10 Best Bulbs for Fall Planting

Oriental trumpet lilies 'Conca d'Or' with white flowers and yellow centers closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Spring-blooming bulbs are a feast for the eyes after a long, dreary winter. And if you think your only choices for spring blooms are daffodils or tulips, you are in for a treat. There are many bulb options that come in a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes. In addition to the springtime, some bloom in the summer or even early fall. You can plant all of these bulbs in the fall when the weather is mild and it's enjoyable to be working in the garden. Then, all you have to do is sit back and wait for your garden to wake up in the spring.

Tip

Choose bulbs that bloom at different times, so you can have several weeks of flowers in your garden once spring arrives.

Here are 10 of the best bulbs to plant in fall.

  • 01 of 10

    Alliums (Allium spp.)

    Alliums

    Motty Levy / Getty Images

    Few plants are as carefree as alliums. They don't need deadheading (removing spent blooms), they rarely need dividing, and even deer don't fuss with them. Just plan to keep their soil moist when they're in bloom. Alliums generally bloom in May and June, and many will stay in bloom for four to five weeks. There are tall varieties, such as 'Gladiator', 'Mount Everest', and 'Globemaster', that can reach 4 feet tall with 6- to 8-inch balls of florets. The tiny varieties are among the first bulbs to emerge and bloom in spring. And medium sizes include 'Purple Sensation' and Allium schubertii, often 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. So filling your garden with them can get pricey. The other problem is that with some, such as 'Purple Sensation', the foliage starts degrading even before the flowers have bloomed. So aim to plant your bulbs among better-looking foliage plants.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White, pink, purple, yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, slightly acidic, well-draining
  • 02 of 10

    Autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale)

    Autumn Crocus (Colchicum)

    The Spruce / 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 two to three weeks, and then they die back. The next spring, long leaves will sprout and then disappear as summer heats up. (They are just there to feed the bulb.) The plant remains dormant throughout the summer. And just when you've forgotten all about it, the flowers surprise you again in early fall. They do look like crocus flowers, though they are very distant relatives. The flowers are a bit larger, about 4 inches across, and each plant blooms in a cluster of up to four blossoms.

    Because they are fall bloomers, don't wait too long to plant your bulbs. Late summer is preferable to late autumn. You might even get flowers the first year if you plant early enough. 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 in the center.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Lavender, pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Sandy loam or rocky, well-draining

    Warning

    All parts of the autumn crocus are highly toxic to people and animals. So keep children and pets away from the plants. Signs of toxicity include gastrointestinal problems, seizures, and even death.

  • 03 of 10

    Bluebells (Hyacinthoides spp.)

    English bluebells
    Fiona McAllister Photography / Getty Images

    There are many plants that use the common name bluebells. But the two bulbs that are ideal for fall planting are Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) and English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), which are actually members of the hyacinth family. You might 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. It's 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. Spanish bluebells are tougher plants and can take a bit more sun. They hold their flower stalks upright amid sword-like leaves. Beautiful as they are, they lack the fragrance of English bluebells. Both species will bloom from mid-spring to early summer.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Blue, pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
  • 04 of 10

    Daffodils (Narcissus spp. 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 in the early to mid-spring. And there is probably no easier bulb to grow either. Daffodils are incredibly long-lived and low-maintenance plants. Just make sure their soil stays moist but not soggy, which can cause rot.

    Not all varieties of daffodils are the trademark brilliant yellow flower. You can get ruffled pink blooms, long-necked trumpet daffodils, tiny 3-inch charmers, and more. Mail-order daffodil bulbs can be more expensive than the bulbs often sold at nursery centers, but they will also be larger, which means more and larger blooms. Of course, you could always be patient and wait a few years for the smaller and less expensive bulbs to mature.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Pink, white, yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Dutch Iris (Iris x hollandica)

    Dutch Iris

    The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

    Dutch iris is a delicate plant with orchid-like blooms in a variety of colors that is grown from surprisingly small bulbs. If you've ever purchased a florist bouquet with irises in it, you've probably gotten Dutch iris. These plants need excellent soil drainage, or the bulbs can rot. Don't plant the bulbs too deeply; 3 to 4 inches is a good maximum. Otherwise, these plants are low-maintenance and easy to grow.

