Guidelines for planting bulbs

What are some general guidelines for planting bulbs?

Planting Depth for Selected Bulbs:




grape hyacinth..4-6″

snow glory….3-4″



Some Unusual Bulbs
‘Camassia cusickii

This species produces tall bloom spikes bearing up to 100 starry, steel-blue flowers on each raceme. The blooms are paired with mid-green sword-like leaves that measure up to 32 inches in length..

Fritillaria meleagris

var alba

These delicate flowers are like fairy hats: sweet and elegant. This spring blooming bulb bears petite bell-shaped nodding blooms among the lance-shaped foliage.

Leucojun aestivum

Leucojum is reminiscent of Galanthus (Snowdrops); both belong to the same family. They look like tiny umbrellas with spring green markings at the tips of the petals. The flowers are pendulous white bells with gently flared edges.

Lycoris radiata

Spider lilies appear otherworldly with their long anthers that protrude from the bright rose-red blooms. They provide late summer drama with their unique blooms, which are borne in clusters of 4-6 flowers per stem.


Beautiful early blooming bulbs offer clusters of profuse bell to star-shaped flowers of white to china blue with the addition of a slight sky blue brush strokes down each petal.

‘Golden Bowl’ crocus

This unusualy colored, early free flowering crocus bears vase-shaped blooms that are nestled discretely like lovely golden Easter eggs in the grass-like foliage.

First of all, take some time to prepare the planting beds, since it will be difficult to amend the soil once the bulbs are set in place. Choose a well-drained spot, spread on a 3- to 4-inch layer of compost, then spade or till it in to a depth of 10 to 12 inches. Planting depth is different for each kind of bulb; a general rule of thumb is to set the bulb at a depth 3 times the widest diameter of the bulb*. Once the bulbs are planted, water the area well.

*For example, if you have a bulb that measures 2 inches in diameter, dig a hole about 6 inches deep. The bulb will be covered by about 4 inches of soil.

Which end goes up?

How do I know which end is up when planting?

Most bulbs, including tulips and daffodils, should be planted with the pointed end up-this is where the leaves will emerge. Small, round bulbs can be planted in any direction. If in doubt, plant bulbs on their sides. This will make it easier for the leaves to grow up and the roots to grow down than if the bulb were planted completely upside down.

Bulbs in a perennial bed

Should I cut back my perennials to make it easier to plant bulbs? How can you grow both without overcrowding them?

Even though the perennials can make it difficult to plant the bulbs, you really shouldn’t cut them back in fall, because pruning may stimulate late-season growth. If the perennials’ overhanging leaves are a problem, you may be trying to plant the bulbs too close, which will disturb the perennials’ roots. Remember, too, that most bulbs multiply as they grow, and the bed will end up very crowded. Some gardeners simply plant the bulbs where they fit in, using an informal scheme or drifts rather than a strict bedding pattern. Sometimes you can plant the bulbs toward the back of the bed where there are no other plants to disturb. Or you can create a separate bulb bed and overplant it with annuals the following summer to conceal the bulb foliage as it matures and fades.

Bulbs and groundcovers

I have a flowerbed that has more than a hundred tulip bulbs and many daffodils. It looks spectacular for a few weeks in the spring, but looks ragged as the foliage dies back. Do you have any suggestions for other plants to place here?

It’s nice to have something growing in the bed after the spring bulbs disappear. Just so you don’t compromise the space needed by the bulbs, you might want to consider a shallow-rooted ground cover such as carpet bugle (Ajuga). After the tulips and daffodils fade, the ajuga will produce spikes of bright blue flowers, which help disguise the bulbs’ spent flowering stems. By the time the flowers on the ajuga are spent, so are the bulb leaves. You can then mow over the entire bed to remove spent flowers and foliage. The ajuga continues to grow and produce attractive new leaves, giving color and texture to an otherwise empty bulb bed. Daylilies are another good choice.

Naturalizing bulbs

What does it mean to naturalize a bed of tulips or daffodils?

