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spring-flowering bulbs

Garden Basics: How to Buy, Plant and Care for Bulbs

For many beginning gardeners, bulbs can seem intimidating. How do you know when and where to plant them? What kind of ongoing care do they need to keep blooming year after year? Do you really need to put bulbs in the fridge?

We’ve got the answers to all your basic bulb questions below!

What Is a Bulb?

Strictly speaking, many of the plants we think of as bulbs are actually tubers, corms, or rhizomes. Although they all behave similarly, true bulbs are shaped like onions or shallots and may have a papery skin or fleshy scales.

  • True bulbs include tulips, daffodils, lilies, and hyacinths.
  • Corms include gladiolus and ranunculus.
  • Tubers include anemones, dahlias, and potatoes.
  • Rhizomes include lily-of-the-valley and ginger.

Despite the differences, you can call all of the plants listed above “bulbs” and no one will correct you except major sticklers.

Fall Versus Spring Bulbs

Bulbs are lumped into two categories: fall and spring. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion over whether the name refers to the season when you plant them or the season when they bloom.

When someone says “fall bulbs,” they usually mean bulbs that get planted in the fall and then bloom in the spring. You might assume that “spring bulbs” get planted in the spring–and you’d be right.

Just be advised that some people use the terms interchangeably. Bulbs planted in spring will bloom in summer.

Bulb Planting 101

Planting bulbs isn’t as hard as you might think! Here’s a quick, step-by-step guide to get you started:

  1. Choose bulbs that are firm–mushiness or mold means that they’ve gone bad and should be discarded.
  2. Plant the bulbs in a sunny, well-drained spot. You can plant them in the ground or in containers.
  3. Dig a hole three times the height of the bulb and place it with the pointy side up. You can group several bulbs of the same type together; just make sure they aren’t touching each other.
  4. Gently cover with soil and pat down (don’t tamp too hard), and give the spot a good soaking.

How Often Should You Water Bulbs?

Bulbs hate having wet feet! If the ground is too moist, they will rot. Unless you are having unusually dry weather, most bulbs planted directly in the ground will not need additional watering. Bulbs in pots will likely need to be water once or twice a week.

Don’t water bulbs during their dormant season! For example, spring-blooming bulbs should not be watered in the fall and winter.

Do Bulbs Need to Be Chilled?

Bulbs that bloom in the spring need a period of cold-weather dormancy. That’s why they are typically planted in the fall before the first frost.

If you live in a warm climate, however, you might need to place certain bulbs like tulips and daffodils in cold storage for 3-4 months. The exact length of time will vary depending on your hardiness zone.

On the other hand, gardeners in cold climates may need to dig up and store delicate bulbs like irises over the winter so that they don’t get too cold.

Summer Clayton

Summer Clayton

Summer Clayton has always loved getting her hands dirty. Ever since she was a kid playing in her grandparents’ garden, Summer wanted to learn everything she could about plants. Now she wants to help you grow a bigger, better, greener garden.

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