Fall Bulb Basics

Table of Contents

Planting fall bulbs is an easy way to bring your winter-weary garden to life well before perennials poke their noses out of the ground and before it is warm enough to plant annuals. Fall bulbs bloom in the spring and early summer; they generally flower from January through June, depending on the type of bulb and where you live.

bulb blooms(via)

Types of Bulbs

Bulbs are a diverse group of plants which have one thing in common: they store food underground in a fleshy structure commonly called a bulb. Without getting too technical, there are four different types of “underground storage structures.” They are true bulbs, rhizomes, corms and tubers.

  • True Bulbs
    True bulbs include daffodils, tulips, hyacinth and lilies. These are the most familiar type of underground storage structures.



pink hyacinth


  • Rhizomes
    Good examples of rhizomes are cannas and iris.

Iris Starwoman

Iris ‘Star Woman’

  • Tubers
    Anemones and dahlias are grown from tubers.



  • Corms
    Good examples of corms are gladiolus, freesia, liatris and cyclamen.



The key to selecting a good location is finding an area that isn’t mowed until after the foliage ripens or turns yellow. Ripening foliage feeds the underground bulb so it can store energy and nutrients needed to bloom next spring. This type of planting is well-suited underneath deciduous trees, in grassy meadows, along paths and borders, in rock gardens or brightening a natural area. Some are best displayed in small clusters and others in large masses. Many can be scattered over an area and allowed to naturalize.

iris crepe myrtle

Fall Planting & Care

Ideally, bulbs should be planted in our area from mid October through January 1st. They can be planted as long as the soil is workable. Most bulbs prefer full sun, but many do well in partial shade. A well-drained, neutral pH soil is also necessary for good growth. Most soils in our area benefit from adding organic matter, such as soil conditioner or compost. Apply 2”-3” of organic matter along with a high phosphorus or bulb fertilizer. Then turn the soil over to incorporate the amendments.

Whenever possible, plant bulbs in odd numbered groups of five or more. If your design includes rows, stagger them to create a dense, full look. Dig holes with a bulb planter or trowel. Not all bulbs are planted at the same depth so be sure to follow the planting depths and spacing listed on the package label. Place the bulbs, pointed end up, in the bottom of the hole. Press firmly and cover with soil. Water the bulbs thoroughly after planting.

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