Grow-How: Fall Flower Bulbs, Spring Dreams

by Isabel Vinton

Many creatures spend the fall storing up for the winter. You might see squirrels chattering over hidden snacks or bears dipping into bird feeders and trash bins to put on a few more pounds. Plants everywhere are going to seed and ensuring for themselves a comfortable winter. Watching the outside world industriously working away against the growing cold can make a gardener feel idle. Luckily, there is one more important task to complete before hibernation time: planting fall flower bulbs! But how to decide which bulbs to grow in your garden? And how to grow them? Read on. We're your humble fall gardening guides, pointing you in the right direction for flower bulb success.


  • Always plant bulbs into well-draining soil. Heavy clay soils often lead to rot.
  • Pay close attention to spacing and depth requirements. In general, if you're growing for cut flowers or for maximum color-blocking effect in the spring garden, planting closer is better. If you're aiming for a naturalized clump-here-clump-there effect, space more widely in anticipation of the flowers filling out over the years.
  • Don't worry too much about fertility. average garden soil can lead to great flowers. If you're spacing very tightly and harvesting for flowers year after year, you'll want to apply a bit of compost and/or mulch, but other than that, amendments are rarely required unless you plant in exhausted soil. And if you do choose to fertilize, you ca wait until the spring, since the dormant bulbs won't need it over the winter.



  • The ideal planting time is when nighttime temperatures are around 40 or 50 degrees, or about six weeks before the ground freezes.
  • For us here in the Northeast, plant in October for maximum success. Early- to mid-November is also okay.
  • Most spring bulbs need a chilly period to bloom, so don't worry too much about getting them in the ground early or before your first frosts. However, after the ground has frozen, it can be difficult to get the bulbs into the ground and established enough to stay rooted during freeze-thaw cycles during winter.




  1. Earliest Bulbs Our first-to-bloom bulb varieties may be diminutive, but they fill the heart as the ice and snow melts. Low-growing snowdrops are often the very first to bloom, with crocuses right on their heels. Also quite precocious are the unique and charming short stalks of muscari, all of which feature ombre tones and an informal, flouncy habit.
  2. Showiest Blooms Tulips of all sorts are exceptionally showy, and Asiatic lilies are in a class of their own: the big, horn-shaped blooms and tall stalks are anchors of the mid-summer garden.
  3. Longest-Lasting Blooms Alliums take the prize here.
  4. Most Fragrant Flowers Bridal Crown Narcissus is an absolute sensation for the olfactory senses: its powerful, fresh-as-spring aroma scents the air around them. They're beautiful too.
  5. Most Deer-Resistant Varieties Don't have a protected place to grow your bulbs? All Narcissus varieties are unlikely to be munched by deer, as are alliums, muscari, snowdrops, and scilla. Unfortunately, tulips and lilies are extremely vulnerable, so best plant these within your protected garden space.
  6. Flowers that Naturalize Snowdrops and daffodils eagerly establish themselves, coming back year after year with little fuss. Same with crocuses and muscari. Tulips and Asiatic lilies are best harvested and dried after they bloom and then replanted in the fall into well-prepared beds, as these bulbs are less likely to survive in good shape if left in the ground for the rest of the growing season.

Once you've figured out which bulbs to plant, it takes very little work to get them in the ground. Plant them in the coming days and weeks and, during your winter slumbers, dream of bright petals uncurling on a dewy spring morning not too far away.