For Pacific Northwest gardens, September is the earliest time to plant bulbs, October the latest. Photo by Sandy Cortez

For Pacific Northwest gardens, September is the earliest time to plant bulbs, October the latest. Photo by Sandy Cortez

Get It Growing: Plant bulbs now for springtime color

It is time to plant bulbs!

There is so much excitement around spring-flowering bulbs so let’s get to it: It’s time to plant bulbs!

A friend says, “Dig a hole and drop in the bulb … it’s that easy,” and he is right. Select a spot with good drainage, good sun exposure and access to supplemental water.

Cultivate the soil by single digging (dig to a depth equal to the shovel or fork) and add organic compost.

Planting bulbs is appropriate for all ages, youngsters to oldsters, so get the family out for a fun day of bulb-planting!

Spring-flowering bulbs include beauties such as alliums, crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, bulb irises, snowdrops and tulips. In this article the term “bulb” refers to corms and tubers as well as bulbs.

Technically, a crocus is a corm, but the difference is slight. The bulb is where the food, bud, leaves and roots of the plant are developed and stored during the dormant season.

The most important thing to remember is that to have spring flowers one needs to plant in the fall.

Where and when

Acquire bulbs early to get the best selection and quality. Bulbs are available at a multitude of locations: nurseries, home and garden stores, drug stores, grocery stores, online — just about everywhere! Select bulbs that are firm, solid and have no mold or obvious injury.

For the most part all bulbs require the same conditions, so you can mix and match, creating the spring display that most appeals to you.

To enhance your design, note the characteristics of each species, height, color and bloom time. For example, snowdrops and crocus are shorter and will bloom the earliest, followed by the taller daffodils, then tulips and bulb irises.

Putting the bulbs into the soil too early can encourage the plants to emerge before the winter weather has subsided and subject new growth to the risk of freezing. Bulbs planted too late may not fully mature to produce spring flowers.

In the Pacific Northwest, September is the earliest to plant bulbs and October is the latest.


Planting bulbs is simple. Most bulbs should be planted at a depth that is three times the length of the bulb. For example, a two-inch high bulb should be planted 6 inches deep.

Dig individual holes or dig a large area and plant a mass of bulbs. Visually, spring bulbs are showiest when planted in small groups tucked into the landscape, in containers or in large mass plantings. Mass plantings on a sloped area can be striking.

For a truly ”naturalized” look, toss a double handful of bulbs onto a prepared bed and plant them where they land. In most cases, an irregular pattern is more attractive than a straight line.

Place them 3-5 inches apart if you want thick groupings or 6- to 8-inch spacing for rows.

The pointy end of the bulb goes up. Corms and tubers should be planted root-side down. Even if you make a mistake, most will come up.

Bone meal adds nutrition to the soil; however, it is optional. More important is well-drained organic soil. Adding compost to the bed will increase the organic content. Bulbs sitting in poorly-drained, heavy soil will rot.

Cover bulbs with soil filling the hole half-way, water thoroughly, finish filling the hole with soil and gently firm the surface, then mulch Mark what you planted and where; once they are covered, they are invisible! Sit back and anticipate the spring show!

After the bulbs have flowered, allow them to go dormant naturally. Cut off the spent flower and stem but do not cut off the leaves.

As the leaves die back, they add energy, aiding development of the bulb for next year’s flower.

Judy English is a Washington State University-Certified, Clallam County Master Gardener.

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