Planning & Selecting Bulbs

Before you head off to the garden store, take a careful look around your property to find suitable places for bulbs to be planted.

Choose the right bulb type

If you’re planting hardy bulbs, which can be left in the ground all winter, the best place to plant is in an area naturally covered by light shade during the warmest part of the day, such as under tall trees. Popular hardy bulbs include crocus, galanthus, grape hyacinth, scilla, tulip and daffodil.

Tender bulbs, such as dahlias, calla lily, gladiolus and tuberous begonia, need to be dug up and stored at the end of the growing season. Note when in the season the bulbs will bloom, and whether the varieties you’d like to plant prefer sun or shade. Tender bulbs will bloom beautifully in the heat of summer, and if you plan well, you’ll enjoy a parade of color the entire growing season.

Plan for height & color

As you make your plan, consider the height and color of each variety carefully. Start at the back of your planting area with tall plants such as tulips and daffodils, then plants of medium height, then the shortest. Remember that the smaller the bloom of your bulb flower, the more bulbs you’ll need. Two dozen is a minimum for smaller varieties, but twice that many makes a real splash. Plan to plant bulbs in similar clusters of color and variety rather than mixing them.

Inspect for good health

Choose bulbs that are firm, large and unblemished, and avoid light, spongy bulbs or bulbs with cuts and bruises. Hold the bulb in your hand to measure its heft; squeeze it to check for firmness. Large, healthy bulbs result in big, beautiful blooms. Buying bargain bulbs rarely pays off, so spend a little extra now and get years of enjoyment in the future.

The bigger the bulb, the better the bloom

It is easy to inspect a bulb for quality, no matter where you shop. A simple rule is, the bigger the bulb, the better the bloook for bulbs marked “flowering” or “top” size. Bargain bulbs may be considered if you’re looking for quantity but caveat emptor.

What to look for

Inspect your bulb’s integrity. Look for firm, large bulbs that have a smooth and unmarred surface. Beware of bulbs that seem mushy or tender, or are shriveled or discolored. These could be signs of age, rot or infestation by insects or disease. A dry, loose outer skin on the bulb is normal and will not affect the bulb’s potential in any way.

Each bulb produces one flowering stem per growing tip. Tulip bulbs have a single growing tip. Daffodils are sometimes sold with two or three growing tips per bulb. The double- and tripled-nosed bulbs are a better buy than the single; each bulb will produce more flowers. Of course, there are plenty of other varieties of bulbs, like grape hyacinth, that are planted in fall and come up in the spring. Choose a mix of color and height, or simply buy many of the same style for a bright display on a border or boulevard. It is hard to go wrong with these easy-care flowers.

Once you’ve got your bulbs, see our step-by-step project for how to plant them— before the ground gets too cold. You’ll have something to look forward to come spring, besides the nice weather.