Horticulture Magazine

20 Spring-Flowering Bulbs To Plant In Autumn

tulip bulbs being hand-planted into garden soil

Putting in the hard yards in autumn will help you reap a colourful and vibrant display come springtime with these bulbs.

In many ways, autumn is the busiest season of all for gardening enthusiasts.

Fruits need to be pruned, perennials require stripping back and, for those who have trees in their back yard, a carpet of crunchy fallen leaves must be swept up on a regular basis.

garlic bulbs planted in rows in autumn in an allotment

But as well as tending to the needs of the current year, autumn is also the time to begin planning for the one to come.

Bulbs are among the prime candidates for autumn planting, due to the fact that they don’t demand too much in the way of maintenance and offer a guarantee of bright colour come springtime.

Given that the bulbs are in prime condition and the soil is at its most workable following a productive summer, it’s the ideal season to roll up your sleeves and work out your display for the coming year.

white and purple flowering hyacinth with blue muscari in a garden border

Thankfully, there are plenty of different bulbs to choose from, available in a wide range of flowering times, styles and colours.

The list below represents our favourites among the multitudinous options on offer when it comes to selecting bulbs to plant in autumn – but don’t let it restrict your choice.

Instead, it’s advisable to view our selection as a jumping-off point for inspiration on what you opt for when designing your garden’s layout this autumn.

1) Ornamental Onion

round purple allium flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: ALLIUM
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: APRIL – MAY
  • BEST SITED: SUNNY AREA

You might be more familiar with the allium family due to its tasty culinary members, including garlic, onion and shallot.

However, there are plenty of ornamental alliums which make for impressive spring flowering plants.

Though they do come in a variety of different colours and sizes, they’re most commonly distinguished by their tall, bobbing stems topped by spheres of purple flowers.

Their height makes them an ideal option to plant in among sunny borders or surrounded by swaying grasses, though they’re versatile enough to make an attractive display wherever they’re positioned.

2) Windflower

purple anemone flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: ANEMONE
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: FEBRUARY – MARCH
  • BEST SITED: SUNNY AREA

With their cup-shaped blooms, daisy-like petals and bursts of bright colour, anemones are a sight for sore eyes come springtime.

They flourish best in direct sunlight or dappled shade, making them an ideal choice for beneath trees or taller plants.

They’re also very compact, meaning they lend themselves well to container planting, busy borders or other areas of the garden where space is at a premium.

Plant them in early autumn for a charming display of colours come early spring that’ll cut right through the doom and gloom of winter to galvanise your garden back to life.

3) Bluebell

flowering bluebells
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Hyacinthoides non-scripta
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – NOVEMBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: MARCH – MAY
  • BEST SITED: PART SHADED

These delicately beautiful flowers are commonly found throughout woodlands and meadows across the UK.

The English variety is differentiated from its Spanish cousins by the drooping nature of the stem and the fact that all the blossoms drape aesthetically from a single side.

They’re used to excelling in shaded spots, so find a darker part of your garden and brighten it up with a scattering of these bulbs between September and November.

For best results, plant them in a random pattern to recreate the attractive chaos of their growth in the wild.

4) Crocus

crocus flowers in purple, yellow and white amongst grass
  • BOTANICAL NAME: ALLIUM
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – NOVEMBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: MARCH – APRIL
  • BEST SITED: SUNNY AREA

Easily distinguished by their goblet-shaped blossoms, crocuses come in a range of bold colours, with purple, yellow and white being the most common.

Depending on the variety you plump for, you might even enjoy splashes of another colour in the centre of their bloom, while the petals themselves are variegated on occasion.

Unlike bluebells, crocuses do not grow well with restricted sunlight, so be sure to plant them in well-draining soil and with direct UV exposure.

Follow those simple rules and you’ll be rewarded with a vibrant display early on in spring.

5) Daffodil

daffodil flowers with a blue sky background
  • BOTANICAL NAME: NARCISSUS
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: FEBRUARY – APRIL
  • BEST SITED: SUNNY AREA

In Greek mythology, Narcissus became so enamoured with his own image that he rejected all suitors and fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water – with a daffodil sprouting in his place after his demise. [source]

One glance at the trumpet-like structure and dazzling yellow tones of the flower should clear up any confusion over the origins of that story, since daffodils are among the most flamboyant and fetching bulbs you can plant in autumn.

Put them in the ground between September and October to reap a colourful reward come February to April, depending on the specific variety you settle upon.

6) Byzantine Gladiolus

gladiolus flowers in white and shades of red
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Gladiolus byzantinus
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: APRIL – MAY
  • BEST SITED: SUNNY, SHELTERED AREA

Most Gladioli are meant to be planted in Spring and won’t survive harsh winters here in the UK.

However, Byzantine Gladioli can survive harsher climates and is therefore suitable for autumn planting.

With their tall spears of clustered blossoms, gladioli are among the most sought after autumn-planted bulbs for the rear of borders or near fences and walls.

However, their top-heavy structure means that they are wont to keel over under the weight of their own gorgeousness, so it might be an idea to provide support in the form of staking – especially if you plan to plant them in an area exposed to wind.

They’re also a bit prissy about their own space and don’t like to compete with the roots of shrubs or trees for their nutrients, so keep these demands in mind when considering your layout.

