Top 10 Bulbs for Fall Planting

Spring Bulbs in Bloom

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Spring bulbs are a feast for the eyes, after a long, dreary winter. If you think your only choices for spring blooming bulbs are daffodils or tulips, you are in for a treat. You can keep your garden in unfolding color for months in the spring and have the show start even before the snow melts. What's even better is that you can plant all of these flowers in the fall, when the weather makes it enjoyable to be working in the garden. Then all you have to do is sit back and be patient. After a long, tedious, never-ending winter, your garden will wake up and reignite your passion for gardening.

  • 01 of 10


    Motty Levy / Getty Images

    Few plants are as carefree as alliums. They don't need deadheading, rarely need dividing, and even deer don't fuss with them. There are tall varieties, like "Gladiator", "Mount Everest", or "Globemaster", that can reach 4 ft. tall, with 6-8 inch balls of florets. Tiny drumstick alliums are among the first bulbs to emerge and bloom in spring and work especially well in woodlands or along paths. In between is the always reliable "Purple Sensation" and Allium schubertii, often, and fittingly, called the fireworks allium.

    There are only two drawbacks generally encountered while growing alliums. The first is that the larger the bulb, the more expensive it is. Some places ask more than $6 for a single bulb, which makes it hard to plant enough for a really explosive display.

    The other problem is that with some, such as "Purple Sensation", the foliage starts looking tatty even before the flowers have bloomed. That's fine if your plants are hidden among better-looking foliage plants, but since they bloom early in the season, you can't always count on the garden having filled in around them.

    Still, these are fantastic flowers that require minimal care and they even look good when the flowers have dried on the stems. All that and minimal maintenance make them well worth growing.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-8
    • Exposure: Full sun
    • Height: Varies greatly from 5 inches to 5 ft.
    • Bloom Time: May / June (Many will stay in bloom for 4-5 weeks)
    • Colors: White, pink, purple, yellow
  • 02 of 10

    Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale)

    Autum Crocus (Colchicum)
    Marie Iannotti

    This truly is one odd little flower. You plant it in the fall and then wait until the following fall for signs of life. The flowers appear first, blooming for 2-3 weeks and then die back. The next spring, long leaves will sprout and then disappear as summer heats up. (They were just there to feed the bulb.) The plant remains dormant throughout the summer. Just when you've forgotten all about them, the flowers surprise you again in early fall.

    They do look like crocus flowers, although they are very distant relations. The flowers are a bit larger, about 4 inches across, and each plant blooms in a cluster of up to 4 blossoms. Among its other common names are Son before Father, Naked Lady, and Meadow Saffron.

    Since these are fall bloomers, don't wait too late to plant your bulbs. Late summer is preferable to late autumn. You could get flowers the first year if you plant early enough.

    Colchicum needs a moisture-retentive soil and partial shade. If you can find a spot that gets only afternoon sun, you'll get the most abundant blooms.

    The bulbs benefit from being divided every four years or so. This will keep your clumps healthy and prevent them from dying out in the center.

    A note of caution: Colchicum is toxic. Do not mistake them for saffron plants or ramps, which have similar looking leaves. On the plus side, they are deer resistant.

    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9
    • Height: 6-12 inches
    • Exposure: Full sun to Partial shade
    • Bloom Time: Late summer / Early Fall
    • Colors: Lavender, pink, white
  • 03 of 10

    Bluebells (Hyacinthoides sp.)

    English bluebells
    Fiona McAllister Photography / Getty Images

    It's easy to be confused about bluebells, There are just too many plants that go by that common name. There's some general agreement that true bluebells are in the genus Mertensia. The most commonly known and grown would be Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), which are North American natives.

    But Texas claims a bluebell, too. Texas Bluebell, (Eustoma exaltatum ssp. russellianum), is in the Gentian family. Common names can be confusing, but they certainly don't take anything away from the beauty of the plants.

    The two bulbs we are suggesting here are the Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) and English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), which are perhaps not really bluebells at all. They are members of the hyacinth family. You may know them by their other common name, Wood Hyacinth.

    The plants will naturalize and spread, with each plant producing dozens of nodding tubular flowers for an incredible carpeting effect. Be careful about planting them in small borders, where they can take over. Better to plant them in the lawn near a tree or on the edge of woodlands.

    English bluebells are fragrant and make wonderful cut flowers. They tend to be the more heat sensitive of the two and should be kept in partially shaded areas, or at least given regular water. The flowers bloom along only one side of the stalk, eventually causing the stalk to bend under their weight, which just adds to their charm.

    Spanish bluebells are tougher plants and can take a bit more sun. They hold their flower stalks upright amid the sword-like leaves. Beautiful as they are, they lack the fragrance of English bluebells.

