Planting Fall Bulbs

You can start next year’s garden now by planting fall bulbs!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m a lazy gardener. Or at least I prefer to be as lazy as I can. I once met a permaculture expert who said he only plants things that will work with the STUN method. Sheer. Total. Utter. Neglect.

With a farm, family, home, vegetable garden, and small business to run, any decorative plantings must be able to survive with STUN.

That’s why bulbs are a great option for me, and for you, if time is a limited resource but you still want some beauty at your home or farm.

What are Bulbs?

Bulbs are kind of hard to define, but you know it when you see it. It’s not a seed, rather it’s a big, bulbous thing that stores a plant’s energy. There are a few different categories of bulbs. There are true bulbs, tubers, rhizomes, and corms.

Types of Bulbs

An example of true bulbs are tulips. They are one solid structure.

Tubers are kind of leathery lengths of plant material with eyes on the sides that are your growing buds. A dahlia is an example of a tuber.

Rhizomes are technically an underground stem that grow along the top of a soil surface or just underneath. An Iris is a rhizome.

Corms are technically a plant’s stem that is super compressed with a little bud just on the top. Crocuses are a type of corm.

fall bulbs rough and tumble farmhouse

Hardy Bulbs and Tender Bulbs

If you don’t want to remember all that, just remember that there are tender bulbs and hardy bulbs.

Hardy bulbs are the kind you plant in the fall. They require a cold snap for them to blossom. They survive just fine underground and they will typically bloom in the spring and early summer.

Tender bulbs are planted in the spring, they bloom during the summer, then you have to dig them up in the fall. They can’t survive freezing temperatures so you have to store them in a cool, dry place until you plant them again each spring.

Obviously I have zero plans to ever plant tender bulbs. Fall bulbs it is!

Where to Buy Bulbs

Thankfully just about every store these days will have bulbs available at the time you want to plant them. Wal-Mart, fleet supply stores, heck sometimes even grocery stores get in bulbs each spring and fall when it is about time to plant.

Local greenhouses will of course carry seasonally appropriate bulbs as well.

You can also order bulbs online or through catalogs. Our local Master Gardener program hosts a Horticulture Day each spring and there are always bulb vendors. Local gardening events are a great way to talk with garden enthusiasts who will give you great information and help you pick the right plants for you.

When to Plant Bulbs

If you have tender bulbs, plant those in the spring, then dig them up before it freezes. Things like Dahlias, Gladiolas, and Begonias are all tender.

Hardy bulbs are planted in the fall, typically late September to early October depending on where you live.

When you buy bulbs, check the packaging. It should have a zone map on it that will tell you when to plant as well as other planting instructions.

fall leaf rough and tumble farmhouse
This leaf is speaking to me. It says “plant your bulbs!”

Where to Plant Bulbs?

Some bulbs will need full sun, others will do fine with partial shade. For all your bulbs, pick a place that is fairly sheltered from harsh weather.

Make sure the soil has good drainage, and try to avoid lower areas that are more likely to get frosts.

Planting bulbs near your house can look really beautiful. Another added bonus of planting near the house is that it is typically a zone warmer than areas away from the house. This can help plants to bloom early. If late frost is a risk for you, keep that in mind so you can protect your blooms or maybe plant elsewhere.

Since hardy bulbs bloom in the early spring, you can plant them mixed among later blooming annuals or even in shadier areas by trees. These early blooms will be all wrapped up by the time the tree canopy fills in.

Lilies are a popular type of bulb.

Tools for Planting Fall Bulbs

You don’t need much for a successful bulb planting. Here are the things I used to plant mine.

  • Shovel or trowel
  • Compost, peat moss (not sustainable so only use it if you already have it in the garden shed) or leaf mulch
  • Chicken wire
  • Garden Staples
  • Hose or watering can

Planting Fall Bulbs

Prepping the Site

Bulbs like well drained, healthy soils. It’s a good idea to mix in compost or leaf mulch into your planting area.

Clear your planting site of any other plants. Dig up the location with a shovel or tiller. The general rule of thumb is to plant the bulbs down 2-3 times its diameter. Keep that in mind for tilling.

Planting the Bulbs

Plant the bulbs with the pointy end pointing up. You can do them in a row, or in a closer planting. I’ve ready some places where they say to toss the bulbs on the ground and plant them where they land. The less you try to structure your bulb planting, the more attractive it will be.

Once the bulbs in are in place, cover them with half of your removed soil.

Now give them a good soak.

Add the rest of the soil to the top.

This next step is optional but one I’m definitely doing. Get some chicken wire or other mesh wire, and cover your entire planting area. Secure the mesh in place with garden staples.

Squirrels LOVE bulbs, and they will quickly dig up and eat your hard work. Chicken wire will prevent them from spoiling your spring blooms.

Finally, water the soil a final time.

Now cover it with mulch. Straw, leaves, wood, etc.

It’s also a good idea to label your plantings so come spring you don’t mow them down on accident and you remember what on earth you planted half a year ago.

Now get out there and start planting fall bulbs!

Interested in adding some perennials to your landscape too? Check out my guide to planting perennials.

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University of Minnesota Extension

Organic Gardening Encyclopedia

Gardening Illustrated

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