Naturalizing simply refers to a way of planting bulbs so they appear as though Mother Nature had done the planting. That is, instead of planting in evenly spaced rows, the bulbs are planted in large drifts, much as you would find plants in nature. One way to achieve this effect is to scatter a handful of bulbs, then plant them where they land. To create a bed that reblooms every year, choose bulbs that are naturally long-lasting and multiply freely, such as daffodils, grape hyacinths, and crocuses.

Planting a large area of bulbs

I am planting lots of bulbs this fall. Can I plant several of them together in one hole or do I need to dig separate holes for each bulb?

Making separate holes is time-consuming, so an easy way to plant a large area is to remove the top layer of soil to the appropriate depth, add low nitrogen fertilizer according to package directions, set the bulbs in place, and then cover the area with soil. For a natural look, some gardeners gently toss the bulbs in and plant them where they land.

Using spring bulbs for arrangements

Last year I planted a variety of bulbs. Can I cut the flowers and bring them inside without weakening the bulbs for next year?

By all means cut the flowers and stems to take indoors, but be sure to leave the foliage. The leaves manufacture food for the bulb so it can develop next year’s bloom. Allow the leaves to die down naturally, then gently pull them or cut them off at ground level.

Planting bulbs vs. planting seeds

Can I start plants like tulips and dahlias from seed rather than from bulbs?

Tulips and dahlias are offered as bulbs and tubers because it would take a very long time to get reasonably sized plants from seed. Also, because most tulips, dahlias, and other flowering bulbs or tubers are the result of hybridizing, their seed won’t grow “true”-that is, the offspring won’t necessarily resemble the parent plants.

Deerproof bulbs

We have several areas of our yard that would be great for naturalizing flowers such as lilies and daffodils. However, we also have lots of deer. Are there any deerproof bulbs?

If deer are hungry enough, they will eat almost any plant. However, some plants are less appealing than others, depending on what your local population has learned to eat so far. Daffodils are often cited as being deerproof, along with glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa) and crocus. Unfortunately, tulips and lilies are deer favorites. You might ask some of your neighbors if they have had luck with any particular plants, then try those in small quantities as an experiment. Many gardeners use repellent sprays with varying success, but to be as effective as possible they must be applied and reapplied according to the instructions. Home remedies include using soap, blood meal, human hair, and so on, but in the end the only truly reliable solution is a deerroof fence.

Something is uprooting my bulbs

I planted daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths at the suggested depths. Something (a skunk? a raccoon?) dug them all up. Some were missing, but not all. How can I stop this animal from digging up the bulbs?

Here are several suggestions. Some work in some gardens but not in others, so you may want to try several tactics. You can try dipping bulbs in animal repellent just before planting. Also, be sure to bury the bulbs at the deepest suggested depth. After planting, water the area well, then top it with mulch and thorny clippings such as from a rosebush. Another tactic is to cover the planting area with wire mesh or even old metal window screens. The culprits are usually squirrels or chipmunks. They love to eat tulips and crocuses but leave the daffodils alone.

Bulbs disappear

My tulip bed has many round holes 1 to 2 inches across, and this year very few tulips came up. Are moles eating the bulbs?

Moles don’t usually eat plant matter, focusing instead on insects. However, rodents such as mice and voles use their tunnels like a subway, and they do eat roots and bulbs.As you plant, mix products made from crushed oyster shells into the soil surrounding the bulb. This makes for tough digging for the rodents, and they might be induced to look elsewhere for a meal. Some gardeners resort to planting bulbs in little cages made of hardware cloth (wire mesh) to keep critters from munching on the bulbs.

Mulching bulb beds

I just planted a large bed of bulbs. Should I mulch it?

Wait until the ground has begun to freeze before mulching. Mulching earlier will encourage bulb-munching rodents like mice and voles to nest there. A 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch will help prevent freeze-thaw cycles that can heave bulbs out of the ground; however, mulching is not absolutely necessary except in coldest areas.

Credit: National Gardening Association