    One major complaint with Dutch iris is that the flowers only bloom for about two weeks in the late spring to early summer. So consider planting a large drift to really enjoy them while they're around. They can also be used as cut flowers, though the blooms only last up to five days after cutting.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Blue, maroon, violet, white, yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moderately moist, well-draining
  • 06 of 10

    Fritillaria (Fritillaria spp.)

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

    Blooming in the late spring to early summer, fritillaria flowers look exotic and a little intimidating, but they're just as easy to grow as any other bulb. Just make sure they get regular water. Although fritillaria likes moist, rich soil, it is adaptable to even heavy clay. The subtle snake's head fritillaria (Fritillaria meleagris) can even be planted throughout a lawn, though you can't mow it until its leaves have faded. Also, don't remove the spent blooms, as the plants can self-sow to increase your patch.

    The bulbs should be planted at a depth that's two to three times their diameter. It can be easier to dig a wide hole and randomly space the bulbs at the bottom of it, rather than digging individual holes for each bulb. As with most long-lived bulbs, fritillaria does not like being disturbed, except to divide large clumps. Also, be sure to wear gardening gloves when working with fritillaria bulbs, as they can cause skin irritation on some people.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Maroon, orange, red, yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
  • 07 of 10

    Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

    Grape Hyacinth

    The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

    The tiny grape hyacinth plants with flower clusters that look like bunches of grapes are deceptively hardy. The bulbs are planted in the fall for early to mid-spring blooms. 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.  

    The bulbs don't need to be planted very deeply; a couple of inches deep will do. They are fleshy bulbs that can dry out quickly because they are so small, so 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. The bulbs multiply rapidly, so if you'd like to divide them do so in late summer while they are dormant. Some bulbs have a tendency to poke above the soil when they want to be divided.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Shades of blue and purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, well-draining
  • 08 of 10

    Lilies (Lilium spp.)

    Oriental trumpet 'Redford' lilies with pink flowers closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Lilies have one of the sweetest scents of any plant, and there are many varieties to choose from. Even though they are prized for their elegance, they are just 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. Make sure your soil has good drainage, as lilies will rot in soggy soil. Also, lilies never go into full dormancy, so leave the plants standing after they bloom and continue to keep them watered on a regular basis.

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

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9, depending on the variety
    • Color Varieties: Orange, pink, red, white, yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.)

    Snowdrop flowers (Galanthus)
    itsabreeze photography / Getty Images

    Tiny snowdrop flowers break through frozen ground in the late winter to early spring and bloom in temperatures most people would rather avoid. Even a fresh coating of snow or ice does not dampen their spirits.

    Plant your snowdrop bulbs about 2 to 3 inches deep in groupings. One bulb alone won't make much of an impact in the garden, but a blanket of them looks lovely in the spring. You won't need to divide snowdrop bulbs. However, if you want to move some, immediately after flowering is the best time to dig them up. Don't remove the foliage until it has considerably yellowed and degraded, as this gives the plant a chance to store nutrients for the next year.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White, pale green
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, moderately moist, well-draining
  • 10 of 10

    Wild Hyacinth (Camassia quamash)

    Wild Hyacinth
    Ron Evans / Getty Images

    Wild hyacinth plants like full sun and moist soil. If you can provide that, your plants will continue coming back for many years with minimal maintenance. If your soil tends to be dry, you can try growing them in partial shade and watering regularly to keep the soil moist, but they never seem to thrive the way they do in ideal conditions.

    The bulbs will bloom with their star-shaped flowers in the late spring to early summer. When planting them in the fall, position the pointed end of each bulb upward, and place the bulb about 4 inches deep. Then, water your bulbs well. The foliage will begin to degrade by mid-summer, but don't remove it. The plant is still using the foliage to store nutrients.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue, lavender, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-draining