If you are ready to try your hand at gardening, flower bulbs
are a great place to start! Flower bulbs are quite easy to plant and care for, and come in a variety of different colors, sizes and textures. We have broken down bulb basics below including different types of bulbs, when to plant bulbs, how to plant bulbs, bulb care tips and more.
When to Plant Bulbs: Hardy Bulbs vs. Tender Bulbs
When it comes to flowering bulbs, there are two main distinctions: hardy bulbs and tender bulbs. Flowers that fall under these categories have different planting times and require slightly different forms of care. Learn which of your flower favorites fall into these categories below.
Bulbs to Plant in the Fall (Hardy Bulbs)
Flower favorites that bloom in spring time such as tulips
and more are known as hardy bulbs. These should be planted during the fall season. Since they stay underground year round, hardy bulbs should be protected by mulch in winter. After the blooming season is over, do not cut back the leaves. Let the foliage yellow and die down naturally. The leaves provide nourishment to the bulb to produce next year's blooms.
Bulbs to Plant in the Spring (Tender Bulbs)
Summer-flowering bulbs such as dahlias
and calla lilies
are less hardy in colder climates. Also known as tender bulbs, these flowers should be planted in the springtime and lifted each fall. Lift tender bulbs prior to a killing frost or as soon as the frost has blackened the foliage. Dig up the bulbs gently, being careful not to cut or damage them. Store them in a well-ventilated, frost-free area until the foliage has dried. Remove the foliage and place bulbs in an unsealed paper bag, old nylon stocking or a shallow, plastic-lined box with a blanket of peat moss or vermiculite. Tender bulbs require winter storage temperatures between 35-45°F. An ideal storage location would be an unheated garage or cellar-like basement. Most modern basements aren't cool enough for winter bulb storage.
Tender Bulbs (Tubers)
How to Plant Bulbs: Step-by-Step Instructions
Now that you know the right time for planting, it's time to start the planting process. There are two basic methods for planting bulbs. You can opt to use a garden trowel or bulb planter, or you can simply dig individual holes for each bulb. Whichever you choose, you can follow this basic planting process:
- Loosen the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches and add some bulb fertilizer. Most bulbs have a visible growing point, which should face upward.
- Determining where you want to plant your bulbs, making sure there is ample space for them to grow. As a general rule, bulbs should be planted at a depth 2-3 times the height of the bulb.
- Place your bulb in position in the hole and cover it with loose soil.
- Cover each bulb, backfilling the hole so it is even with the soil. Lightly compress the soil, but don't pack it down.
- Water your bulbs well! Watering is important for stimulating root growth, and it will help to remove any air bubbles around the bulb.
How to Lift and Store Bulbs
If you experience cold winters, your bulbs may need to be lifted and stored over winter, to avoid frost damage. On the contrary, if you experience warmer winters, some fall bulbs may need to be lifted and chilled before springtime returns. Luckily, lifting and storing bulbs is easy, just follow these tips below.
- Use a spade to lift bulbs carefully out of the ground, and dust off any excess soil. Remove any dying leaves to prevent any unwanted diseases or pests. Allow them to rest in a cool, dry location for several days. When the bulbs are cured, they will be dry to the touch.
- Once the flower bulbs are dry, find a suitable storage container and pack it with a dry material like peat moss or packing peanuts. Separate your bulbs by using layers of brown paper or paper bags and store your bulbs with the pointed end of the bulb facing up and the roots facing down. Leave adequate space between the bulbs.
- Once the threat of frost has subsided, your bulbs will be ready to go back into the ground. Fall-planted bulbs will need to be chilled in order to begin growing, so place them in a refrigerator - away from any fruit or vegetables, and not at freezing temperatures - for about six to eight weeks before planting them again.
Care Tips for Flower Bulbs
Bulbs are very low-maintenance, so post-planting care is very simple. Here are a few tips for making sure your flowers from bulbs come back vibrantly each year.
Caring for Spring-Planted Bulbs
Tender bulbs will start growing almost right away, so it is important to nourish and encourage their growth! Start by watering the bulbs weekly after planting them. Incorporate a water-soluble fertilizer once they begin to sprout, and then again when they begin to bloom.
After your bulbs have flowered, they can be dead-headed, which involves removing any wilted or dead blooms. Cut the flower off, but don't remove the foliage-bulbs use their leaves to collect energy and store it for the following season.
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Caring for Fall-Planted Bulbs
After planting your hardy bulbs in the fall, you can leave them alone until spring. You will not begin watering until the bulbs sprout. Once they do, apply a water-soluble fertilizer, and water your bulbs each week. Water more frequently in areas that receive little rainfall.
After flowering, you can dead-head the spent flowers from your bulbs; but leave the foliage alone so that your bulbs can gather energy to store over winter. Once the foliage begins to die back, you can cut it to ground level.
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