Fall Bulb Planting Guide (8 Bulbs for Beautiful Spring Blooms)

Planting might be the last thing on your mind in autumn, but it’s really the best time to plant some of our favorite spring-blooming flowers like daffodils and tulips, as well as some less common plants like hyacinths and fritillaria.

So when you feel fall’s chilly air and shorter days, don’t despair—it’s the end of one growing season, but it’s the beginning of another.

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In this blog post, we’ll define fall bulbs and describe how to plant them in detail.

The TL; DR: Alliums, daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, fritillaria, crocus, and iris are the most common fall-panted bulbs that bloom in spring. Plant fall bulbs six to eight weeks before your area’s first frost in fertile, well-draining soil. Dig individual holes three times the height of the bulbs, or tuck the bulbs tightly together in a trench eight inches deep for a swathe of color. Mark the beds with a plant tag and in four or five months your garden will begin to show signs of early spring color!

Favorite fall bulbs (and why they’re worth planting)

Whichever flowers you decide to plant, check to make sure any bulbs you buy are firm. Don’t buy or plant any bulbs that are soft or moldy. You don’t have to plant bulbs immediately—most bulbs keep for a year if stored in a cool, dark place. But since it’s not always possible to know how long bulbs have been on the shelf, it’s best to plant them within a month of purchase.

1. Alliums

Ever heard of ornamental onions? That’s exactly what alliums are—onions grown for their spherical blooms and not their bulbous root. Allium’s lovely globe-shaped flowers are really just a cluster of purple-hued tiny florets, though some varieties of allium may be blue, yellow, pink, or white.

Ornamental alliums are perennial species that thrive in hardiness zones 4-9. Most varieties reach between six inches and a foot tall when mature. Extra-tall allium varieties benefit from being planted against a support like a wall or fence. Since alliums have an oniony aroma and flavor, they can actually work as a deer deterrent if planted on the border of your garden.

Gladiator from Eden Brothers is sure to impress your neighbors!

2. Daffodils

Forget the picture of banana-yellow trumpet blooms from your mind, because daffodils come in so many other colors and forms. One of the earliest spring flowers, some varieties of daffodils begin flowering in late January, though most types bloom in March and April. These sunny blooms come in all shades of yellow and cream and are sometimes even bi-colored.

Miniature daffodils may only reach six inches or less in height; some of the biggest cultivars may grow taller than two feet. To harvest daffodils, grab the stem as close to the ground as you can and pull up. The stem will break and begin to leak a sap. Place daffodils in a bucket of water to allow the stems to fully drain before working daffodils into an arrangement.

Try Sunny Girlfriend from DutchGrown for a unique take on the traditional yellow daffodil.

3. Tulips

Again, try to forget any preexisting notion of what tulips look like; there are literally thousands of varieties of tulips! Cup-shaped flowers are the most common, but tulips can take other forms and come in an absolute rainbow of colors.

Technically short-lived perennials, most growers plant new tulips each year for the most vibrant blooms. Each bulb produces one gorgeous flower—to harvest the blooms for cut flowers, pull the plant up by the bulb and transfer it to a cooler. When you’re ready to use the blooms in an arrangement, cut the stem away from the bulb.

Picking a favorite tulip is near impossible, but Holland Bulb Farm’s Apricot Parrot would certainly be a contender.

4. Hyacinths

One of the most fragrant fall bulbs, hyacinths are an excellent addition to your spring garden. The delicate-looking florets open atop miniature stems that are less than a foot tall.

I’m obsessed with this Pastel Hyacinth Mix from Eden Brothers!

5. Grape hyacinths

Even more minuscule than true hyacinth, grape hyacinth hovers around six inches tall. Pollinators love the nectar-rich, tubular blooms, and you’ll appreciate their sweet fragrance.

This two-toned Grape Hyacinth Latifolium from Eden Brothers is truly stunning.

6. Fritillaria

Spruce up the shadier corners of your garden with fritillaria, one of the only fall bulbs that thrive in partial sun. The tiny, downward-facing bell-shaped blooms could be fairy hats or something just as fantastical. Most varieties grow less than a foot tall.

Fritillaria Uva-Vulpis from Breck’s is hands-down my favorite cultivar!

7. Crocus

An excellent critter-resistant addition to the spring garden, crocus are easy to grow and a favorite food source for early-season pollinators. Crocus are small at only two to four inches tall, but these delicate corms are incredibly hardy, with some varieties blooming among snow! Plus, crocus have a tendency to spread, so their beauty only multiplies with each season.

I’ve never seen anything like this Pickwick Giant Dutch Crocus from Breck’s.

8. Iris

There’s hardly a more elegant flower than the iris. Though there are several types of iris, bearded iris and Siberian iris are among the most popular. Both types come in a rainbow of color of the rainbow and vary in height, with the tallest varieties reaching three feet or more. Siberian iris is a little easier to grow since it requires less maintenance than its bearded cousin. Colorful and regal, Siberian iris blooms from summer until fall, providing constant color and a consistent food source for pollinators. Reblooming bearded iris bloom once in summer and again in fall.

I could never pick a favorite iris variety, which is why I love this Bearded Iris Pastel Mix from Eden Brothers.

When to plant fall bulbs

The ideal time to plant fall bulbs is in mid-autumn when nighttime temps hover between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly 6-8 weeks before the first frost. This can range anywhere between mid-September to late October, depending on where you live and garden. If you’re not sure when your average last frost date is, you can find out here.

The few weeks before the first frost is a vital time for fall bulbs where the plants undergo necessary development that will lead to an eruption of color in early spring.

