Flowering bulbs offer height and color to any garden in the spring, summer, and early fall. There are so many types of bulbs, and an increasing number of varieties of each flowering bulb species, that it can be difficult to know where to start.
The most important part about planting successful bulbs is getting the timing right. Then, there are some must-know tips and tricks for taking care of bulbs after they are planted. Use this guide as a springing-off point to get perfect bulb-based blooms in your garden bed or container garden.
The best time to plant most spring-blooming bulbs (including tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths) is in fall when the soil temperatures have cooled but before the ground freezes. Any time before Thanksgiving is ideal. With that being said, if you're in a pinch or didn't have time to plant in the fall, you can plant bulbs on those occasional warm days in January.
Most spring bulbs emerge and bloom in spring, then their foliage starts to fade and they go dormant by midsummer. When growing bulbs, it's important to let the foliage naturally go yellow—don't cut it off early and don't braid the foliage to try to make it look tidier. Instead, plant colorful annuals or perennials in front of your bulbs to hide the foliage from sight.
Paying attention to bulbs after flowering is just as important as when they are blooming. It is beneficial to remove the flowers on most spring bulbs as soon as they start to fade. Otherwise, your bulbs will put their energy into producing seed instead of a big crop of blooms the following year.
It's typically not necessary to use bulb fertilizer on spring-bloomers, especially if you have average or rich soil. But if you do wish to feed your spring bulbs, feed them at planting time or just as they begin to emerge in spring. Be sure to reference the instructions on the bulb food for the proper bulb fertilizer ratio.
Test Garden Tip: Many spring-flowering bulbs are native to hot, dry areas, so they prefer dry conditions in summer when they're dormant.
Most summer-blooming bulbs, on the other hand, are best planted in spring, after the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has passed. Hardy lilies are an exception—you can plant these bulbs in spring or fall.
Most bulbs do best in well-drained soil and are prone to rot if they're in a spot that stays wet or has very heavy clay. In heavy soils, it's often helpful to amend the planting hole with organic matter or even a several-inch-deep layer of sand under the bulb to increase drainage when watering.
Summer bulbs emerge in spring and bloom in summer. Most come from warm-weather areas and don't like freezing temperatures. If you live in a cold-winter climate, you'll probably need to dig the bulbs right around your first fall frost and store them in a cool place (around 50 degrees F) for the winter.
Like spring-blooming bulbs, it's helpful to cut off the plants' flowers as they fade. In many species, this will encourage the plants to keep blooming. (Lilies are an exception—these summer bulbs bloom only once a year.)
Because many summer-flowering bulbs enjoy rich soil, it can be helpful to fertilize them with a general-purpose garden fertilizer, especially if you have poor soil. Be sure to follow the directions on the fertilizer package to avoid damaging your plants with too much bulb food.