How to plant flowering bulbs

Want to know how to get beautiful blooms without breaking the bank (and your back)? We’ve got one word for you: bulbs. Trust us, they’re magic. Read on to discover why they should be high on your shopping list, how to plant them and when.

Nothing lights up a garden, balcony or terrace better than beautiful blooms. Scented, bright, stunning. In spring, they burst onto the scene before most perennials, trees and shrubs get going, signalling longer and warmer days ahead. In summer, they create a kaleidoscope of colour, creating the perfect backdrop to hazy summer fetes.

Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it? But how to achieve such wonders without breaking the bank (and your back)? We’ve got one word for you: bulbs. Trust us, they’re magic. You can get blooms throughout the seasons, even from late winter, right through the spring, right through the summer and until the leaves start to fall in the autumn. Want to know more? Read on to learn all about bulbs, how and when to plant them.


What are bulbs?

Bulbs are basically just really efficient storage structures. In a way they’re like ‘natural’ USB sticks in that they are little objects that store lots of information.

In the case of bulbs though, this information has the potential to produce a fabulous little flower like a daffodil or a bluebell.

They’re kind of like a big seed really except bulbs produce an exact replica of the flower they originated from whereas a seed might produce something a little bit different to the parent plant.

Why bulbs are great (even for beginner gardeners)

Here are just some reasons why you’ll want to make bulb-planting part of your gardening year:

  • Bulbs are relatively cheap - you get lots of bulbs, all with the potential to flower, in one convenient mesh- pack.

  • Bulbs will flower how they’re shown on the pack - flowers from bulbs are near always identical to the parent flower so we know from the outset how the flowers from your bulbs will turn out.

  • Bulbs are generally rounded or pear-shaped - they’re easy to handle and therefore easy to plant. (We recommend gloves though - some of them can have itchy skins)

  • Bulbs turn into flowers that span the vast majority of the year for colour from the white snowdrops in February to the pink autumn cyclamen in November.


What kind of plant bulbs are there?

There are two main types of bulbs that the gardener needs to have in mind:

Spring-flowering bulbs

  • Buy these bulbs from August

  • Plant these bulbs in autumn

The spring-flowering bulbs include all the flowers that bloom from winter up until around early June. Here are some examples of spring-flowering bulbs and when they’re likely to be in flower.


  • Snowdrop

  • Aconite


  • Glory-of-the-snow

  • Crocus

  • Daffodil


  • Grape hyacinth

  • Hyacinth

  • Bluebell


  • Tulip

  • Allium

Summer-flowering bulbs

  • Buy these bulbs from February
  • Plant these bulbs in early spring

The summer-flowering bulbs are all the flowers that come out in bloom between June and the first frosts of the following winter.

*Depending on the year this can be as early as October or as late as February. Some years we don’t have a frost at all. It’s in the lap of the Gods, so they say.

Here are some examples of summer-flowering bulbs and when they’re likely to be in flower.


  • Freesia

  • Oriental lily


  • Begonia

  • Dahlia

  • Gladioli

  • Summer hyacinth (Galtonia)


  • Montbretia

  • Pineapple lily

  • Ethiopian lily (Acidanthera)

How to plant bulbs for the best displays

Planting in the ground

What you need:

  • Long-handled bulb planter (to save your back)

  • Lots of bulbs

  • Garden hose or watering can

1. Scatter the bulbs so they land on the spots you’d like to see the flowers come up. (By scattering them and planting them in situ it will give your flowers a better natural look.)

2. Use the long handled bulb planter to cut out a plug in the soil or lawn.

3. Drop your bulb in (it doesn’t matter how they fall as they naturally right themselves in the soil anyway. Neat, eh!)

5. Place the plug of soil over the bulb.

6. Repeat for each bulb.

TOP TIP: If the soil’s extra dry give the area a soaking with a hose or a couple of watering cans full of water.

Planting in pots - the lasagne trick

Want a decorative pot full of bulbs coming up over a long period of time? Layer up those bulbs, just like a delightful lasagne (only this one will be a feast for your eyes, not your taste buds). This is best done with smaller spring bulbs (daffodils, hyacinths, etc), as summer bulbs tend to be bigger.

What you need:

  • 4 of each type of bulb. We chose crocus, hyacinth, daffodil & tulip.

  • A big-ish pot. We recommend one that's at around 40cm width and 30cm height. Make sure it's got drainage holes at the bottom

  • Free-draining peat-free compost

  • Broken pot shards

  • Horticultural grit

1. Fill the bottom of the pot with your broken pot shards (it’s not totally necessary, but it helps water drain through better)

2. Add 5 cm of compost on top of the shards.

3. Start with the tulip bulbs, with the pointy ends upwards. Place them so they’re not touching each other - one bulb size between each.

4. Cover the bulbs with another 5cm of compost.

5. Layer the next set of bulbs, in this case the daffodils. Space them out like you did the tulips, and if you can, try to position them so that they don’t sit directly on top of the bulbs below.

6. Add another layer of compost on top.

7. Layer on the third layer of bulbs - your hyacinths, again making sure there’s space between them.

8. Cover with another layer of compost (about 5cm)

9. Pop the final layer of bulbs - your crocus - on top, and cover with a final layer of compost. We added a little horticultural grit to keep the soil in top condition and prevent weeds from forming.

10. TA-DAH! You’ve got yourself a bulb lasagne. Now you can kick back and wait for the magic to happen.


ForbesThe Times logoi newsSky NewsTelegraph logo