Planting spring flowering bulbs in the fall is an investment in the garden, one that will payoff handsomely next spring if done correctly.
Timing is very important when planting bulbs. According to the USDA plant hardiness zone map if you live in zones 2 and 3, plant most spring blooming bulbs in September. If you are in zones 4 and 5, October is when you need to plant. For zones 6 and 7 you should plant in November and zone 8 can be planted as late as December. In zone 9, bulbs need to be pre-cooled in the fridge for 12 to 20 weeks and then planted in the spring. Timing varies according to the weather so a good rule of thumb is to wait until the ground temperature is below 60 degrees. Go ahead and plant even if you miss the optimal time for your area. As long as the ground is not frozen, there is a good chance the bulbs will still come up. They just might bloom a little later than usual. Choose a site that is well drained and gets plenty of sun. Bulbs that sit in heavy wet soil can easily rot; amending clay soils with 12-18 inches of compost will help with drainage. Bulbs that bloom before the leaves appear can be situated under deciduous trees and still receive plenty of sun.
When selecting bulbs, it is important to choose firm bulbs that are free of rot, mold or soft spots. The larger the bulb the larger bloom it will produce. Plant at the depth recommended on the package. If the information is not available, a good rule of thumb is to plant a bulb pointed end up at a depth that is 3 to 4 times its height. Invest in a bulb-planting tool to make digging easier. It is important to fertilize bulbs when they are planted with a specially formulated bulb fertilizer or bone meal. Work fertilizer into soil to feed the bulbs through the winter and enhance spring blooming. Water thoroughly and mulch to prevent weeds and protect bulbs from frost.
Buy and plant as many bulbs as you have room for or can afford. A small display will look dwarf in the sparsely populated early spring garden. Choose bulbs with consecutive bloom times to create continuous color in the garden and plant in drifts for a more natural look instead of straight lines. Limit the number of colors in the garden to create a more striking display, avoid the confetti look of many colors mixed together. Pay attention to height and situate the shorter plants in the front and taller ones in the rear. Mix summer blooming bulbs and perennials in the same bed to camouflage the foliage after blooming has ended. Allow the plants to die back naturally to produce and store food for next year’s growth. Daffodils, crocus and grape hyacinths are great choices to naturalize if you have enough room. Toss bulbs out and plant where ever they land and remember not to mow until after plants have bloomed, they should multiply and come back each spring.
A little work now will produce weeks of spring color and beauty. When I see the first few crocus of the year I get excited because I know more will follow and warm weather is on the way! Hooray!