Updated/Fact-Chacked on November 27, 2022 by John
People new to gardening tend to panic when it comes to planting spring bulbs, not knowing if they are planting too late or early. It can be a minefield, with each plant having an optimal planting month.
In this article, I will guide you through the best times to plant spring-flowering bulbs and answer some common questions.
Tip: If you are reading this post in November/December, you will likely pick up some great deals on bulbs at garden centres as they are trying to get rid of all their stock.
The Best Time To Plant Spring-Flowering Bulbs
Generally, the autumn season is the preferable time to plant spring-flowering bulbs. This is because, during this period, the ground is always softer and more viable for planting.
Also, when you plant bulbs in the autumn, it gives the bulbs enough time to form firm roots before the winter, when they’ll become dormant. If they have time to develop roots, they will become frost-resistant.
However, you shouldn’t sow the bulbs too early, such as at the beginning of autumn; bulbs are prone to rot and decay in warm conditions, along with being a potential food source for animals. Planting early will hinder the bulbs from growing properly, they may even try to bloom far prematurely.
If you’re planting spring-blooming bulbs, it’s preferable to plant them in late autumn. This means October.
Tulips are best planted in November as they are prone to disease; you need a bit of cold weather to protect them. You have to gauge temperatures and not go strictly by the month; it’s currently early November and 17 C degrees in the North East! I will wait until temperatures drop below 10 C before I plant my new batch of tulip bulbs.
Below is a chart showing common spring bulbs and their optimal planting time, along with the month they generally flower.
The Late Alternative To Plant Spring-Flowering Bulbs
If you fail to plant bulbs in the autumn, you may wonder if you can plant at a later time – like November, December, or January.
The answer to this is yes, you can! You are free to plant spring-flowering bulbs as late as January. You’ll need to dig a hole to plant your bulbs, so choose a frost-free day. If the ground is constantly frozen, try placing them on top of the frozen soil and covering them with compost and mulch, as highlighted in this article.
Tulips have a good chance of thriving if planted at the end of January, but daffodils may not flower until the second season and be blind in the first spring – you get foliage but no leaves.
Also, if you live in a cold region and you’re sowing your bulbs at a later time, it’s better you cover the planting ground with mulch. This will make the soil’s temperature warmer, and it’ll afford the bulbs more time to stabilize their roots. Alternatively, you can opt to plant the bulbs in pots.
Remember that the flowers from such late-planted bulbs will likely bloom later and be smaller than if planted in the autumn.
Tips on Planting Bulbs
Having noted all the above, take note of these tips when planting spring-blooming flower bulbs:
- Plant the bulbs in the ground or planter with the growing tip facing upwards.
- Mix the soil with a little compost or manure first.
- Plant the bulb 2-3 times as deep as the actual size of the bulb itself.
- Also, ensure you plant the bulbs an adequate distance apart, so they have room to spread.
- If planting late (e.g. January), you can chill the bulbs in the fridge for about 3 months until planting to get maximum blooms.
- You can plant your bulbs into the ground even when there is snow.
- Water well following our ‘how to water bulbs‘ guide.
- Planting in pots will give you more control of the temperature as the pots can be moved into the sun or indoors.
- If you think it’s too late to plant your bulbs, plant them anyway! Most bulbs do not keep, so it’s worth just planting them and crossing your fingers.
The trick to having fantastic spring blooms it planning – you want different flowers to bloom every month. Follow this bloom chart below and buy/plant your spring bulbs accordingly.
Spring bulb FAQs
Can I plant spring bulbs in February?
You have likely missed the time for them to flower but plant them anyway, as they will only be thrown away. If you want to plant bulbs in February and March, then look for summer bulbs.
When will my tulip bulbs flower?
Most will flower in April, but you can buy late-flowering tulips like Tulipa ‘Ballerina’, Tulipa ‘Cafe Noir’ and Tulipa ‘Queen of Night.
When is the best time to plant spring bulbs?
Spring bulbs like narcissus and tulips are best planted during the autumn before the first frost. Many will still flower if planted later in December or even January.
Chuck them in any way…
Late autumn is the most preferred time for gardeners to plant spring-flowering bulbs. Don’t worry too much about planting bulbs late in winter; the worst thing that can happen is they don’t grow – you have learnt a valuable gardener’s lesson to be more organised for next season.
John Green is a 46-year-old graphic designer living in Durham. John is RHS level 3 certified and owns an allotment in Durham.