Planting Bulbs in Your Garden

What you’ll need

  • Shovel
  • Bulbs
  • Dry sand or vermicilite
  • Trowel

step 1: Plan

There are a wide variety of bulb types, offering limitless options for care, condition, color and height. Before you begin, create a plan for your bulbs, choosing the proper varieties based on the look you want and the maintenance you’re willing to provide. Multiple varieties can be mixed depending on light conditions, climate and, of course, personal taste. Spring bulbs should be planted in the fall, and summer bulbs need to be planted in the spring.

step 2: Buying Your Bulbs

Choose bulbs that are firm, large, and unblemished. Avoid light, spongy bulbs or bulbs with cuts and bruises. Hold the bulb in your hand to measure its heft and 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. You can purchase bulbs at garden centers, nurseries and even through mail order companies. The latter is often a great way to purchase hard-to-find varieties (ask your local garden center for recommendations if you are interested in mail order).

step 3: Improve Soil

Take time to improve soil before putting in your bulbs. Dig about 12 inches deep to loosen the soil, then add garden soil for flowers and vegetables, which contains the necessary organic ingredients as well as plant food, and mix it into the soil with a shovel.

step 4: Plant

Plant hardy bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, in fall before the ground freezes.

Plant summer bulbs in early spring, after the weather has turned dependably warm. Planting methods vary widely among tender bulbs, so check with your gardening store or catalog for planting specifics.

Plant bulbs in a “natural” configuration by scattering them in clusters, then burying them where they fall. Dig individual holes about twice the depth of the bulb, then place the bulb in the hole, point up. Finally, mix in Scotts Bulb Food to give the bulbs a head start. Smooth the area with a rake. Cover the bulb and water gently.

step 5: Mulch

Hardy bulbs also benefit from a good layer of mulch, about 3 or 4 inches, especially in areas where temperature fluctuations are common. Uncover in spring when bulb foliage is 2 inches above the soil.

step 6: Care & Cutback

Bulbs are a delight because they’re relatively low-maintenance. To encourage growth and bigger blooms, you should feed your flowers with all purpose plant food. Remove any spent flowers to encourage other blooms. At the very least, bulbs need water, so continue to water the plants. The green leaves are taking in sunlight and moisture in order to make next year’s bloom (which is stored in the bulb). Once the leaves have finished their job, they yellow and wilt. At this time, you can cut them back to make way for other bulbs or annuals whose turn it is to bloom.

step 7: Store Tender Bulbs for Winter

Unlike hardy bulbs, tender bulbs must be dug up and stored for the winter in all but the warmest climates. If you are unsure about the type of bulbs you are planting and your climate, check with your local Extension Agent or your local garden center. In fall—before the ground freezes—dig up tender bulbs and dry them in a shady spot for a week or so. Then brush off dirt and store in dry sand, enriched sphagnum peat voss, or vermiculite. Keep at 35–45°F in a location (perhaps in the refrigerator) until the next season.