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How to Plant Flower Bulbs

Updated on November 26, 2012


For pretty spring blooms, plant narcissus bulbs this fall.
For pretty spring blooms, plant narcissus bulbs this fall. | Source
Plant spring snowflake bulbs in the fall for a welcome sight from late winter into spring.
Plant spring snowflake bulbs in the fall for a welcome sight from late winter into spring. | Source

At its simplest, flower bulb planting is a matter of merely digging a hole to the appropriate depth, dropping in a bulb and covering it up with soil.

The flower bulb planting process, however, can become complicated for a number of reasons, including these three common ones:

  1. The soil is particularly poor and/or compact.
  2. The flower bulbs are being planted in an environment that's home to bulb-eating pests like moles, mice and squirrels.
  3. The bulb type is new to you, and you're unsure about its requirements for growth.

General Planting Times for Bulbs

  • Plant hardy spring & winter-flowering bulbs like narcissus in late summer or fall. Late fall is also a good time to plant lilies.

  • In spring, after the threat of frost has passed, plant summer-flowering bulbs like caladium, dahlia & autumn crocus.

  • Hardy fall-flowering bulbs like colchicum should be planted in late summer.


Choosing a Spot

In general, bulbs require full sun (between 5 and 6 hours of direct sunlight per day). They also prefer soil that readily drains. Heavy soil that tends to hold water can cause bulbs to rot in the ground.

Prepping the Soil

To increase drainage, break up the soil, working 2 to 3 inches of organic matter into it. Good soil amendment choices include leaf mold, compost and composted barnyard manure.

As you work the ground, be sure to dig below the planting depth so that bulb roots will have little trouble growing through the soil.

In addition to organic matter, a low-nitrogen 5-10-10 fertilizer as well as bone meal can be added. Sprinkle the fertilizer into the planting hole, covering it with soil so that it doesn't come into direct contact with the bulbs, as it may burn them.

Plant daffodil bulbs 4-6 inches deep.
Plant daffodil bulbs 4-6 inches deep. | Source

Digging the Hole

When planting, it's important that bulbs are not set in holes that are too shallow. If they are placed too close to the surface of the soil, the bulbs could heave up due to freezes and frosts, and die.

Conversely, if bulbs are planted too deeply, their shoots will have to struggle to the soil surface, perhaps breaking in the process. And they may not produce blooms.

If you're unsure about how deeply to plant a bulb, a hole that's 2 ½ to 3 times the diameter of the bulb in depth is probably okay.

Also check the package. Store-bought bulbs usually come with planting depth directions. Several reliable online sources also provide planting depth information.

Tender Bulbs

Some summer-blooming true bulbs, corms, tubers & fleshy roots, such as begonias, cannas, caladiums, crocosmias, dahlias & gladiolas, are called "tender bulbs." They are more likely to survive if dug up after blooming & stored over the winter in a frost-free environment.

The best bulbs for planting are plump and firm.
The best bulbs for planting are plump and firm. | Source


Placing the Bulb

How do you know which end of the bulb goes up? In general, the flat end of the bulb should rest on the bottom of the hole and the pointed end (where the sprout will grow) should point toward the hole opening.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to differentiate the sprouting end of the bulb from the root end. If you can't tell which end of the bulb goes up, place the bulb on its side. That way, whichever end sprouts, the new growth will be able to find its way to the surface without too much difficulty.

Also called narcissus, daffodils are pretty spring bloomers that naturally repel pests.
Also called narcissus, daffodils are pretty spring bloomers that naturally repel pests. | Source


Protecting Bulbs from Pests

Bulbs like allium and narcissus (a.k.a. daffodils, jonquils and paperwhites) have an off-putting taste and odor that make them naturally pest resistant. Others, like tulips and hyacinths, are well loved by all sorts of pesky critters, including groundhogs, moles, voles, chipmunks, skunks, squirrels and deer.

  • Plant a mix of bulbs.

To protect at-risk bulbs like tulips from pests, interplant them with allium, narcissus and other bulbs with off-putting fragrances that deter pests.

Large Cupped Daffodil Bulbs Sunshine Mix
Large Cupped Daffodil Bulbs Sunshine Mix

Planted alongside tulips, daffodils will deter pests like deer with their pungent aroma & taste.

Dwarf tulips planted with grape hyacinths, a striking combination.
Dwarf tulips planted with grape hyacinths, a striking combination. | Source
  • Add gravel to the hole.

Adding gravel to the planting hole is another method of pest deterrence. Gravel not only improves drainage but also helps to protect bulbs from burrowing mammals like moles that tend to avoid sharp rocks that hurt their paws.

  • Sprinkle cayenne pepper onto the planting area.

Pests dislike the smell and taste of cayenne pepper, and adding it into the hole at planting time as well as sprinkling it on the surface of the soil will keep them at bay. Because cayenne washes away, however, re-application is required until the pests learn to avoid the bulb area.

  • Apply smelly organic sprays.

A pepper spray comprised of 6 oz. of hot pepper sauce and 1 tsp. dishwashing detergent per 1 gallon water will also deter pests. When bulbs sprout, spray the mixture at the perimeter of the planting area, not on the plants, to avoid potentially burning tender shoots.

Organic garlic sprays will also deter pests.

Copyright © 2012 by The Dirt Farmer. All rights reserved.

State Fair Zinnia
State Fair Zinnia | Source


The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.

She first began gardening alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm. Together, they would plant acres of vegetable gardens, setting tomato, eggplant and bell pepper plants; sowing row after row of beans and corn; and building up mounds of soil for white squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe and potatoes.

Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.


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    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hi BK. I think it would be tough to do since, like irises and other bulbs, caladiums need a rest period in order to "recharge" the stored carbs in their fleshy roots. They might do fine for a while and then die down from exhaustion.

    • profile image

      BK 3 years ago

      Is it possible to winter over caladium in a pot indoors and keep it growing?

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      Hi Pavlo. Have never heard of mole crickets. Will have to look them up. Thanks for commenting! --Jill

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      I just read some comments and must say that we are lucky to have squirrels fed up enough not to dig bulbs :) But we have mole crickets which are a real headache in the beginning of spring. We also plant some new years each season just to substotute weak bulbs which did not live through the winter.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      Hi Eddy! So nice to hear from you. Glad you could stop by.

      @ Sinea Pies--I have a furry-footed helper, too, and his ideas about garden design are completely different from mine! Your bulbs should be okay, esp. if you planted in an area w/trees that will soon lose their leaves. Ours are mostly along the edge of the woods, and they get lots of sun until the leaves are out in full force, which is after early spring blooming. Thanks for commenting! Happy Halloween, Jill

    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 4 years ago from Northeastern United States

      Dirtfarmer, where was this hub a few weeks ago when I planted tulip bulbs for the first time ever? :) My PUPPY was digging them up faster than I could get them in the ground. So, I re-planted them where she couldn't reach them. However, I am not sure that there is 5 hours of sunlight. Hope the still bloom.

      Great hub. Voted up and useful.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      So interesting and useful .

      Here's to so many more hubs for us both to share on here.


    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      @ Rosie writes -- OMG! 100 bulbs. Give the gravel a try. It will definitely deter them. I'd plant daffs around each tulip, too. Sounds like the moles in your area are voracious. (: Take care, Jill

    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 4 years ago from Virginia

      Excellent hub - answers all my questions about planting bulbs. I have the problems you discussed in your hub - moles (they ate all of my 100 tulip bulbs one year), and poor draining clay soil. I will be using the gravel idea - never thought of that. Thanks!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      Hi pstraubie48. Here the squirrels are bad about digging up, munching on and then replanting tulip bulbs. If they're pests in your garden, the cayenne pepper will be a good deterrent. Take care! Jill

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      This is so helpful . I plant some new bulbs every year and wait eagerly for them to spring forth when it warms up again. I have learned many of your tips but have not used the cayenne pepper trick nor have I ever put gravel in. I am so glad I found this. Voted up

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      Hi Carol! Hope the photos offer some inspiration. I'm hoping to get some good shots of daffodils this spring. The wind is howling here, and the rain is really coming down, so ... I'm in cooking mode. Have fun painting--and thanks for the votes! --Jill

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      I have often wondered how to plant the bulbs. I am not much of a gardener but my husband is. Also I love the photos and I am into my painting flower mode. Thanks for the great hub..bookmarking along with my other gardening hubs of yours. Voting UP++++