Plant a selection of spring-flowering bulbs in fall and you can fill your outdoor space with little pops of joy early next year to kick off the growing season in style. They are also some of the easiest plants to grow either in the ground or in pots, where you can layer them up to get waves of flowering color.
Fall is the best time to plant them as the soil is still warm so the bulbs can put down roots and get properly established before winter. But if your planning does go awry and you miss the planting slot don't assume it's too late. You can usually still plant spring bulbs as late as December. It just means they might bloom in your modern garden a little later than usual.
'Planting bulbs in containers or in the garden is one of the easiest ways to have a brilliant show of flowers in spring,' says horticulturalist Jenny Rose Carey. 'Bulbs that are hardy in your area are the best value for money. They should come up year after year and may be so successful that they even multiply.'
Ready to get going on planting up spring blooms now? Here's a round-up of what we think are the 5 best bulbs to plant in fall, plus we slipped in an extra one that needs planting in November or December that's pretty much everyone's favorite.
One of the earliest flowers to bloom in the spring garden, crocus look wonderful in when both container gardening or planting in the ground. These tiny treasures add pops of purple and gold from early to mid-spring, or you can opt for the more restrained white or pale lavender varieties if you prefer a softer color scheme.
Our favorite way to plant them is in window boxes to fully appreciate the delicately etched petals of these petite blooms. The color of the vivid purple and yellow-gold varieties is so intense that each flower looks like it’s been dip-dyed in ink.
Container planting also lets you enjoy their fresh spring scent up close. The fragrance attracts pollinators too and is one of the first pollen sources of the year when there’s not much other food available for bees to gather. On sunny days your crocus will come alive with the sound of buzzing.
If you want to plant them in the garden scatter a handful of corms and plant them wherever they land to achieve a natural-looking drift. The good thing about these hardy (zones 4-8) little plants is that they will thrive wherever they end up, and they won’t be phased by a blanket of snow settling on them either.
We love the 'Snow Bunting' variety for its white flowers with a delicate purple flush on the outside of the petals. It adds a luminous touch to the winter garden in February and March.
If you love strongly scented flowers, hyacinths really are the spring bulbs for you. Plant up some containers with them in fall to place around your porch and you will be greeted by wafts of delicious fragrance every time you pass by. They are also a great choice for mixed flowerbeds, and are hardy in zones 4-8.
Hyacinths make wonderful plants for a cut flower garden too and are a deliciously scented flower to have in the house in spring. Use them either as cut flowers tucked into the centre of bowl arrangements, or leave them growing as bulbs in pots or glass vases.
When it comes to picking a color the choice is quite overwhelming, so over to Jenny Rose Carey again to share her personal favorites: 'Colors range from the traditional light blue, powder pink and white, through to bright pink, purple, coral, lilac, and more. Try fancy double flowers for a full look. My favorite cultivars include the complex pale purple 'Splendid Cornelia', the traditional 'Delft Blue' and the beetroot-colored 'Woodstock'. My spring garden would not be the same without them.'
Daffodils (narcissus) need no introduction as they are so popular, and widely grown from zones 3-8. But as well as the more usual trumpet-shaped ones we all know and love there are some other interesting varieties to look out for, such as those with swept back petals, multiple heads per stem, and gorgeous frilly double flowers.
The expert team at Nature Hills plant nursery like to brighten spring big-time with the 'Fairness' double daffodil, which sends up multiple stems full of clusters of ruffled chartreuse yellow double blooms with a hint of orange hidden in the centers. Sweetly scented, bumblebees and other pollinating beneficial garden insects will hover over these ruffles looking for nectar.
Narcissus also come in white. The Nature Hills team love the Narcissus 'Double Poets', which is one of the more unusual white varieties. 'Double daffodils such as this one do not have the signature cups that are often thought of when considering daffodils. Instead, they have double ruffled centers. All the petals of this pristine plant are a spotless white with a pop of yellow in the middle of each blossom.'
4. Grape hyacinth
Create a beautiful and easy display for spring by planting up some containers with grape hyacinth bulbs in fall. Also known as muscari, these spiky little blooms, which are actually made up of lots of tiny little bells, look gorgeous planted en masse in your flower beds and are one of the best bulbs to plant in fall. Tuck a good layer of moss around the bulbs to help the soil retain moisture, as well as improve the look of your display.
Grape hyacinths are also a good choice for underplanting other spring bulbs in containers, as well as playing a starring role in flower beds, where they will spread around with ease.
Generally available in a deep inky blue color, you can also get cultivars in pastel blue, light pink and white. Look out also for the 'Giant Cobalt Blue' grape hyacinth, which can reach 10-14 inches in height (the more usual varieties are 4-8 inches tall), which is hardy throughout zones 4-10, and incredibly easy to grow.
One of the first flowers to emerge from winter dormancy is the snowdrop, so be sure to plant some of their bulbs in fall to make the most of this early flowerer. The common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) grows only 3-6 inches tall, so they really are tiny treasures. Meanwhile giant snowdrop Galanthus elwesii is taller, reaching 14-16 inches if you're looking for something a little more statuesque.
'Plant snowdrops and look forward to seeing these beauties early every year. They are such a joy to see after a long grey winter,' says master gardener Martha Murdock from the College of Agricultural Sciences at Pennsylvania State University.
'Snowdrops provide charm and a promise of spring in woodland settings and rock gardens alike. They may be planted under deciduous trees, as they will bloom and die back before the trees leaf out. Pretty planted in drifts of up to 25 bulbs, they will spread over time.'
Snowdrops need a cold period where the temperature falls below 20° to bloom. Conversely, they will not survive temperatures below minus 30° either. They are, however, one of the best bulbs to plant in fall if you live in zones 3-7.
So when do I plant tulip bulbs?
We are big fans of tulips and they are very much at the top of our list when it comes to spring flowers. They really are some of the most delightful blooms around and the choice is second to none.
When it comes to choosing the best bulbs to plant in fall, however, the exception is tulips, which benefit from a later planting in November or even December. This is due to the soil needing to have cooled off from the summer season before you plant.
Don't count on last year's bulbs coming up again either. While most spring bulbs are perennial, and will come up year after year if the conditions are right tulips are again the exception to the rule. While you might be lucky and get some re-blooming, it's best to top up your collection of tulip bulbs every fall.
If you live in a warm climate, again it's a different set of rules for tulips. 'In the American south and other warm climates there is not enough winter cold to chill tulips sufficiently to trigger spring bloom,' says Jenny Rose Carey. 'In this instance, buy pre-chilled bulbs each year and treat them as a fleeting but enjoyable garden occupant.' One that is so worth it.
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Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about flowers, plants, and garden design and trends since 2015. Having already studied introductory garden and landscape design as well as a course in floristry she is currently adding to her list of qualifications with an RHS Level 2 course in the Principles of Plant Growth and Development. In addition to livingetc.com, she's also written for homesandgardens.com, gardeningetc.com, Modern Gardens and Country Homes & Interiors magazines.
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