Planting bulbs before the ground freezes gives the bulbs a chance to develop healthy root systems before they undergo a period of dormancy. Fall bulbs that are planted at the right time will bloom earlier and more brilliantly than bulbs that were planted too late.

If you miss the planting window by a couple of weeks, you can still plant. Tulips are among the hardiest fall bulbs and can be planted nearly right up until frost. So long as the soil is workable, you can plant fall bulbs successfully.

Where to plant fall bulbs

All fall bulbs have similar growing needs, so different species can be planned together for varied color and form.

Fall bulbs need fertile soil to produce their brilliant blooms, so test your soil and amend it with a balanced fertilizer and organic compost in preparation for planting. Choose a planting location that receives full sun, although some afternoon shade will be tolerable for most fall bulbs, especially in warmer climates.

How to plant fall bulbs

There are three main ways to plant fall bulbs, and which you choose really comes down to personal preference.

Trench method

For a striking swathe of color that will attract pollinators like a beacon in the night, try the trench method of planting.

  1. First, dig a trench that is eight inches deep and as wide as the garden bed. If you want, you can take creative liberty in this step and dig out a rounded bed or any design you want!
  2. Next, place bulbs (growing/pointy tip up) in the trench, tucking them close together like eggs in a carton. If you want to label your plantings, now is the time—you won’t be able to tell the bulbs apart until they bloom.
  3. Finally, shovel the dirt back on top of the bulbs and rake into a rounded bed.

Contrary to other planting advice, don’t irrigate fall bulbs after planting them, as too much water may cause the bulbs to rot. It’s best to wait for the next rainy day in the forecast and let nature do the rest.

Individual bulbs

If you only have a few bulbs and want more subtle color, planting individually or in small groups may be the way to go. The process is simple and similar to planting anything else.

  1. First, choose various planting locations and dig individual holes to the appropriate depth.
  2. Next, place bulbs in the holes growing tip up.
  3. Finally, backfill the holes with dirt.


Fall bulbs are versatile plants that do just as well in containers as in the ground! As long as the container is large enough, you can plant fall bulbs in containers successfully.

Plant bulbs in containers as if you were planting them individually in the ground, or plant several different bulbs together for a gorgeous, living flower arrangement!

Bear in mind that pots dry out more quickly than the ground, and the soil tends to be a little colder. Mulch your container-grown bulbs for a little extra insulation and water them more frequently to keep the bulbs alive through the winter.

That’s all there is to it! Planting fall bulbs isn’t difficult—the hardest part is the timing, and even that is pretty straightforward. Don’t forget to mark where you plant your fall bulbs since it will take months for the growing plants to show themselves.

Tools needed for planting fall bulbs

If you’re planting bulbs individually, and hand trowel will do the job just fine. To plant bulbs in mass, you’ll need a standard-size shovel to dig a trench.

Shovel or hand trowel

Fall bulbs are different from other bulbs in that they need to be buried deep—about three times as deep as the bulbs themselves. Since most fall bulbs are a couple of inches in height, you’re looking at at least an eight-inch hole, minimum.

Bulb auger

All you need to plant fall bulbs is a sturdy shovel, but you can make the job easier on yourself by using a bulb auger.

A bulb auger is simply a digging tool that fits on the end of a power tool—almost like a spiral drill bit for the ground. Bulb augers come in different sizes, but you only need a seven-inch bit to dig an appropriately sized hole.

Pre-chilling bulbs in warm climates

In areas that experience all four seasons (USDA Hardiness Zones 1-7), fall bulbs are naturally chilled when they undergo the winter season. Chilling temperatures for a prolonged period of time is essential to the growth and development of fall bulbs.

In Zones 8 and above, the gardener will need to step in and manually chill bulbs to encourage proper flowering.

Pre-chilling bulbs is easy—simply transfer your fall bulbs to a refrigerator, right in the mesh bag they come in, and leave them undisturbed for at least 12 weeks. This process simulates natural winter, which is necessary for the plants to flower in spring.

For the best results, you can get more specific with different bulbs’ pre-chilling requirements:

  • Hyacinth: 11- 14 weeks
  • Grape hyacinth: 12 – 15 weeks
  • Tulips: 12 – 15 weeks
  • Crocus: 12 -15 weeks
  • Daffodils: 15 weeks
  • Iris: 15 weeks

Plan to plant pre-chilled bulbs at the coldest time of the year in your climate.

Where to buy fall bulbs

Your local plant nursery or garden supply store (and even Lowe’s or Walmart) is bound to have a selection of fall bulbs for sale, so you can check there first. Alternatively, you can check out these online bulb suppliers:

American Meadows



Eden Brothers

Holland Bulb Farms

Now’s the time to order fall bulbs and tuck those babies into the ground! When you’re shopping for fall bulbs look for firm bulbs without damage or signs of mold, and don’t wait to get them into the ground. Remember to mark where you plant them, and come spring you can enjoy fragrant, vibrant blooms while you sow seeds for your summer garden.

To find books, courses, seeds, gardening supplies, and more, check out The Shop at Greenupside!

Join 1000+ gardeners to get access to news, tips, and information.

Delivered right to your inbox – once per week.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!


To find books, courses, seeds, gardening supplies, and more, check out The Shop at Greenupside!

Join 1000+ gardeners to get access to news, tips, and information.

Delivered right to your inbox – once per week.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!


About the author:
When not writing content or growing flowers in her native Virginia, you can find Sarah hiking a long-distance trail deep in the woods. Follow along with Sarah’s adventures at http://sarahcolliecreative.com.

Sarah C.

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