When to Plant Bulbs – A Quick Guide

Not too early and not too late

By Hannah Miller at DIY Gardening

Hello, my name is Hannah Miller, and I’m the co-owner and contributor here at DIY Gardening.

As we approach the end of September, summer now seems like a distant memory.

It’s raining outside, the plants are starting to fade, and the temperature is noticeably cooler.

It’s time to start thinking about bulbs and when to plant them.

For those of you new to gardening, spring-flowering bulbs should be planted in the autumn, well before any harsh frosts but not so early that the warm soil causes them to immediately grow and send up stems.

Where you live in the UK will determine when to plant bulbs, for example, the soil temperature in Scotland cools down much quicker after summer than soil in the south of the country.

Below is our guide to planting bulbs:

Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller

Daffodil Bulb Planting Time

Daffodils

Daffodils are one of the most popular spring bulbs, and unlike others such as tulips, they don’t need to be lifted every year as they survive the summer with few problems.

Details:

North/Scotland: Plant in late September or October.

South: Plant from early October to early November.

Latest plant time: November but depends on frosts.

Planting depth: 2-3 times the size of the bulb.

Lifting and storing: There’s no need to lift daffodil bulbs every year, but if left in the same spot, they will get smaller each year, so lift and relocate them every few years. Daffodils don’t need to be stored during the dormant season.

Tulip Bulbs

Pink Tulips

Tulips are native to central Asia, and the climate in the UK is far from ideal for them.

Most tulips will perform well during the first growing season but will fail in year two or they will sprout, but the flowers will be small and weak.

Lifting and storing tulips will improve their chances of reflowering, but the success rate can still be very low.

To prevent diseases, tulips should be planted a little later than most other bulbs, including daffodils.

Details:

North/Scotland: Plant in November.

South: Plant from late November to mid-December.

Latest plant time: Late December but before harsh frosts.

Planting depth: 3 times the size of the bulb.

Lifting and storing: Tulips should be lifted and stored after the flowers and foliage have died back in spring. Keep the bulbs in a warm, dry place with good ventilation over the summer. They may flower next year, or they may not so re-plant them in less important borders just in case. Bulbs stored over the summer below 18° will produce smaller and weaker flowers if replanted.

Allium Bulbs

Alliums

Alliums produce large pom-pom balls containing clusters of small flowers and have become popular in recent years.

I’ve been growing alliums for about five years and have fallen in love with them.

Most commonly found in borders where the tall stems rise above the nascent spring growth of other plants, alliums are easy to care for and are reliable rebloomers.

Details:

North/Scotland: Plant from late September to October.

South: Plant from October to November.

Latest plant time: Early December but before harsh frosts.

Planting depth: 2-3 times the size of the bulb. Large alliums should be appropriately spaced, so the large flowers have enough room and aren’t overcrowded.

Lifting and storing: Allium bulbs are full hardy perennials in most parts of the UK, although potted alliums should be moved to a sheltered location to protect them from frost. There’s no need to lift and store allium bulbs, although they will multiply and become crowded, so lifting, dividing and replanting should be done every few years.

Not sure when alliums bloom?

Check out this sharable infographic:

Allium bloom time chart

Snowdrops, Crocus and Muscari Bulbs

Muscari

Snowdrops, Crocus and Muscari, are popular low growing, spring-flowering bulbs and complement other late winter and early spring plants.

Details:

North/Scotland: Plant from late September to October.

South: Plant from October to November.

Latest plant time: Early December but before harsh frosts.

Planting depth: 2-4 times the size of the bulb.

Lifting and storing: These bulbs don’t need to be lifted every year but will form clumps, so they should be lifted, divided and replanted accordingly. There is no need to store these bulbs over the summer.

Dahlias

Orange dahlias

Dahlias are one of my favourite plants, and although not grown from a bulb, the “tubers” need extra special care and attention over the winter months to protect them from frost.

The reward is well worth the effort, and in my opinion, nothing beats a huge dinnerplate dahlia flower.

Details:

North/Scotland: Due to the colder winters, dahlias are best started off in pots in a protected environment until all risk of frost has passed, then relocated to larger pots or the border.

South: Can be left in the ground throughout winter, provided the surface is covered with sufficient mulch for frost protection. Potted dahlias should be relocated to a frost-free spot or lifted.

Earliest plant time: Two months before the last frost date if grown in a protected environment or after the last frost if planted directly in the ground.

Planting depth: Initially shallow to encourage shoots, then relocated deeper or topped up with soil.

Lifting and storing: Depends on the risk of frost. Dahlias in Scotland the North should be lifted, dried and stored over winter. In the south, they can be protected with mulch or to be on the safe side, lifted and stored for the winter. Dahlias tubers will multiply during the growing season, so one should lift and divide the tubers at least every few years to get extra plants.

First and Last Frost Date Calculator:

Knowing when the first and last frost dates are expected for your area can help with bulb and tuber planting and thankfully, there are online calculators that can help.

This website is a little dated but you can select your nearest city and it will tell you the first and last frost dates.

How to Store Bulbs You Just Purchased From a Shop:

Sometimes, you buy bulbs, and the weather changes, the cold weather is gone, and an Indian summer props up the soil temperature.

Should you plant the bulbs anyway or store them for later?

I will stick my neck out here and say you should store them in a cool, dry, dark and well-ventilated place until the temperature cools down.

Before hitting the shelves, these bulbs would have been in storage, and there’s no harm in placing them back there for a few weeks until planting.

If planted too early, some bulbs can suffer from diseases (tulips are prone), and some may send up stems and start to flower early where the frost may kill them.

What to Do if Bulbs Start Growing Really Early:

Spring flowering bulbs will start putting down roots as soon as they’re planted in the autumn, and with our winters warmer and wetter than at any other recorded time, it’s not unusual for the bulbs to put on top growth.

In most cases, this doesn’t cause a problem; the foliage may survive the winter or die off and come back in the spring. Sometimes, the stems may produce buds that, due to their tenderness, are prone to frost damage, but in most cases, they survive just fine.

Other than planting at the optimal time, there’s little one do after the bulbs have started putting down roots. Hay and other light mulching material can offer some limited frost protection but might not be practical.

More information on what to do if your bulbs start growing early can be found here.

More From Hannah Miller:

This guide to when it’s best to plant bulbs was created by Hannah Miller and was posted to our blog on the 30th of September, 2021.

Hannah is a keen amateur gardener, mother and the owner of one cute Labradoodle.

She enjoys gardening as much as she cares about the environment and animals and likes to share her knowledge with others.

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