Horticulture Magazine

When Should You Plant Spring Bulbs?

tulips and bluebells growing in a garden border

Now might be a good time to think about ordering spring bulbs, but when should you plant them?

Spring bulbs are planted in the autumn – but when exactly you should plant them depends on which specific spring bulbs you have decided to grow.

Some should be planted in September, but you should hold off planting others until October or even November.

Here’s a table that explains when to plant different popular spring bulbs:

BulbUK Planting MonthsPlanting DepthPlanting Spacing
AlliumSeptember – October4x Bulb Width10cm
BluebellsSeptember – October8cm10cm
ChionodoxaSeptember – October5cm5-8cm
CrocusAugust – November10cm7.5cm
DaffodilsAugust – September3x Bulb Height12cm
HyacinthSeptember – October10cm7.5cm
Iris reticulataSeptember – October10-12cm10cm
Muscari (Grape Hyacinth)September – October10cm5-6cm
SnowdropsSeptember – October10cm10cm
TulipsOctober – November3x Bulb Height2x Bulb Width

While spring bulbs can all be planted throughout the autumn months, any time up to around 6 weeks before the first ground-freezing hard frost, most spring-flowering bulbs are best planted earlier in the season – ideally, in most cases, before the end of September.

So now you understand when to plant most spring bulbs, your main consideration will be which spring bulbs you should grow.

Here are some of the best options to consider:

1) Alliums

ornamental alliums in white and purple

Ornamental alliums are one of the spring bulbs which should be planted in early to mid-autumn.

They can be planted into a sunny border with free-draining soil, or can be grown in containers.

The bulbs should be planted at a depth of around four times the width of the bulb.

small Allium sphaerocephalon bulbs in the palm of a human hand

Depending on the variety, the bulbs should be placed around 10-20cm apart.

Most alliums will bloom in late spring and early summer.

2) Bluebells

bluebell bulbs sprouting in autumn and ready for planting

Native bluebells are a great choice for a woodland or part shaded garden area.

These bulbs should also be sown in autumn, in well-drained soil which does not dry out.

The bulbs should be planted around 8cm deep, and should spring into life in the spring.

Some bluebells, however, may fare better if planted ‘in the green’ in spring, so this is something to consider.

3) Chionodoxa

glory of the snow blue flowers

Chionodoxa, ‘Glory of the Snow’ should also be planted in September or October, ideally before the end of September.

This is one of the very first flowers to bloom in the spring.

They look great below trees that lose their leaves in winter and can also be naturalised in a lawn.

Plant the bulbs around 5cm deep, and 5-8cm apart, or aim for spacing of around 15 bulbs for every 30cm square.

4) Crocus

a crocus bulb that has flowered being held in someones hand

Crocus can be planted any time between August and early November.

They work well in any sunny spot in the garden, though some varieties can also cope with partial shade.

Consider naturalising some in a lawn, or placing some around fruit trees, for example, to attract early pollinators.

These ‘bulbs’ (technically corms) can also be planted in containers.

Sow bulbs pointed end up around 10cm deep and 7.5cm apart.

5) Daffodils

daffodil bulb being planted in a small pot

Daffodils and other Narcissus are amongst the best-known spring bulbs.

Daffodil bulbs should be planted in early to mid-autumn, ideally before the end of September.

Some bulbs can also be ‘forced’ into early bloom indoors for flowering at Christmas (the paper-white narcissus, for example).

Plant daffodil bulbs to a depth of around 3 times the height of the bulb.

6) Hyacinths

dark red hyacinth bulbs being held in a red gloved hand

Another of the most popular spring bulbs, hyacinths have a distinctive scent and can be grown in the ground or in containers.

They can even be grown in pots indoors.

Bulbs for spring-flowering are planted outdoors or in containers in early autumn.

Prepared bulbs for earlier blooms should be planted in September if you would prefer blooms over the festive season.

Plant bulbs around 10cm deep, at a spacing of around 7.5cm.

7) Iris reticulata

Iris reticulata bulbs spilling from a paper bag onto a table with a hand trowel

Iris reticulata – early bulb iris – is another interesting choice to consider.

Mature clumps should be divided between mid-summer and early autumn and the bulbs should be planted out in well-drained soil or growing medium in full sun in the ground or in containers in September or October.

8) Muscari

blue grape hyacinths

Muscari, grape hyacinths, are another popular choice.

These are another spring bulb that should be planted in the autumn months.

They should be planted to a depth of around 10cm and work well outdoors or in containers in a free-draining yet moist soil or potting mix in full sun or partial shade.

9) Snowdrops

snowdrops in a ceramic container

Snowdrops are another bulb to choose for very early blooms, which should emerge sometime between January and March.

If you can, try to plant snowdrop bulbs before the first hard frosts in your area.

Unfortunately, these bulbs can be tricky to establish, and can easily dry out.

So make sure you plant them out as quickly as possible after you buy them.

Alternatively, establish plants by planting them ‘in the green’ in spring.

Planting Later

Many of the above can still be planted out until November, through will likely perform better with earlier planting.

So it is not too late to consider planting the above if you haven’t got round to it just yet.

However, there is one spring bulb best planted later in the autumn: the tulip.

10) Tulips

yellow and pink tulips sat in a grey plastic plant pot

Tulips can be sown earlier but will be more susceptible to a disease called tulip fire. [source]

Still, make sure that get your tulips planted before the first hard frosts in your area.

Tulip bulbs should be planted at a depth of at least 2-3 times the bulb’s height and at a spacing of at least twice the bulb’s width.

tulip bulbs laid on garden soil with a trowel sticking out

Most spring bulbs should be planted in the autumn, mostly in early to mid-autumn if possible.

So order your spring bulbs now to make sure you are prepared.

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