Plant these bulbs in the fall for spring flowers
Posted by AMH Team
9m read time
Nov 12, 2021
The fall landscape is a gorgeous sight to behold. The colorful leaves, the picturesque sunsets, the smell of crisp apples and pumpkins—they’re all a big part of what makes the season special.
For all the beauty of autumn, winter can provide an equal amount of drabness. Sure, looking through the window at falling snow can be very soothing, but the winter months bring early evenings, slick roads, and frosty weather that makes even the Abominable Snowman run for cover.
Winter eventually gives way to spring, when flowers and plants bloom and bring a much-needed burst of color. However, if you don’t properly prepare ahead of time and know when to plant bulbs for spring, your great spring awakening will be nothing more than a snooze fest.
Read on to learn how to plant bulbs in fall and which types of flowers are the most vibrant for your home.
How to plant bulbs in containers
Flower bulbs can thrive in a variety of containers, but they do need to be in something that drains well and won’t overheat from sitting in the sun. As you’re learning how to plant bulbs in pots, consider some of the most common varieties of containers.
Terra-cotta pots are available in all kinds of shapes and sizes and fit nicely into any home because of their neutral clay and tan colors. They keep potting soils cool and do a good job removing moisture from plant roots, but are more prone to cracking, so you may want to avoid them if your winters often drop below freezing temperatures. You can also use heavy concrete pots for larger flowers or plants. Or wooden planters for a sleek, natural look—just make sure to choose a rot-resistant wood, such as cedar, redwood, or white oak. Or even flexible plastic containers and buckets for a cheap, durable solution that can withstand colder weather. If you go the plastic route and live in a climate with warmer winters, choose a lighter color so your buckets and plants don’t fry when they’re exposed to the sun.
No matter what kind of pot you use, make sure it has a way to drain. Some pots come with drainage holes already included. In other situations, you may have to drill a hole or two at the bottom of the container to allow water to drain out.
You’ll also need to make sure your bulbs have enough room to grow. A container should be deep enough for 3-7 inches of soil at the bottom (depending on your flowers). It should also have room for your bulbs, and an inch of space below the rim of the container.
Once you’ve selected your container, you’re ready to get started planting your bulbs within it.
Here are step-by-step instructions for how to plant bulbs:
- 1. Fill up the bottom of your container with potting soil, not garden soil. The pot should be about 4-5 inches for smaller bulbs and 6-7 inches for larger flowers (like daffodils or tulips). Make sure the soil is evenly dispersed throughout the container.
- 2. Place your bulbs into the soil and press them firmly into the soil. You want them evenly spaced apart but still close to each other—no more than half an inch of space between any two bulbs. A good general rule to keep in mind: you can fit one bulb per inch of the container. So, an eight-inch container can fit eight bulbs.
- 3. Once you’re happy with where your bulbs are in the container, cover them with additional potting mix. You can leave the very tops uncovered.
- 4. If necessary, move the container to where you plan to keep it during the winter, so it can properly chill.
- 5. Water the bulbs once or twice per week. Give them a good soak—spring water and rainwater are the best options—from a watering can, enough so that there’s a decent amount of water draining from the bottom of the container, but not so much that your soil turns runny and soggy.
- 6. When spring rolls around, enjoy the colorful blooms of your flowers!
Aside from knowing how to plant flowering bulbs, it’s also important to consider when to plant bulbs for spring. And despite the name, you won’t actually plant spring bulbs during the spring, but rather well in advance of when you want them to bloom.
When to plant bulbs
Spring flowering bulbs need cold weather to thrive, which occurs during the wintering over process. Yet not all bulbs are created equal, nor is the geography and weather of the country. If you’re curious, you can check out the current soil temperature and plant hardiness level in your area. However, since we’re using containers for our flowering bulbs, you don’t need to worry nearly as much about the temperature of the soil as you do the general temperature outside.
Autumn is the best time to plant spring bulbs; depending on the type of flower you’re growing, they need about two to four months to start developing shoots. Aim for October, November, or even early December to start planting—depending on where you live, you’ll keep your pots in different locations.
- If you live in an area with mild winters—between about 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit—your containers should be okay to remain outdoors all winter long. Keep them in the yard, on a patio, or, if your home has an existing garden, a pot fits in nicely there.
- If you live in an area with cold winters—regularly below 32 degrees Fahrenheit with a lot of snow and ice—the harsh elements outdoors may be too much for your containers to handle. Instead, leave your pots in a place that’s unheated but won’t get below freezing temperatures, like a garage, shed, or covered porch.
