What to look for in bulbs and how to plant them now for brilliant blooms in the spring.

Share story

Follow these planting and design tips for your best-ever display of daffodils, tulips, crocus and other bulbs come spring, from this month’s Better Homes and Gardens magazine.


Bulbs play a variety of parts in your garden’s spring show, from supporting cast to starring roles.

Power in numbers. Though dazzling to look at, the elaborate formal designs commonly used in botanic gardens don’t translate well to home gardens. Instead, use masses of simpler combinations of two or three colors, laid out in informal shapes and forms that follow the lines of your beds.

Spots of color. Small groups of bulbs tucked among perennials, shrubs or rocks create bright accents. Use types with large flowers such as daffodils, tulips and alliums, and group several together so they make a strong visual statement.

Wildflower meadows. Squill, crocus and grape hyacinth are spectacular when blooming by the hundreds in early spring, and they readily naturalize. This makes them suitable for mass plantings in lawns and under trees to create flowery “meadows.”

For a natural look, toss them by the handful, then plant where they land.

Basics. “Naturalizing” bulbs bloom every year, so you can plant them once and enjoy them every spring. Packages will tell you if the bulbs will naturalize.

Plan before planting. Before you put any bulbs in the ground, lay the entire design out on top of the soil, then plant.

Planting tools

Several tools make easy work of bulb planting. Which one is best depends on how you plant. Regardless of the tool you use, planting is easier and bulbs will grow better if you till the planting area beforehand.

Trowels: If soil is loose and easy to dig, a trowel is as good as any tool for planting bulbs. For convenience, some trowels are marked with inches.

Bulb planters: Specialized bulb tools take the strain out of planting bulbs. Foot-powered tools are best for hard soil; hand tools better for looser soil.

Augers: Powered by a drill, augers easily penetrate untilled soil. They’re easy to use in tight spots, too, so use them to plant bulbs in between other plants.

Frequently asked questions

Q: When is the best time to plant?

A: It’s important to plant before winter arrives. September and October are ideal in most regions; November is acceptable.

By December, stored bulbs may weaken or die.

Q: How do I know if bulbs are healthy?

A: Bulbs should be firm and show no signs of mold or decay. Nor should they be growing leaves. The longer you wait to plant, the more likely bulbs will go bad. That’s why it’s important to plant early.

Q: How should I store bulbs?

A: Store in a cool, dry, dark place such as a basement, and as briefly as possible. The best place for bulbs is in the ground.

Q: Which end is up?

A: Most bulbs have a pointed end, which should face up when planted. If you don’t see a point, look for remnants of roots and plant that end down.

Q: Where can I plant bulbs?

A: Almost anywhere except in soggy soil, which can cause bulbs to rot. Naturalizing bulbs should be sited where they receive ample sunlight so they’ll thrive in subsequent years.

Q: Do I need to fertilize bulbs when I plant?

A: Naturalizing bulbs, which bloom year after year, benefit from bulb fertilizer at planting. Non-naturalizing bulbs that will be discarded after they bloom do not need fertilizer.