If you’d like to add some colour to your garden for relatively little effort and cost, planting bulbs is a great idea.
I love growing flowers from bulbs. You can create a really colourful display at times of the year when the rest of the garden is still playing catch up, and there’s such a wide variety to choose from. Bulbs are also relatively cheap when compared to buying plants, so they’re a great way to create real wow factor in your garden without spending a fortune.
How to plant bulbs
If you’re keen to add some flower bulbs to your garden, here’s a step-by-step guide to planting bulbs. I’ve included tips on when to plant bulbs, how to choose the best bulbs to plant, instructions on how to plant bulbs for the best results, plus some ideas for how to plant bulbs in pots and containers.
When should I start planting bulbs?
It’s important to plant bulbs at the right time of year, and this varies according to the variety you choose. If you’re wondering “How late is too late to plant bulbs?”, here are a few popular choices of bulbs for planting at different times of the year.
When to plant bulbs
This quick guide shows you what bulbs to plant now, and which bulbs to plant in other seasons.
Flower bulbs for planting in spring: tender summer flowering bulbs that bloom in the warmest months need to be bulbs planted in spring. Gladioli and dahlias are both common varieties of bulbs for spring planting.
Flower bulbs to plant in summer: bulbs that flower in autumn, such as nerine lilies and autumn flowering crocus, should be planted in summer.
Flower bulbs to plant in fall or autumn: spring flowering bulbs, such as daffodils, iris, hyacinths, tulips, fritillarias and crocus, are all fall planted bulbs. Spring bulb planting is the most well-known option for planting bulbs in fall, but this is also the right time to plant hardy bulbs that flower in summer such as crocosmia, alliums and lilies.
How to choose the best flower bulbs
There’s so much choice when it comes to flower bulbs. Garden centres stock a wide range, and you’ll also find them on sale *online and in supermarkets and DIY stores.
Once you’ve picked your variety, have a good look at the actual bulbs in the packet. You’re looking for bulbs that are firm and robust; avoid anything that is soft or mouldy. I always liken it to choosing a good head of garlic!
How long do bulbs last unplanted?
So you bought a packet of bulbs and forgot all about them, and now you want to know “Can I plant year old bulbs?” Lots of us have been there!
If you have stored your bulbs correctly, they can usually last about 12 months before planting. They need to be kept somewhere cool (not freezing), dry and dark.
If at all possible, try to plant your bulbs as soon as you can after buying them. Yes, they will last if you look after them, but it’s just a lot less hassle to get them in the ground.
Bulb planting: how to get it right
Planting a bulb isn’t difficult, but there are a few things you need to get right to give your flower bulbs the best chance of thriving and producing a lovely display.
How do you properly plant bulbs?
If you’re not sure what you’re doing, check out these step-by-step instructions on bulb planting before you start.
The best tools for planting bulbs
To plant bulbs, you will need the following tools:
- A *hand trowel or *bulb planting tool (more about that second option later)
- *Plant markers
- *Gardening gloves
You might also need a rake if your soil is uneven.
Should you soak bulbs before planting?
You might have read that it’s a good idea to soak bulbs before planting them outdoors, in order to hydrate any roots that have already formed at the base.
However, as a general rule you don’t need to soak flower bulbs before you plant them. This is particularly true for bulbs planted in autumn when the soil is likely to be damp. Whatever time of year you’re planting bulbs, you’re going to water them once they’re in the ground anyway.
How do I prepare soil for bulbs?
When you’re ready to start planting bulbs, the first thing you need to do is prepare your soil.
Use your hand trowel or a fork to get rid of any weeds, and loosen up the surface of the ground.
Ideally you should also add some *compost before planting your bulbs, to give them plenty of nutrients as they form their flowers.
Which way do you plant flower bulbs?
Ideally bulbs need to be planted with the growing tip pointing upwards, but it’s not always easy to work this out! If in doubt, plant the bulb on its side and the stem will still grow upwards.
What happens if you plant bulbs upside down?
Bulbs can do a pretty good job of growing towards the surface of the soil regardless of the way they are planted. Planting upside down does however put stress on the bulb, and this makes it harder for it to grow. You might find that bulbs planted the wrong way up don’t thrive as well as bulbs that are planted the right way up.
How deep to plant bulbs
Planting depth varies according to the type of bulb, so check the packet instructions before you start.
What happens if bulbs are planted too shallow?
If your flower bulbs aren’t planted deep enough you can run into a few problems. First of all, the bulbs are exposed to warmer temperatures, and this can cause damage. Also new growth is exposed too soon, and runs the risk of cold damage. Shallow planted bulbs are also easier for animals to dig up.
Generally speaking, the planting hole should be about two to three times as deep as the bulb itself.
Once your hole is ready, all you need to do is pop your bulb in, and cover it back up with soil.
A bulb planting tool takes the strain out of the job!
If you’re planting lots of bulbs, it can get pretty laborious digging hole after hole. This is where a *bulb planting tool can be a lifesaver.
These clever little gadgets remove a clump of soil as you push them into the ground. Once you’ve done this, you just pop your bulb in the hole, and squeeze the handle to release the soil back on top. They’re not very expensive and save so much time.
Do you fertilise bulbs when planting?
A bulb contains a store of food that will feed the plant as it grows. This means you don’t have to add fertiliser when you plant bulbs. However, giving bulbs a helping hand when you plant them won’t do any harm, and could result in more impressive blooms.