- If you live in an area with warm winters—42 degrees Fahrenheit and above—the weather alone won’t be cool enough. Store your containers in the fridge, away from fruits and vegetables, and give it a little room for the flowers to grow.
The best bulbs for planting in the fall
Now that you know the optimal times around when to plant bulbs for spring and some tips for planting bulbs, your next step is determining what kind of bulbs to plant.
There are several options for spring bulbs and, with the right preparation and maintenance, you can “force” just about any plant to grow in a container. However, if you’re just starting out with flower bulbs, these are seven great choices.
- Daffodils: Daffodils are perhaps one of the most “classic” spring flowers, their bright yellow petals bursting with color and charm. Different varieties will bloom at different times, and they can be just a few inches tall or grow up to more than a foot in height. You’ll also get a nice range of smells with daffodils, which require full sun to bloom.
- Tulips: Along with narcissuses, tulips require a chilling period of about 12 to 16 weeks. Tulip flowers are most frequently shaped like cups with three petals and three sepals and come in a variety of colors, like red, orange, and yellow. One tulip grows on each stem, with multiple leaves per plant. Their height can be as small as six inches or as tall as two feet and they prefer full or afternoon sun.
- Alliums: These small globe-shaped flowers almost look like dandelions atop long, dignified stems, but with much more pleasing purple, pink, and reddish hues. Also called “ornamental onions,” they’ll deter critters because of their bitter taste, so you’ll get to see these vivacious colors in all their glory.
- Hyacinths: These flowers are sturdy and provide vibrant blooms and a pleasing fragrance. They come in a variety of purple, pink, white, and yellow colors and grow best when exposed to full sun.
- Irises: If you prefer your flowers have complex patterns, irises may be the right choice for you. These are smaller plants but provide a nice burst of purple and blue, and even the stems and foliage look good on their own. Irises prefer full sun or partly shady weather.
- Snowdrops: Aptly named as they grow during the winter, snowdrops look like little streetlamps. The green and white color combo is lovely, and these droopy flowers are among the earliest spring bloomers. They prefer full to partly shady weather.
- Crocuses: Even if the weather outside is frightful, these early bloomers are delightful. With vibrant color varieties including bright purple, orange, and blue, crocuses do best with full sun and will be one of the first flowers you see come springtime.
Maintenance tips for flowering bulbs
After you initially plant your bulbs, you may be wondering how to best take care of them. Do you just leave your pots and containers out all winter long? Should you give the plants any treatment? Do you need to move them around?
These questions may have different answers based on the types of flower bulbs you’ve planted, so it’s always worth confirming with the instructions on the flower bulb package. However, there is some general guidance on the ideal strategies to care for both your containers and the flowers blooming within them.
Check out these maintenance tips for flowering bulbs, as well as a few ways you can take your container gardening skills to new heights.
- Water your bulbs one to two times per week. Keep the soil moist, but don’t use so much water that the soil becomes soggy.
- Plant bulbs with the pointy side facing up. If you’re unsure which way they’re supposed to go (it’s harder to tell with certain bulbs), place them sideways when you’re planting. Nature will take its course and get the bulbs facing in the right direction.
- Track their progress. Once you see flower buds appear, move the pot from the chilled location to a window with lots of sunlight.
- Be creative. When choosing a container, you can always use one that’s less aesthetically pleasing—like a black plastic pot—and place it inside a more colorful container.
- Grow your family. It’s a bit more complicated, but once you’ve had a few attempts under your belt, try mixing and matching bulbs in the same container. You can plant larger bulbs, such as tulips or daffodils, deeper in the soil. After you cover them, add crocuses, snowdrops, or other smaller bulbs right on top. You’ll get a nice array of gorgeous flowers all in one location!
- Get advanced. As the weather warms up a bit, combine your spring bulbs with cool-season annuals. Lettuce, chard, and nemesia are all nice complements to spring bulbs.
- Reuse and recycle. When the blooms fade, you can compost the bulbs or move them to a window and let them grow for as long as they can. You can also store bulbs in a dry spot with lots of ventilation—remove the foliage and dry the bulbs before storing them—and try planting them again next autumn.
Planting spring bulbs during the fall will lead to some beautiful blooms after the winter season passes. Now that you’re ready to get started, just one question remains: what kind of flowers will you plant?
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