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Beginner’s Guide to Bulbs – What to do in the Fall

(L) Naturalized Daffodils and (R) Hybrid Tulips

Here’s the quick-and-dirty guide to bulbs, the fall version.  It starts with this basic info:  that you plant NOW for bulbs that bloom in the spring – most bulbs.


  • The bigger the bulb, the better.  Though when grown en masse to be seen from a distance, it’s fine to buy bags of smaller, cheaper ones.
  • The earlier you buy them, the greater the availability.
  • Between the time you buy them and plant them, store them in a cool, dry place.  Refrigerators  are fine.
(L) Crocus and (R) Grape Hyacinth
(L) Crocus and (R) Grape Hyacinth


  • If you’re looking for bulbs that will reliably return year after year, look for the words “naturalizing” and “perennializing.”
  • Got critters?  These bulbs are not bothered by squirrels or deer:  daffodils, hyacinths, alliums, fritillaria, iris, scilla, snowdrop, grape hyacinth and winter aconite.
  • Sure, you love the familiar daffodils and tulips but there are tons more spring-flowering bulbs.  Try some lesser known ones this year!  For ideas, check the Pinterest board for “minor bulbs.”
(L) Siberian Squill and (R) Snowdrops
(L) Siberian Squill and (R) Snowdrops


  • When:  Best after the first killing frost but before the ground freezes hard – about mid-October in the suburbs most years.  Tulips especially are best planted later, into November, and December is fine if the ground isn’t frozen.   (Even daffodils are okay to plant late in December as long as the ground isn’t frozen and the bulb is firm and not discolored.  Better late than not at all!)
  • How:  Dig a hole 3 times the height of the bulb and place the bulb base down.  If the soil is mostly clay, that could cause rotting, so improve soil first with pine fines, Leafgro or other clay-buster.  (Easiest is to dig and improve an area large enough for as many as a dozen bulbs at a time.)  Some local experts recommend bulb fertilizing at planting; some don’t.  Water well.
  • When planting bulbs that are loved by squirrels (like tulips), you can protect them by placing wide-mesh chicken wire on top of the hole, just under the mulch. 


Posted by Susan Harris.

Photo credits:  daffodils in park,   crocus in field, grape hyacinth, snowdropSiberian squill.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. trying to find some bearded iris bulbs can’t believe everyone is sold out, when do they
    go on sale, where can I buy them in the DC area? Thanks Mary

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