When to Plant Bulbs & Proper Techniques for Growing Flower Bulbs Organically

Learning when to plant bulbs and how to grow them organically will allow you to fill your garden with color throughout the year while keeping your yard and garden healthy. Fortunately, growing bulbs the right way is relatively easy, as many bulbs are hardy and not fussy about soil type.

And bulb flowers like alliums, bluebells and daffodils will naturalize throughout your garden, leaving you with splendid displays for years to come.

When to Plant Bulbs: Plant Snapshot

When to Plant Bulbs
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Planting Fall Bulbs, Summer Bulbs, Spring Bulbs & Winter Flowering Bulbs & Techniques for Dividing Bulbs

A to Z Flower Planting Guide

Note: This page provides general instructions for planting and growing flower bulbs. For flower-specific growing instructions, see our Flower Planting Guide.

Choosing Healthy Bulbs

When choosing bulbs at a nursery or garden center, healthy bulbs can be identified by their firm feel and no signs of decay.

Flowering bulbs includes four different root types:

  • True Bulbs, such as Fritillaria
  • Corms, including Gladiolus
  • Tubers such as the irregular shaped Dahlias
  • Rhizomes such as Iris

All root types are fairly easy to grow and need similar conditions.

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True Bulbs and Corms are propagated by digging up them and dividing. Dig up clumps every three or four years using a garden fork. Loosen the bulbs by hand teasing out individual bulbs or corms. Dispose of any damaged or unhealthy bulbs or corms and plant out the remaining bulbs in soil that has good drainage.

Tubers and rhizomes are propagated by taking root cuttings from the main plant. Dig up the root and use a sharp, clean knife to cut a 2 inch (5cm) section off. Plant this in a plant pot filled with compost and water. These plants often flower the following year.

When to Plant Bulbs

The timing of your plantings varies by season…

  • Spring bulbs are planted in the fall.
  • Hardy summer flowering bulbs like alliums and crocosmia can also be planted in the fall.
  • Tender summer flowering bulbs such as dahlias should be planted in the spring.
  • Fall and winter flowering bulbs are planted towards the end of the summer. They make the most of warm soil and daylight to get a good start for their late flowers.

It’s useful to create mixed plantings by adding bulbs that will flower during different seasons in the same area. This way, as early flowers such as daffodils fade they are replaced by emerging alliums. These could again give way to late summer bloomers such as Eucomis.

Where to Plant Bulbs

All flowering bulbs prefer a sunny spot, but they will usually flower in partial shade.

It’s also possible to plant some flowering bulbs such as tulips in containers (see our Flower Planting Guide for more information). If you start your bulbs in containers, be sure to use a gritty compost. Place the container in a sunny corner of the garden and give the flowers enough time to grow and flower. Then, if desired, move the container to a shadier spot that needs a burst of color.

All bulbs like good drainage, as too much moisture can lead to rotting. Avoid over watering, especially when you first plant them.

Planting Depth

When planting your bulbs, the depth is extremely important. Most should be planted at a depth that is three times the bulb’s height.

Although some gardeners use trowels, you can buy special bulb planters. These remove a deep plug of soil leaving an open planting hole. The soil is then replaced over the bulb. A long handled planter is especially helpful if you have lots to plant.

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Flower Bulb Care

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Flowering bulbs will only flower once per season. But don’t be tempted to dig up all the foliage after flowering has finished.

Bulbs need to store energy for next year’s growth, and that energy is collected through their leaves after flowering. Remove seed heads early so that all the plants efforts are directed into bulb growing.

Standard watering guidelines for flowers apply to most flowering bulbs. Remember, they will need more regular watering if you plant them in containers, especially when the plants are preparing to flower.

Although perennial, not all bulbs will survive winter conditions. Species such as daffodils and alliums are easy to look after and happy left in the ground.

But note that bulbs left in the ground can become overcrowded. Dig up clumps every three or four years using a garden fork. Loosen the bulbs by hand, teasing out individual bulbs. Dispose of any damaged or unhealthy bulbs and transplant the remaining bulbs in soil with good drainage.

Tender types such as dahlias and some tulips may need lifting when their foliage has begun to die back. Dig up the bulbs and make sure that they are able to dry out before storing.

Dried out flower bulbs should be stored in a cool, dark place. Bulbs deteriorate over time, so try to plant them the following year.

Snapshot: Flower Bulbs Care

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When to Plant Bulbs: Harvesting/Cutting Time

Flowering bulbs will only produce one set of flowers each season, so it’s worth growing separate flowers specifically for cutting. Use sharp shears to cut flowers at the base of the stem.

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When to Plant Bulbs: Pests & Diseases

The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Flower Bulbs (see Organic Garden Pest Control for information about how to prevent and address pests and diseases)...

Pests

  • Bulb fly
  • Bulb mites
  • Snails and slugs
  • Diseases

Diseases

  • Dry rot
  • Viruses
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