You can add organic matter such as compost to your soil, use a *liquid fertiliser, or apply a *granular plant food. Another option is to use a *bulb starter which contains mycorrhizal fungi to get bulbs off to a good start.
How far apart should bulbs be planted?
You can plant smaller bulbs quite close together. A good distance to aim for is 1-2 inches apart. Larger bulbs need a bit more room; 3-5 inches works well. You should always make sure your bulbs are not touching each other in the ground.
Can you plant multiple bulbs in one hole?
If you dig a really big hole, you can plant multiple bulbs in it and still leave enough space around them. Be sure to avoid them touching each other though.
How do you plant bulbs in a group?
How many bulbs can you plant together? As many as you have room for!
I think bulbs look really nice when they’re planted in clusters, but try not to get too regimented with your spacing. One way to make them look natural is to literally throw a handful onto the soil, and plant them where they fall.
Add a plant marker when planting bulbs!
Given that they won’t be poking through the soil for a while, it’s really easy to forget where you planted your bulbs. Popping a plant marker in the soil to remind you where your planted bulbs are will stop you accidentally dig them up later.
Should bulbs be watered after planting?
Bulbs should be watered after you’ve planted them. Give them a good soaking so that the soil becomes properly damp. Remember that you’ve planted those bulbs pretty deep, and the water needs to reach them.
How often should I water newly planted bulbs?
After your initial watering, your bulbs probably won’t need to be watered again until they start to show signs of growth. If necessary, bulbs planted in autumn can be watered again before the ground freezes.
Once your bulbs start to grow, water them regularly as you would any other garden plant.
Should I mulch around bulbs?
Adding mulch to the surface of your soil is a great way to keep the ground moist, limit weeds and deter animals from digging up your precious plants. This is just as relevant to newly planted bulbs as it is to other plants.
If you’re asking “Will bulbs come up through mulch?”, the answer is yes. Bulbs are used to pushing their way through inches of soil, so mulch isn’t going to stop them.
Should I mulch before or after planting bulbs?
You should add mulch to the surface of the soil after planting bulbs. You can also add mulch around your bulbs when they begin to die back, this will help to feed them.
Can you plant other flowers on top of bulbs?
If you choose the right plants, you can create extra impact by planting other flowers on top of your bulbs. To prevent too much competition, avoid plants that form lots of aggressive roots. Bedding plants are an easy option here. You can layer bulbs with flowering plants in pots too; see below for more details on this option.
If you’re planning on planting over the top of your bulbs, make a note of where and how deep they are planted. You don’t want to slice into one with a trowel!
How long does it take for bulbs to come up?
The amount of time between planting and sprouting will depend on the variety of bulb you have planted, and the weather. Always refer to the bulb packet for a guide to timings.
It helps to make a note of the date you planted your bulbs so you can refer back to it.
What do you do with bulbs after they have flowered?
When your bulbs have finished flowering, don’t be tempted to remove the foliage. This is performing an important job, providing the energy needed to produce new flowers.
Leave the foliage intact until it has died back and turned yellow. At this point you can remove it; you know it’s ready when it comes away from the bulb easily.
Do bulbs come back every year?
In theory, yes. If your bulbs are planted well and growing in soil that has plenty of nutrients, they should flower for you every year – assuming they are not dug up and eaten by local wildlife!
You do need to take care of some bulbs to make sure they continue to thrive, which brings us onto…
Can you leave bulbs in the ground all year?
If your flower bulbs are hardy (which means they can tolerate frost and cold conditions – these are usually bulbs for spring flowers), you can leave them in the ground. Some varieties such as daffodils will actually benefit from being left in the ground where they will multiply. Tulips, on the other hand, should ideally be dug up every year after flowering, stored somewhere cool and dry, then replanted in autumn.
It’s a good idea to dig up your other hardy bulbs after three or four years. This allows you to divide any clumps that have got too big, and get rid of any bulbs that don’t look strong, before replanting what’s left.
Tender bulbs (usually spring planted bulbs that flower in summer) can’t cope with cold temperatures, so you need to dig these up every year and protect them until the weather warms up again.
If you’re wondering “Can I leave bulbs in pots?”, all of the above applies to bulbs grown in pots too.
Planting bulbs in pots
You don’t have to plant bulbs in the ground; they’re brilliant for creating a container display too. I really like making a bulb lasagne, this is a clever way of planting bulbs in pots in layers to create a display of flowers that lasts for months. It’s also a lovely gardening project for kids; I’ve included it in my book *A Year of Nature Craft and Play, which has lots of fun garden and nature-based activities for kids to try.
How to grow bulbs in a lawn
Growing bulbs in your lawn is easy too; crocus are great for this. You need to remove a piece of turf, plant the bulb, then put the turf back on top. A bulb planter is definitely a good option for larger bulbs here, but a hand trowel is great for most sizes of bulb. This video shows you how to plant a bulb in grass:
Forcing bulbs for indoor blooms
You can also ‘force’ flowering spring bulbs to flower earlier than they would normally. This is a lovely way of planting bulbs indoors, and it’s really easy to do. Check out my post on forcing bulbs for full instructions.
I hope this quick guide on how to plant bulbs has inspired you to get out there and do some planting. Will you be planting bulbs this season?
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