14 Tips for Planting Bulbs to Ensure a Beautiful Display

Person planting multiple bulbs in soil
Photo: Jacob Fox

Fill your garden with beautiful bulbs that bloom in spring, summer, and fall. Whether you're planting tulips, daffodils, crocus, or hyacinth, bulbs are a one-way ticket to a colorful garden. Use these tips to ensure success.

01 of 14

Select Quality Bulbs

assorted bulbs on wood deck
Greg Scheidemann

Clever bulb planting starts at the garden center with high-quality bulbs. Look for bulbs that are plump and firm. It's typically best to avoid any that are soft and mushy or have mold growing on them. Also, look for big bulbs; the bigger they are, the more they generally bloom compared to smaller bulbs of the same variety.

02 of 14

Pick the Right Spot

Person using garden tool to plant bulbs
David Goldberg

Even healthy bulbs will fail if they're planted in the wrong spot. Most bulbs do best in full sun (at least 6 hours a day of direct sun) and well-drained soil. Check out our Plant Encyclopedia to learn more if you're unsure how to plant bulbs and what conditions your bulbs need to thrive.

Buy it: ProPlugger Planting Tool, $40

03 of 14

Get the Timing Right

Person digging in soil to plant bulbs
Peter Krumhardt

When to plant bulbs depends on when they bloom. Spring-blooming bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, should be planted in September or October when the soil temperatures have cooled. Summer-blooming beauties such as dahlia and gladiolus are best planted in the spring after all danger of frost has passed.

04 of 14

Plant Them Deep Enough

Digging hole for bulbs using measurement garden tool
Peter Krumhardt

Not sure how deep to plant your bulbs? You're not alone—it's a very common question for gardeners. Generally, dig a hole two to three times deeper than the bulb is tall. So if you have a 3-inch-tall bulb, dig a hole 6 to 9 inches deep. Of course, there are always exceptions, so check the planting directions that come with the bulbs for more information.

05 of 14

Place Them Pointy Side up

Person planting a bulb in soil
Jacob Fox

The next most common bulb-planting question is, "How in the heck do I know which side is up?" If the bulb has a pointed end, that's usually the side that faces up. If you don't see a pointy side, look for where the roots come out—that end goes down.

06 of 14

Give Them Good Soil

compost soil on shovel
Marty Baldwin

Like most plants, bulbs appreciate well-drained soil rich in organic matter. So mix compost into your bulbs' planting holes to ensure good blooming. This is especially important if you have heavy clay soil or ground that stays wet.

07 of 14

Stop Weeds

woman placing organic mulch in bed
Marty Baldwin

Besides being just plain ugly, weeds steal nutrients from the soil and may attract insects or diseases. The easiest way to prevent weeds from being an issue is to spread 2 to 3 inches of mulch over the soil. Your bulbs will easily push up through it, but most weed seeds won't.

08 of 14

Water Well

watering can planted seedlings
William N. Hopkins

Bulbs are plants, too, so they appreciate a good drink after you plant them. This will encourage them to send out roots and become established more quickly. A good watering will eliminate air pockets in the soil that could cause your bulbs to dry out, too.

09 of 14

Protect Your Investment

Chicken Wire placed over Bulbs using dirt
Lark Smothermon

Critters such as squirrels love digging up freshly planted bulbs. To keep animals away, spread a layer of mulch to hide your bulb holes. If that doesn't help, weigh down a piece of mesh or chicken wire over the soil to keep critters from digging. It should be safe to remove the protective mesh or wire after the bulbs start to sprout out of the ground.

10 of 14

Overwinter Tender Bulbs

Australia canna with purple foliage and red flowers
Edward Gohlich

If you live in a cold-winter climate where the ground freezes and you want to save your tender summer bulbs such as canna, you'll need to store them in a frost-free place over the winter. An easy way to do this is to plant the bulbs in containers, then sink those containers in the ground. Simply dig up the containers and store them in a garage, basement, or shed that stays about 40 to 55 degrees at the end of the season.

11 of 14

Design Idea: Plant in Groups

Person planting multiple bulbs in soil
Jacob Fox

Most bulbs look best when planted in big, irregular groupings (the more bulbs, the more impressive the impact) instead of straight rows. So try tossing them onto the ground and plant them where they fall. It's fine if some bulbs are a little closer to each other than the recommended spacing—it adds to the natural look.

12 of 14

Design Idea: Layer Perennial Bulbs

Tulipa 'Heart's Delight'
Peter Krumhardt

For a dramatic show of spring-flowering bulbs, plant smaller perennial species such as crocus or scilla over larger bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, and lilies. That way, you'll get twice the color in the same space.

13 of 14

Design Idea: Try Them in Containers

marbleized blue white pots daffodils centerpiece
Adam Albright

Most bulbs do just as well in containers as in the ground. Create pots of spring joy with your favorite tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths by sinking them in the ground so they avoid the winter chill. Or you can store the containers in a cold garage or storage shed. When the bulbs fade, replace them with warm-weather favorites such as callas, cannas, or caladiums for summer-long beauty.

14 of 14

Design Idea: Naturalize Spring Bulbs

'Lilac Beauty' crocus variety
Sandra Gerdes

Naturalizing early spring bulbs in your lawn is a fun way to add a boost of color to your landscape. Siberian squill, snow crocus, and snowdrops bloom and finish before your grass needs its first mowing so that you can plant them for carefree color. Editor's Tip: If you grow spring bulbs in your lawn, avoid using any herbicides until the bulbs have gone completely dormant.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles