When to plant bulbs for spring

Turn your garden into a spring paradise by planting swathes of bulbs. Pack them into pots, beds and borders in autumn for a burst of cheer.

What are the best spring bulbs to plant?

There are so many reasons to love spring bulbs. The rewarding riot of colour when little else is blooming boldly in the garden, the subtle scent, and how easy they are to plant and care for. But best of all? There’s just so much variety. Some of our favourite spring bulbs to plant are:

  • Tulips
  • Alliums
  • Daffodils
  • Crocus
  • Iris
  • Hyacinth
  • Scilla
  • Amaryllis
  • Bluebells
  • Snowdrops
  • Anemone
  • Muscari

Different varieties of spring bulbs bloom at different times from February through to May. Check the instructions to find out when the variety you like is going to flower.

Snowdrops and scilla bloom very early in the year, bringing cheer to chilly spring days and offering an important source of nectar for eager pollinators, whereas tulips and daffodils come out later in spring.

Close up of yellow daffodils in flower

When should I plant my spring bulbs?

In an ideal world, you’d aim to get your spring bulbs in the ground as soon as you buy them.

In the UK, try to plant spring flowering bulbs like crocus, daffodils and hyacinths by the end of September or during October. If you can get them in earlier, even better. Tulips can be planted later, in October or November.

Hardy summer-flowering bulbs, like alliums and lilies, can also be planted in autumn.

How do you plant spring bulbs?

Tulips, daffodils, iris, crocus and anemones generally like life in a sunny spot with free-draining soil. Snowdrops, bluebells and winter aconites flower in woodland habitats, so they prefer cooler, shadier positions.

Planting spring bulbs in borders

In beds and borders, spring bulb flowers look best in groups or drifts. Aim for at least 25 bulbs (or go all out and opt for more) to put on an impressive show.

1. Either scatter the bulbs and plant them where they fall for a truly naturalistic look or dig a shallow trench and plant your bulbs at 2-3 times their depth. Make sure the pointy end (the shoot) is facing up and the bulbs are at least twice their width apart.

2. Cover the bulbs back up and firm the soil around them gently.

3. Give the ground a good water to help them get settled in.

Planting spring bulbs in pots

You can also plant spring bulbs in pots. The beauty of bulbs is that they’re versatile, so you can either make up a pot to last for a single season (before digging them up and moving them somewhere else) or put together a longer-term container display.

1. Mix up some multi-purpose peat-free compost with grit, preferably in a 3:1 ratio and use it to fill a deep container.

2. Plant your bulbs at around 2-3 times their depth and one bulb width apart with the pointy end facing up.

3. Give the pot a good watering.

If you fancy creating a showstopping spring bulb display with lots of different types of flowers popping off throughout the season, why not layer them up to make a bulb lasagne?

Hand planting a daffodil bulb in the ground

How do I care for spring bulbs?

Spring bulbs are super easy to care for. While you won’t need to water them a lot until they start to sprout, don’t let them dry out entirely, even in winter.

Once foliage starts to show, give them a splash of high potassium liquid feed every week or two to help them flower fabulously.

Thankfully, spring bulbs aren’t a huge magnet for pests and diseases, but keep an eye out for any that are starting to go soft or rot.

Attempt to keep slugs and snails at bay and consider putting netting over the top of pots to ward off inquisitive squirrels until the bulbs have poked their heads up.

When the flowers have gone over, deadhead them by removing the spent blooms. This will allow the plants to put their energy back into the bulbs and ensure they look tip-top for years to come.

How late can you plant bulbs for spring?

Oops. We know how it goes. You order your bulbs in early autumn in a flurry of over-excitement, drool over them when they arrive and then…? Life gets in the way and you tear your hair out worrying that all is lost and you’re too late to get them in the ground.

Thankfully, spring bulbs are quite forgiving. If you get them in during late autumn, they should still come up in spring, even if they’re a little late to the party. Just avoid planting them in frozen ground.

And if you come across a forgotten bag of bulbs in the shed? Chuck out any soft ones and get the rest in the ground as soon as you can rather than leaving them until the following season. Their performance might be slightly under par during the first year, but they should improve the following spring, especially if you add organic fertiliser or mulch when planting.

Will my spring bulbs come back every year?

Most spring bulbs come back year after year and many also multiply and spread (aka ‘naturalise’), making them excellent value for your dosh.

It’s totally ok to leave your bulbs in the ground over winter but, once they’ve died back, you might want to dig them up and move them around to improve your display or create a new one.

If you don’t have anywhere else for them to go, bulbs in pots can be lifted, dried out and stored in a paper bag in the shed until the autumn but, as a rule, it’s better to keep them underground so they bloom all the better.