When and How to Plant Spring Bulbs

Plus Top Varieties of Spring-Blooming Bulbs

Grape hyacinth plant with clusters of tiny blue flowers on bulbed stems

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Spring bulbs aren't just ordinary plants. Their flowers, which bloom in various colors, are vibrant enough to breathe life into the drabbest flower border. Beauty's one thing; timeliness is another. Many spring-flowering bulbs reappear in early spring, just when we need a pop of color the most. If you want to enjoy them pop through the soil once spring comes around, remember to plant them at the right time (and in the right way) in the fall, according to your growing zone.

When to Plant Spring Bulbs:

  • Zones 2 to 3: September
  • Zones 4 to 5: October
  • Zones 6 to 7: November
  • Zone 8: December

How Deep to Plant Your Bulbs

To determine planting depth, go by bulb height. Dig a hole three times deeper than the height of the bulb. So for a bulb 1 inch tall, go 3 inches deep. 

It also matters which way you place the bulb into its hole. Inspect the bulb for either a point or tiny roots. If you find a point, that's the top. If you find roots, that's the bottom. Place the bulb in the ground such that the top points skyward. If you can't make out a top but do find roots, place the end with those roots at the hole's bottom. When planting, sprinkle bulb fertilizer in the hole and water (but don't flood the area, which causes bulb rot).

Spring's the time when spring bulbs need the most moisture. If you aren't getting much rainfall, it's up to you to supply water from the time you first spot flower buds until two weeks after flowering. Ensure that the water is penetrating down to bulb-level underground. Most types of spring bulbs grow best in well-drained soil in full sun.

After flowering finishes, deadhead them (remove the dead flowers), but leave the foliage alone as long as it remains green. Your plants are gaining nutrients through photosynthesis during this time. You'll deprive them of nutrition if you rob them of their leaves.

Usually, the leaves don't look very good after blooming, but this is a case where practicality trumps aesthetics. Disguise the unsightly leaves with the fresher foliage of perennials by interplanting the latter among your spring bulbs. The perennials will start to leaf out fully just as the bulbs' leaves are beginning to look ratty.

When bulbs peter out, divide them after the leaves turn brown. Fertilize with compost and bonemeal every fall.

Now that you know when to plant spring bulbs and how to care for them, learn about the best choices available, by color:

  • 01 of 08

    Light Purple: Schubert's and Ambassador Alliums

    Ambassador Allium bulb plant with a big flower.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    There are various alliums, which come in many heights and with flower heads of different sizes. Allium 'Ambassador' (zones 5 to 8; all of the spring bulbs listed here are hardy to at least zone 5) stands out in two ways:

    • Its flower head is big (7 inches), perfectly round, and densely packed with tiny, purple flowers. That of Allium schubertii is bigger, but Ambassador's is denser.
    • It's one of the tallest alliums (46 inches). 

    Even after flowering, an attractive, dried seed-head remains behind, offering interest in summer. Poisonous plants for pets, they are, happily, also deer-resistant bulbs.

  • 02 of 08

    Deep Purple: Hyacinths, Reticulated Iris

    Reticulated irises in bloom.

    NERYX / Getty Images

    Hyacinthus orientalis (6 to 12 inches tall) also comes in red, white, blue, pink, lavender, yellow, peach, and salmon, but the deep-purple type may be the most striking. If you want to go even deeper, 'Midnight Mystic' produces black flowers. Hyacinths produce clusters of waxy, fragrant, star-fish-shaped flowers.

    People may not think immediately of reticulated irises (Iris reticulata) when mention is made of irises, since the flower is smaller than most. But they make up for this by being early bloomers. The delicacy of the flowers is also valued, but they aren't fragrant. These plants are shorter than most irises (9 inches).

  • 03 of 08

    Yellow: Daffodils, Crocus

    Crocus blooming when there's still snow.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    With its aromatic yellow trumpets, the classic daffodil (Narcissus) is one of the most popular spring bulbs; 'King Alfred' is an example (a medium-sized spring bulb at 1 to 2 feet tall). But daffodils come in various sizes, shapes, and colors, including miniatures and those with cups rather than trumpets. A selling point for daffodils is that squirrels tend not to eat them (squirrels may, however, dislodge your bulbs) because they are poisonous plants.

    Although they are classified as corms, crocuses such as Crocus vernus are grouped with spring bulbs for practical purposes. Crocus vernus is one of the earliest spring-bloomers. But Crocus sativus and the similar Colchicum autumnale bloom in fall. Besides yellow, common colors are purple, white, and lavender.

  • 04 of 08

    Pure White: Spring Snowflakes, Snowdrops

    Snowdrops with closed flowers.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are short spring bulbs (3 to 6 inches) known for blooming early (thus the "snow" in the name). The tiny flowers won't make much of a statement on solitary plants, so mass them together to create an impact (good advice for all spring-bulb plantings, but especially for the smaller types). The plants multiply on their own over time.

    For bigger plants, grow giant snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii)which reach 1 foot tall. So do the similar spring snowflakes (Leucojum vernum).

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Blue: Squill, Grape Hyacinths, Spanish Bluebell

    Grape hyacinth plant in flower.

    Damjan Pozeg / Getty Images

    Squill (Scilla siberica) bears nodding, blue, star-like flowers on 8-inch plants. It naturalizes well, making it suitable for woodland gardens. Being toxic, it's also deer-resistant.

    Don't confuse grape hyacinth (Muscari botryoides) with Hyacinthus orientalis. Both smell great, but grape hyacinth bears tiny flowers in clusters reminiscent of grape clusters. Height is 6 to 10 inches.

    Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are lavender-blue rather than true blue. They also come in white and pink. Height is up to 16 inches.

  • 06 of 08

    Orange: Tulips and Crown Imperial

    Fritillaria with big orange flowers.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Depending on the variety, tulips (Tulipa) stand 10 to 30 inches tall. Flowers come in orange, yellow, red, pink, white, and purple; some are bi-colored. For continuous sequence of bloom, you could grow, for example:

    • Fosteriana (early-flowering)
    • 'Triumph' (mid-season bloomer)
    • Lily-Flowered (late-flowering)

    At 3 to 4 feet tall, crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis) is the tallest spring bulb. But it's also the most short-lived. Besides orange, it flowers in yellow or a reddish color.

  • 07 of 08

    Pink: Glory-of-the-Snow

    Chionodoxa plant in bloom.

    schnuddel / Getty Images

    Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa) gives you another pink option, although it also blooms in blue or white. This early-bloomer and Scilla look-alike stands 4 to 5 inches tall. If you have an open spot in your rock garden that could use some spring color, plug it with a planting of these glorious spring bulbs.

  • 08 of 08


    Puschkinia in bloom.

    Iurii Garmash / Getty Images

    Striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides varlibanotica) is another of the deer-resistant spring-flowering bulbs. Other common names for it include "snowdrift" and "early stardrift." You can naturalize it in a woodland garden or anywhere that you'd like to form an early-spring flower border, as it blooms very early in spring.

    The plant stands 4 to 6 inches tall. Grow it in full sun to partial shade. It is cold-hardy all the way up to zone 3. The flower is mainly a light color (almost white), but a blue stripe runs up the center of each petal.

Spring bulbs are so called because they bloom in spring, but you must first plant them in fall. The colder your climate, the earlier in fall you should plant them. Make sure you know which end is up when planting, and follow a few basic care tips to ensure your enjoyment of these beauties year after year. They come in enough different colors to satisfy any color palette.