7) Hyacinth

hyacinth flowers in pink, blue and white with a wooden background
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: MARCH – APRIL
  • BEST SITED: ANY AREA

Autumn-planted hyacinths come in two varieties: “prepared” and “unprepared”.

The former are generally planted in containers or pots indoors at the start of September and kept in dark, cool rooms in order to generate a bright blossom in time for Christmas.

“Unprepared” types are planted outdoors anytime during September and October, normally in borders or containers, in order to unlock an effervescent display come springtime.

Whichever variety you prefer, you’ll be rewarded with incredibly pretty and dainty flowerheads that perch atop chunky stems for an inimitable aesthetic.

8) Iris

Purple bearded iris flowers
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: MAY – JUNE
  • BEST SITED: SUNNY, MOIST AREA

Named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, it’s fitting that irises are available in a wide spectrum of colours. [source]

Their paper-like leaves and beautifully marked flowers make them hot property in the horticultural world.

The fact that they are comfortable in a variety of soil types – from moist pond margins to free-draining rockeries – means they are as versatile as they are vivacious.

Bulbous irises will do best in well-drained soil and enjoy full sun, flowering in spring for a short period only.

However, their association with royalty (the French fleur-de-lis, despite having the misnomer of “flower of the lily”, is actually an iris) is a testament to the beauty of their blossoms during that brief window. [source]

9) Grape Hyacinth

blue muscari flowers which resemble grapes
  • BOTANICAL NAME: MUSCARI
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: APRIL – MAY
  • BEST SITED: FULLY SHADED SPOT

Muscari are an unusual and arresting flower to plant in autumn.

Small in size but big in impact, their appearance is reminiscent of a bunch of blue or purple grapes dangling from a diminutive stem, making them a bold addition to any border or arrangement.

They do equally well indoors, too, so you might wish to make a windowsill display of them if you enjoy their colour and style.

Just be mindful that once established, they have a tendency to propagate all by themselves – so keep an eye on them if you don’t want them to take over your garden!

10) Snowdrops

white snowdrops in a forest setting
  • BOTANICAL NAME: GALANTHUS
  • WHEN TO PLANT: OCTOBER – NOVEMBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: JANUARY – MARCH
  • BEST SITED: PART SHADED AREA

Among the earliest flowering plants available, snowdrops are usually the harbingers of spring’s arrival.

Indeed, in some varieties and locations, they’ve even been observed as early as late December.

Whenever the drifts of these delicately beautiful flowers begin to surface, they’re sure to catch eyes and turn heads.

They’re most commonly found in woodland areas in the wild, so you can encourage their growth by replicating those conditions as closely as possible in your garden by planting them in partial or dappled shade.

A smattering of snowdrops is also an excellent way to add a touch of natural charm to a lawn too.

11) Tulips

tulips in white and pink with yellow narcissus and other flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: TULIPA
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – NOVEMBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: MARCH – MAY
  • BEST SITED: SUNNY AREA

With their distinctive cup-shaped structure and bright floral blossoms, tulips are one of the most popular bulbs to plant in autumn for good reason.

They require minimal upkeep, invariably perform well in all climes and produce fantastic aesthetic results come springtime.

For areas that suffer especially cold winters, it might be beneficial to plant them slightly deeper than normal (at perhaps four to five times their own height) to insulate them from the worst of the surface frost.

12) Snake’s Head Fritillary

snake's head fritillary in red and white
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Fritillaria meleagris
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: APRIL – MAY
  • BEST SITED: DAPPLED SHADE

There are some plants that simply make you gasp in amazement when they flower.

Snake’s head fritillary is one such variety, which takes its common name from the arrow-shaped structure and tessellated pattern of its flowers just before they bloom.

Indeed, it’s the unique markings of the flowerheads which make Fritillaries such an interesting and unusual specimen for your garden display.

Plant them in clusters in September or October and add a few more each autumn to ensure they stay strong and resilient year after year.

13) Persian Buttercup

three large round persian buttercup flowers in pink
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Ranunculus asiaticus
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – NOVEMBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: APRIL – MAY
  • BEST SITED: SUNNY AREA

14) Camas Lily

camassia growing in a field
  • BOTANICAL NAME: CAMASSIA
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – NOVEMBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: APRIL – MAY
  • BEST SITED: ANY AREA

15) Lily Of The Valley

Convallaria majalis with white flowers growing in woodland
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Convallaria majalis
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: MAY – JUNE
  • BEST SITED: PART SHADED; MOIST AREA

16) Striped Squill

striped squill flowers in white and yellow with blue stripes
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Puschkinia scilloides
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: MARCH – APRIL
  • BEST SITED: ANY AREA

17) Dog’s Tooth Violet

pink flowers of Dog's Tooth Violet
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Erythronium dens-canis
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: APRIL – MAY
  • BEST SITED: SHADED AREA

18) Lily

pink and white flowering lilies outside a garden door
  • BOTANICAL NAME: LILIUM
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – EARLY OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: VARIES
  • BEST SITED: SUNNY AREA

19) Winter Aconite

mat-forming winter aconite with yellow flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Eranthis hyemalis
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: FEBRUARY – MARCH
  • BEST SITED: PART SHADED AREA

20) Alpine Violet

alpine violets covering woodland ground with small pink flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: CYCLAMEN
  • WHEN TO PLANT: SEPTEMBER – NOVEMBER
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: JANUARY – MARCH
  • BEST SITED: FULLY SHADED, MOIST AREA

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