University of Illinois Extension
Time to plant spring bulbs
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[October 21, 2020]
As many perennial plants are getting ready to
go dormant for the winter, it is time to start thinking about next
spring’s floral display and plant spring-flowering bulbs. The best
time to plant spring bulbs is late September through October to
allow sufficient time for a good root system to develop before
winter. Depending on the location, spring bulbs begin blooming in
late February (snowdrops) and continue until late June (alliums).
When purchasing bulbs, keep in mind that larger
bulbs will produce larger blooms. Bulbs should be firm and free of
rotting spots or signs of disease.
For the greatest visual impact, plant bulbs in groupings, and large
drifts or waves of color in areas that receive at least 8 hours of
sunlight daily. Mix them in with other perennials and shrubs to
screen the foliage after blooms fade.
The general rule of thumb when planting is to bury them two to three
times deeper than the length of the bulb, measured top to bottom.
Bulbs should be spaced six to 12 inches apart to allow for spreading
and future divisions. Plant them with the nose of the bulb (pointy
side) facing upward, and the root plate (flatter side) facing
After covering the planted bulbs with soil, water the area well to
settle the bulbs into the soil and initiate root development. If
there is little rain in the fall, continue to water weekly until the
ground freezes. Add a light, 2-inch layer of mulch to the soil after
planting to minimize temperature fluctuations in the winter and to
help conserve moisture in the soil.
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To prevent pesky squirrels and chipmunks from digging
up your bulbs, cover the area with chicken wire or hardwire mesh
after planting, and mulch over the top. Avoid using natural
fertilizers (like fish emulsion or bone meal) that may attract the
Try layering your bulbs in a container for something new. Layer the
bulbs like lasagna — the largest bulbs are placed in the bottom of
the container (with a drainage hole), add two inches of potting soil
on top of the bulbs, and then plant the next sized bulbs. Continue
with three to four layers to create a dramatic and colorful
arrangement next spring. Use the container of soil and bulbs as a
base for an evergreen arrangement on your porch in the winter.
For more information about spring bulb selection, planting, and
care, visit the University of Illinois Extension Bulbs & More
[Writer: Brittany Haag is a
University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator in
Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties]