How to Plant Bulbs in the Fall

Property Resources

How to Plant Bulbs in the Fall

Posted by All Metro Service Companies LLC
3 years ago | October 25, 2021

Bulbs are an inexpensive way to add color to your landscape. Planted in the fall, they bloom anywhere from early spring to summer, depending on the bulb. They are not hard to grow but do have to be planted in areas that meet their needs for sun, water, and nutrients.

Types Of Bulbs

Bulbs are plants that store a complete life cycle underground. They are as alive as seeds are. What we call ‘bulbs’ actually encompasses several kinds of root structures.

  • True bulbs come in imbricate or tunicate. Tunicate bulbs are covered by a papery tunic that protects the delicate bulb features and keeps them from drying out. These include tulips and daffodils. Imbricate bulbs do not have this coverage and must be kept moist before planting or they die. These bulbs include lilies.
  • Tubers have leathery skin and eyes that are buds. Dahlias are tubers.
  • Rhizomes are actually parts of underground stems that grow horizontally just under the soil surface. These stems send up new plants at regular intervals. Iris is a good example of a tuber.
  • Corms are compressed stems with food and a bud on top. Crocus is a corm.

Hardy Bulbs Versus Tender Bulbs

Bulbs are further divided into hardy bulbs, which flower in the spring or early summer, and tender bulbs, which flower in the summer.

Hardy bulbs, such as crocus and tulips, require a period of cold in order to begin flower production. These bulbs can be left in the ground year after year and require little attention once planted.

Tender bulbs, such as dahlias, are planted in the spring and bloom in the summer. They cannot tolerate the cold during a Minnesota winter, so must be dug up each fall. They should be stored in a cool, dry place for the winter where they will not freeze.

Buying Bulbs

When you buy bulbs, make sure they do not have any cuts or bruises on them. They should not smell of mold or be soft. Good bulbs are firm.

When To Plant Hardy Bulbs

Hardy bulbs should be purchased in August or September and planted in mid-September to mid-October. Plant the bulbs as soon as possible after you purchase them. Planting in the fall lets the roots develop before the cold weather comes. Tulips are an exception and should be planted as late as you can get them in the ground.

When To Plant Tender Bulbs

Tender bulbs should be purchased in late winter for starting indoors and early spring for planting directly outdoors. Plant them outdoors after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up.

Where To Plant Bulbs

Both hardy and tender bulbs need full sun to flower year after year. After the bloom, bulbs grow leaves to produce food for the bulbs so they will have enough energy to flower the next year. They also need warmth, so don’t plant them in windy areas. You can plant them in beds up next to the house, which will stay warmer in the winter. Hardy bulbs may be planted around deciduous trees or shrubs as they will be done flowering before the tree grows leaves and shades the bulbs.

Preparing The Soil

Bulbs grow best in well-drained soil with lots of organic matter in the soil. Do not plant them in areas where the water stands after rain. Remove rocks, sticks, old roots, and other debris from the soil. Put 2-3 inches of compost on the soil, then use a pitchfork or rack to work that organic matter into the soil. This helps the soil retain water, makes the soil easier for the roots to grow in, and gives the bulbs slow-release Nitrogen. Most soils in Minnesota have adequate phosphorous, which helps the bulbs bloom. It is best to have a soil test every 3-5 years, so you know if other minerals need to be added to the soil. You can get sample bags and instructions for the soil test from your extension agent.

Planting Depth And Spacing

The depth and spacing of bulbs vary by the type of bulb. The package the bulbs come in will tell you the ideal depth to plant them. In general, plant bulbs are 2-3 times deeper than their diameter. If the soil is sandy, plant an additional 1-2 inches deeper. If the soil is clay, plant 1-2 inches sallower. Dig the hole and place the bulb, pointed side up, root side down, in it. The base of the bulb should be at the required depth. Fill in half the hole and water the bulb in well. Then fill in the rest of the soil and rake it smooth. Water the area again. Cover the soil with about 3 inches of leaf mulch, wood mulch, or straw. This holds in water and helps the soil warm up in the spring. Mark where you planted the bulbs so you do not accidentally dig them up in the spring.

Hardy Bulbs For Zones 3 & 4

Here is a list of hardy bulbs that you can plant in the fall. There are other hardy bulbs, but these are recommended by the Minnesota Extension Service.

Scientific nameCommon name
Allium aflatunensePurple allium
Allium giganteumGiant allium
Anemone blandaGreek anemone
Chionodoxa luciliaeGlory of the snow
Crocus chrysanthusSnow crocus
Colchicum autumnaleAutumn crocus
Erythronium spp.Trout lily, dogtooth violet
Fritillaria spp.Fritillaria, checkered lily
Galanthus nivalisCommon snowdrop
Hyacinthus orientalisHyacinth
Lilium lancifoliumTiger lily
Muscari armeniacumGrape hyacinth
Narcissus hybridsDaffodil
Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica    Striped squill
Tulipa hybridsTulip


According to the Minnesota Extension Service, these are good tender bulbs to plant.

Begonia x tuberhybrida    Tuberous begonia
Caladium x hortulanumCaladium
Canna x generalisCanna
Dahlia hybridsDahlia
Freesia x hybridaFreesia
Gladiolus hybridsGladiolus
Oxalis purpureaOxalis
Zantedeschia spp.Calla lily


Spring Care For Hardy Bulbs

When the soil starts to warm, remove the mulch from on top of the bulbs. Cover the bulbs again if it is going to frost. If the year is dry, water the bulbs well and keep the soil moist, not wet. Leave the leaves of the bulbs on until they are dry and brown. The more energy they can store, the better the bloom next year. Cut the blooms off when they die so the plant doesn’t waste energy trying to produce seed. Fertilize the bulbs when the flowers start to die. Use a fertilizer labeled for bulbs and follow the package directions. Make sure you water the fertilizer in.

Dividing Hardy Bulbs

Every three to four years, you will need to divide the bulbs. Usually, the blooms get smaller when the bulbs need to be divided. Dig them up after the foliage dies. Shake any dirt off them, then discard small or damaged bulbs. Keep them in a cool, dry, dark space until it is time to replant them.

Bulb Predators

Squirrels and chipmunks love bulbs. To prevent them from digging your bulbs up, place a piece of chicken wire over the flower bed and anchor it. Put the mulch over the chicken wire. This makes digging up the bulbs much harder.

Bulbs add lots of color to the garden. They can be a lot of work to plant and tend through the different seasons. All Metro Service Companies, LLC can manage your bulbs for you. We know which bulbs to plant in the fall and which to plant in the spring. We can also dig up your tender bulbs and store them safely until it is time to plant them again. Call All Metro Service Companies, LLC today at 763-7879-4788 so we can help you with your bulbs and all your landscaping needs.

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