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How to Plant Bulbs

The great thing about planting perennial bulbs is that they will bloom year after year. Here's what you need to know.

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When to Plant Bulbs


Bulbs are classified as tender — not suited to tolerate cold — or hardy — cold-tolerant.

Spring is the best time to plant tender bulbs such as:

  • Gladiolus
  • Dahlias
  • Caladiums
  • Elephant ears

Most tender bulbs are called summer bulbs, meaning they bloom in the summer, but there are several — such as tuberose and some dahlia — that bloom into the fall.

In the fall, plant hardy bulbs such as:

  • Tulips
  • Irises
  • Daffodils
  • Hyacinths
  • Crocuses

Hardy bulbs can survive winter in the ground and need the cold of winter to perform at their best. They typically flower in the spring.

In colder climates, plant hardy bulbs as soon as possible after purchase. In milder areas, plant in late October or early November after the soil cools — if you need to store them before planting, keep them in a cool location. In warm-winter climates, you may need to pre-chill hardy bulbs before planting. Refrigerate them in a container with a lid for 8 to 10 weeks.

Shop for Bulbs

Good to Know

Don't store fruit (especially apples) or vegetables in the refrigerator while you're chilling or storing bulbs. Fruits and vegetables can emit a gas that kills the young plant inside the bulb.

Planning and Planting Bulbs

Tulips Planted Next to a Deck.

Before you plant, plan your design. You can plant a formal garden or scatter the bulbs around your landscape for a natural look. And think about color: How will the blooms blend with each other and the surrounding area? Read Color and Design in the Garden for ideas.

Good to Know

Choose bulbs that are large, firm and free of visible disease and damage. A nick or small blemish is of no great concern, but avoid soft or moldy bulbs.

Step 1

Adding Peat Moss to the Soil.

Prepare the soil. It should be loose and well-drained. It's good to mix in organic material like compost or peat moss. You can also add a special bulb fertilizer — just follow the package directions. Read Lowe's Soil Amendments Guide for information on improving your soil with compost, peat moss and other amendments.

Step 2

Packaging with Bulb Planting Information.

Determine the planting depth. Planting bulbs at the correct depth helps them start to grow at the right time. Generally, you plant two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall, but check the package instructions. Planting too deep will produce late blooms or no blooms at all. Shallow planting can subject tender, new growth to late-season cold weather. Here are some examples of common planting depths and spacing recommendations:

Hardy Bulbs

  • Crocus: 2 to 4 inches deep, 3 to 5 inches apart
  • Hyacinth: 4 to 6 inches deep, 6 to 8 inches apart
  • Daffodil (narcissus): 8 inches deep, 6 inches apart
  • Standard tulip: 4 to 6 inches deep, 4 to 6 inches apart
  • Snowdrop: 3 inches deep, 3 inches apart


Tender Bulbs

  • Dahlias: 2 to 4 inches deep, 10 inches apart for taller varieties, 20 inches apart for shorter types
  • Gladiolus: 4 to 6 inches deep, 6 to 8 inches apart
  • Caladium: 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep, 8 to 14 inches apart
  • Elephant ears: 4 to 6 inches deep, 24 to 48 inches apart

Step 3

Bulb in the Planting Hole.

Dig the hole and place the bulb, nose up (or roots down). Then cover with soil. If you need to keep small animals out of the planting area, cover it with small-mesh hardware cloth.

Good to Know

In the fall, cover the hardy bulbs with about 2 inches of mulch to protect the roots during the cold winter months. In climates with little or no frost, it's a good idea to dig them up every couple of years and store them in the refrigerator during summer to simulate cold temperatures. This procedure helps keep them blooming. In harsh climates you may want to dig up and store tender bulbs over the winter months.

Step 4

Once they're planted be sure to give your bulbs plenty of water.

Caring for Tender Bulbs over the Winter

Tender Bulbs Prepared for Winter Storage.

When the foliage has turned yellow or brown on your tender bulbs, and before the first frost, you'll need to protect them or dig them up and store them for the winter.

  • A blanket of mulch should protect tender bulbs throughout the winter in the Southern coastal regions, the Southwest or coastal areas of California.
  • In other areas of the country, dig up tender bulbs and replant them after the danger of frost has passed.

Step 1

Cut tall stems back to a few inches. Loosen the soil around the plant. Use a digging fork for large clumps or a hand trowel for small bulbs.

Step 2

Shake the soil from the roots and spread the bulbs on newspaper to dry in a cool, shady place out of the reach of animals.

Step 3

After the bulbs have dried for a few days, place them in a perforated paper or mesh bag. An alternative is to store them in a box with slightly damp peat moss to keep them from drying out too much in storage. Experiment to see which storage method is best for you.

Step 4

Store the packaged bulbs in a dark, cool and dry place that maintains a temperature of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. A basement, cupboard, crawl space or attached garage may be appropriate. Check the bulbs every month. Discard any that are rotting and moisten those that are shriveling.

Bulb Facts

Holding a Bulb Nose Up.

Bulbs store food during the plant's dormant period, providing nutrients during the growing and flowering season. The term bulb often refers to five major types of underground storage structures:

  • True bulbs include hyacinths, daffodils and tulips
  • Tuberous roots include dahlias and some begonias
  • Tubers include anemones and caladiums
  • Corms include crocuses and gladioli
  • Rhizomes include bearded irises and cannas

The flowering periods of plants grown from bulbs depend a great deal on climate and the variety of bulb. The example bloom times below give a general reference. Planting a mix of these varieties provides color from spring into fall.

  • Very early spring — crocuses, snowdrops
  • Early spring — daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths
  • Mid-spring — daffodils, fritillaries, tulip
  • Late spring — fritillaries, bluebells, lilies
  • Early summer — alliums, lilies, irises
  • Mid-summer — lilies, gladiolus, dahlias, irises
  • Late summer — lilies, dahlias

Read Spring-Blooming Bulbs for ideas on beautifying your spring landscape.


Before beginning any excavation, call 811 to check for underground utilities.