Planting Bulbs in the Fall for Early Spring Succession of Bloom


Winter is long in Zone 5!   To get a jump on spring, plant bulbs in the fall for the earliest blooms possible in your spring garden.   Some start as early as late March…peeping up through the snow as it departs.    

Hardy versus Tender Bulbs

Hardy bulbs are cold-loving, easy -to-grow flowers that you plant in the fall for early succession of bloom.  They need the cold winter period to bloom; hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses etc.

Tender bulbs like paperwhites and amaryllis will not survive the winter and must be grown indoors in Zone 5.

Choosing Bulbs

Choose your bulbs by succession of bloom.   They only last a few weeks so be sure to pick early bloomers that flower in late March to early April (snowdrops, crocuses, early daffodils, etc.).   Mid season bloomers flower between late April and early May (muscari and hyacinth).   Late bloomers are usually the tallest (tallest Tulips and Daffodils) and bloom just as the earliest perennials are flowering.   If you want full succession of bloom for bulbs from the end of March to the end of May, remember early, mid and late!

As you select your bulbs, remember bigger is better.   Give them a squeeze as they should be firm; like choosing a good onion.   Ensure there is no mold, foul smell or indication of rot. Store them in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant.

Try to stick to a simple, three-colour palette.   I love white, blue and yellow in the early spring, purples and pinks for mid spring and then hots (reds, yellows and oranges) for late spring.

Sheridan and Valley View Nurseries have lovely selections of bulbs now that October is approaching.

Where to Plant your Bulbs

Worrying about sun conditions for bulbs is irrelevant until leaf out.   Most deciduous trees to not leaf out until after mid-May in Zone 5.    However, as a rule of thumb bulbs love sunlight.   They do not do well under evergreen trees, conifers or early-leafing, densely foliated deciduous trees.

Be sure to choose sites in your garden that enhance your front garden curb appeal and can be easily viewed from your kitchen window.  

Planting Bulbs

·       In Zone 5, bulbs are best planted late September to late October but can be planted as late as mid November if the ground remains unfrozen.

·       All you need is a shovel. Dig a circular hole 6-8” deep that is wide enough to plant seven to ten bulbs.  Leave 6-8” between bulbs.

·       Before dropping bulbs in place make certain that the hole is well watered.   Adding a few strands of human hair helps to keep squirrels away.   Plant with point-side up, 3 times deeper than the height of bulb.   

·       Water and cover your tracks with mulch.   Disguise the fact that you planted bulbs from pesky squirrels by covering the areas with mulch.

·       Keep them well watered until mid November and well-watered in the spring.  However, they do not like to stay wet. 

Need help with your bulb design, selection and planting?  Check out our Garden to Bed and Fine Gardening Services.