    Both are ephemeral plants, gracing your garden in mid-spring, then slowly disappearing as other flowers fill in.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-9
    • Exposure: Partial shade
    • Height: 6-12 inches    
    • Bloom Time: Mid-spring / Early summer
    • Colors: Blue, pink, white
  • 04 of 10

    Daffodils (Narcissus sp. and hybrids)

    Daffodils in garden
    Cyril Gosselin / Getty Images

    Would it be spring without daffodils? There is no more welcome sight, after a winter of white than the slowly opening, golden buds of daffodils. And there is probably no easier bulb to grow, either. Daffodils are incredibly long-lived, which is why you can still see clumps of them where the foundation of a house has long since rotted away.

    There are bargains galore available everywhere in the fall, but it can be well worth it to do some shopping around to see all of the varieties of daffodil. Not all daffodils are brilliant yellow and not all of them bloom with the first sunbeam of spring. You can get ruffled pink daffs, long-necked trumpet daffodils, tiny 3-inch charmers, and daffodils that bloom with the tulips.

    Mail order daffodil bulbs can be more expensive than the large bags at the nursery center, but they will also be larger - which means more and larger blooms. Of course, you could always be patient and wait for yours to mature a few years.

    If you plant only one spring bulb, choose daffodils for their unpretentious cheer. You will be glad you did for centuries to come.

    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-11
    • Height: 6-18 inches
    • Exposure: Full sun
    • Bloom Time: Early to Mid-Spring
    • Colors: pink, near-white, yellow
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Dutch Iris (Iris x hollandica)

    Dutch Iris
    Marie Iannotti

    There are a couple of hundred species in the Iris genus and, although we use the term loosely, they are not all grown from bulbs. Dutch Iris is a delicate bulbing iris that is grown from surprising small bulbs.  

    If you've ever purchased a florist bouquet with irises in it, you've probably gotten Dutch iris. They earned a bad reputation for a while because some of the colors were less than spectacular and some plant snobs found them too common. But recent introductions are quite lovely, although it's hard to beat "Sapphire Beauty".

    Dutch irises need a well-draining soil. Don't plant the bulbs too deeply; 3 to 4 inches maximum. One major complaint with Dutch iris is that they only bloom for about two weeks. Plant a large drift, to really enjoy them while they're around. They can also be used as cut flowers, although the blooms only last up to 5 days, after cutting.

    Since these iris are so easy to grow, we'd recommend scooping up some bulbs when you do your daffodil shopping. They're a nice change from the usual mid-spring mix.

    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9
    • Height: 18-24 inches
    • Exposure: Full sun to Partial shade
    • Bloom Time: Late spring / Early summer
    • Colors: Blue, maroon, violet, white, yellow
  • 06 of 10

    Fritillaria (Fritillaria sp.)

    Checkered Lilies (Fritillaria meleagris)
    Mandy Disher Photography / Getty Images

    Fritillaria flowers look exotic and a little intimidating, but they're just as easy to grow as any other spring-blooming bulb. So if you're looking for something out of the ordinary, consider a patch of checkered, or snake's head, lilies, (Fritillaria meleagris) or maybe some of the brazen Imperial Fritillaria. (Fritillaria imperialis).

    Fritillaria are in the lily family, although you probably won't notice a similarity. They are fine in full sun or partial shade, but either way, make sure they get regular water.

    Although Fritillaria likes moist, rich soils, it is adaptable to even heavy clay. The subtle snake's head can even be planted throughout a lawn, although you can't mow it until its leaves have faded. Definitely let the flowers fade, as they should self-sow and increase your patch.

    These bulbs should be planted 2-3 times their diameter. The small checkered lilies only need holes about 2-3 inches deep, where the imperials will need at least 6-8 inches.  It's sometimes easier to dig a wide hole and randomly space the bulbs at the bottom of it, rather than digging individual holes.

    As with most long-lived bulbs, Fritillaria does not like being disturbed, except to divide.

    A word of caution: Fritillaria bulbs can irritate some people's skin, so it's best to wear gloves when planting them. This toxicity doesn't seem to faze grazing animals, though.

    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-8
    • Height: 9-36 inches. The Fritillaria are the tallest.
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Bloom Time: Late spring / Early summer
    • Colors: Maroon, orange, red, yellow
  • 07 of 10

    Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

    Grape Hyacinth
    Marie Iannotti

    One of the first bulbs children fall in love with is grape hyacinth, partly for the rich fragrance and partly because they are a good height for a child to notice. These tiny plants with flower clusters that look like bunches of grapes are deceptively hardy.

    The bulbs are planted in the fall and don't be surprised if you see some leaves emerge and stick around until spring. This is actually a good feature because it prevents you from accidentally digging in the area.  

