The approach of fall in New England means that it’s time to start prepping for fall bulb planting! Here’s a full guide for planting fall bulbs from our Garden Collaborator, Robin Dini, which will get you ready for gorgeous spring blooms!

Front stoop with pumpkins and autumn decor

As September has come upon us, the quintessential New England season of fall is on its way!

The pumpkins are ready for harvest. The apples are ripe for the picking. Hay bales and corn stalks are making their way to local farm stands along with the slow opening buds of colorful mums.

We live next to a one hundred and fifty year old apple orchard, Bishop’s Orchards, and there are certain times of the day when you can smell the sweetness of the apple trees up on the hill. It is the most glorious scent!

Drought and heat have been brutal this summer and the chilly morning air is welcome. We love hoodie and blanket weather in this family! Turn off the air conditioners and bring on the cozy campfires!

Crocus, tulip, and allium bulbs with mums and lavender plants.

The cool temperatures are also a sign that it’s time to get spring bulbs into the ground. What is planted in the fall will bloom in the spring when the ground starts to thaw and the temperatures start to rise after a cold winter.

According to the gardening website, American Meadows:

“Spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils must be planted in the fall or early winter to bloom in spring because they require a long period of cool temperatures to spark the biochemical process that causes them to flower. In fall, it’s important to get them into the ground before the ground freezes. They need time to develop strong roots”

Crocus flowers

We moved into our house in the fall of 2019. The home we purchased had zero perennials, bulbs, and lacked established gardens. The only plantings that “came with the house” were two bushes, a sad rotodendrum (which I transplanted and rehabilitated), and a massive hydrangea bush. We were surprised the following spring to find a few random daffodils around a tree in the backyard and later established a garden around them with additional daffodils and irises.

As a housewarming gift, a dear friend of mine brought over a giant bag of daffodil bulbs. It was the most thoughtful gift and one that I highly recommend! Now, each spring when those daffodils bloom I think of her and am so grateful for that memory and her kindness.

Inspired by her gift, I took a trip to find bulbs to start planting in the soil. I kept my variety simple for the first season with crocus, daffodils, and tulips because deciding where to plant bulbs can be tricky. It requires a bit of advanced planning.

Mini daffodils

Our first fall season was a learning experience and we gained knowledge and resources that we used to expand on for the following year. The following is advice we’ve learned and resources we have found to be incredibly valuable. I will be referencing the K. van Bourgondien Garden Guide which was included free with our bulb order last season.

I highly recommend them for ordering large quantities of bulbs because their quality is amazing and their prices are very reasonable. Their website has an incredible blog, how-to articles, and garden zone recommendations based on where you live. Such an awesome resource!

Tulip flowers

The Do’s and Don’ts of Planting Bulbs

Great tips from the K.van Bourgondien Garden Guide:

  • Always plant bulbs in borders or beds with good drainage
  • Do Not use strong commercial fertilizer or fresh manure when planting
  • Always let the foliage die back on its own in the garden before trimming it back or digging up the bulbs. Do not trim back healthy green foliage or the bulb will not perform well next year.
  • Always store bulbs in a dry, well ventilated area to prevent mold or mildew. Do not store them in an air-tight container.
  • Do Not grow tulip bulbs year after year in the same place. Sooner or later they may be attacked with a fungus disease called fire blight, which affects both foliage and flowers. Either change the soil or the location; follow the principle of crop rotation.
  • Always label the bulbs as you plant them. Smaller bulbs can get heaved out of the soil during winter freezing and thawing. Labeling prevents you from accidentally digging up bulbs out of season. Do not rely on your memory alone. Labeling is much safer.
Daffodil garden with rock edging

Bulb Preparation & Planting

Information and steps provided from the K.van Bourgondien Garden Guide:

  1. Prepare Bed: Dig out the soil to proper depth. A shovel is quicker and easier than a trowel.
  2. Condition Soil: Loosen the soil and add fertilizer. If soil is sandy, mix with peat moss or leaf compost. For clay-based soil, add sand or peat moss.
  3. Plant: Place bulbs firmly in the soil, pointed end up. Plant bulbs in clusters, 12 or more to produce best effect.
  4. Cover and Mulch: Cover the bulbs with soil; water well. Add two or three inches of mulch in cold areas.

Planting Depth

“Generally, you should plant spring bulbs two to three times as deep as the bulbs is tall. This means most large bulbs like tulips will be planted about 6 inches deep while smaller bulbs like muscari will be planted 3-4 inches deep. The depth of planting should be measured from the surface level of the soil to the shoulder of the bulb and the eyes or crowns of the perennials. Distance between plants is measured from the center of one plant to the center of the next.”K.van Bourgondien Garden Guide

Fall planting chart for flower bulbs

What I learned the first year of planting bulbs is to be strategic about where you place your bulbs and think ahead to what types of summer annuals you plan to plant and where. The garden in the front of my house is lined with edging and I planted my daffodil and crocus bulbs lining the edging.

Once the daffodils are spent at the beginning of summer, I tie up the greens with garden string and tuck them under the annuals that I plant. Typically I plant annuals that spread like impatiens and petunias so they will cover up green.

Why do I do this? Because you need to let the foliage die back so that energy can be stored in the bulb for the next blooming season.

Be mindful of where you bulbs lie so you don’t accidentally dig them up during your gardening adventures through the warmer temperatures. And if you do accidentally dig up a bulb, just put it back in it’s place and leave it be.

Hundreds of Daffodils

We had the most amazing transformation in our yard last fall. We dug out an overgrown strip of yard that was full of prickers, poison ivy, wild roses, and hostas. What we were able to transplant, we did and everything else was ripped out. We turned the soil and dug up three sections of dirt and planted over two hundred daffodils, thirty tulips, and three hydrangea bushes. We threw compost and leaves over top and the bulbs did their thing over the winter.

Father and daughter doing yard work and gardening together.

Come spring time, the most incredible sight showed itself with the bright green foliage tips bursting through the snow packed dirt. Everyday we checked their growth with excitement and by Easter, we had hundreds of daffodils to cut and give to our friends and neighbors to enjoy.

Hundreds of daffodils blooming in a rehabilitated garden space.

Good luck with your fall planting!

Robin Dini (@withincreative)

Smells Like Home Gardening Collaborator

Robin Dini is a Connecticut native and resides in a quintessential New England town on the shoreline. Her love for gardening and all things plants and flowers is rooted in her deep connection to nature and her childhood spending countless hours outdoors. Robin’s gardening philosophy is to grow what you like, experiment with new things, and do your research.

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