apply the fertilizers is in fall (and add a little bonemeal while you're at it).