    Although the flowers are similar to hyacinth bulbs, grape hyacinth is much smaller and they do not need to be planted very deeply. A couple of inches will do. These are fleshy bulbs that can dry out quickly since they are so small. That means you need to water them well, after planting and keep them watered until the ground freezes or is covered by snow. Once established, they won't need any extra care.

    Grape hyacinth doesn't need any special care, other than giving them well-draining soil. They are long-lived and some bulb food after flowering will keep them going strong. The bulbs multiply rapidly, so if you'd like to spread them around, lift and divide them in late summer, while they are dormant. Some bulbs have a tendency to poke above the soil when they want to be divided.

    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-11
    • Height: 6-8 inches
    • Exposure: Full sun to Partial shade
    • Bloom Time: Early to Mid-spring
    • Colors: Shades of blue and purple
  • 08 of 10

    Lilies (Lilium sp.)

    Lilies in bloom
    Stefania D'Alessandro / Getty Images

    It's hard not to love lilies. They have one of the sweetest, yet strong, scents of any plant and there are so many to choose from. Don't confuse true lilies with daylilies. True lilies stay in bloom for weeks but don't tend to repeat bloom.

    Even though they are prized for their elegance, they are as rugged as any other flowering bulb in the garden. Start with the largest bulbs you can afford, not just because you will get bigger flowers, but also because they will be the hardiest. Plant your bulbs in a well-draining soil. Lilies will rot in the damp soil.

    Lilies bloom in the summer, rather than the spring. You can extend your bloom period by planting varieties that bloom at different times. For instance, you could start with the early season Asiatic lilies (Asiatic hybrids). As these fade, the Turk's cap lilies, or martagons (Lilium martagon), will begin to open, with their backward curved petals. The Trumpet lilies herald peak summer. And don't be without the late-blooming Oriental lilies, the most fragrant of them all.

    Lilies make great cut flowers, but be sure to only cut about 1/3 of the stem. The plant needs the remaining leaves to make and store food for next year's blooms. Lilies never go into full dormancy, so leave the plants standing after they bloom and continue to keep them watered on a regular basis.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9, depending on the variety
    • Height: Most grow to 2-4 ft. tall. Some can reach 6 ft. or more
    • Exposure: Full sun
    • Bloom Time: Summer. Exactly when depends on the variety
    • Colors: Orange, pink, red, white, yellow
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.)

    Snowdrop flowers (Galanthus)
    itsabreeze photography / Getty Images

    Oh, to be as hardy as a snowdrop! These tiny flowers break through still frozen ground and bloom in temperatures most people would rather avoid. Even a fresh coating of snow or ice does not dampen their spirits.

    There are about 20 species of snowdrops and true aficionados, galanthophiles, collect them all. There aren't many pollinators around when snowdrops bloom, so they don't often cross-pollinate.

    However, when there is pollination and seeds are produced, the seeds have an attachment, called an elaiosome, that contains fats and proteins which attracts ants. The ants tote these elaiosomes through their tunnels to feed their larvae and, in the process, spread the seeds throughout your yard.

    Start with a cluster of snowdrop bulbs and it is pretty much guaranteed you will have them popping up all over the place. You never need to divide snowdrop bulbs. They will just keep expanding. However, if you want to move some, immediately after flowering is the best time to dig them up.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8
    • Height: 3-12 inches
    • Exposure: Full sun to Partial shade
    • Bloom Time: Late winter / very early spring
    • Colors: white, pale green
  • 10 of 10

    Wild Hyacinth (Camassia quamash)

    Ron Evans / Getty Images

    Whether you call is Camassia or Quamash, it's a mouthful. There should be a more fitting name for these informal bulbs with their loose sprays of blue flowers. Even Wild Hyacinth doesn't do it justice.

    Camassia plants like full sun and moist soil. If you can provide that, your plants will continue coming back for many years. If your soil tends to be dry, you can try growing them in partial shade, but they never seem to thrive the way they do in ideal conditions. This is one case where the elusive well-draining soil is not a plus.

    The bulbs tend to be rounded, but if you look closely you should find a point somewhere on the bulb. That's the end to plant upward, although the bulb will eventually figure out which end is up on its own, so don't sweat it. Plant them about 4 inches deep and give them a good drink of water, to start them off.

    These are ephemeral bulbs and you can expect the foliage to begin turning yellow and dying back by mid-summer. Don't panic, the plants are just resting up and regaining their strength. The loose heads of star-shaped flowers look best when mixed in with other plants and allowed to poke through where they will. This will also help hide the fading foliage. Just be sure you don't accidentally dig them up while they are dormant.

    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 24-30 inches
    • Bloom Time: Late spring / early summer
    • Colors: Blue, lavender, white