General gardening topics

How to plant bulbs and a few very simple rules to follow

Last updated on March 15th, 2022

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Planting bulbs is a great way to make sure your colourful, floral displays are able to welcome the spring, long before other plants have had a chance to awaken. Whether you plant in containers, borders, or in your lawn, you will find things like tulips, daffodils, snowdrops are wonderfully simple and offer a rewarding display. Things like where to plant, when to plant, and how deep the plant are all contingent somewhat upon the type of bulbs you have selected for your garden. Below we will explore all of this and more. 

When do you Plant Bulbs?

Bulbs to create a display in spring should be planted most often in autumn, although some can be planted in spring, and these tend to be summer flowering bulbs. This is based on the type.

when to plant bulbs - Autumn

Below is a chart to help guide you on when to plant, based on what you are planting. 

TypeWhen to Plant
Allium bulbsAutumn
Crocus bulbsAutumn
Daffodil bulbsAutumn
Bluebell bulbsSpring or Autumn
Hyacinth bulbsAutumn
Lily bulbsAutumn
Narcissus bulbsAutumn
Snowdrop bulbsSpring or Autumn
Tree lily bulbsAutumn
Tulip bulbsAutumn

The Best Soil for Bulbs

Well-drained soil, that doesn’t become waterlogged

The greatest thing about bulbs is the diversity found, and subsequently, the flexibility. There are bulbs you can plant for any soil type so you won’t have to focus so much on finding the right soil mixture, but rather, finding the right bulb for the soil you have.

Different species need different soils so you should figure out the precise requirements for the bulbs you are planting first. As a general rule though, they need well-drained soil so that they do not get waterlogged, particularly over winter. 

Where to Plant Bulbs

Bulbs can be planted anywhere. You can place them in your garden right in the naturalised grass or lawn, or your containers, borders and some smaller spring-flowering bulbs like tete-a-tete daffodils work great in baskets because they come up through winter pansies. Still, no matter where you plant bulbs, be mindful of their sunlight requirements.

Where to plant bulbs

Again, the chart below should help shed some light, pun intended, on the preferred locations based on the bulb of choice:

Bulb TypeLight requirements
Allium bulbsFull sun
Crocus bulbsFull sun or partial shade
Daffodil bulbsFull sun or partial shade
Bluebell bulbsDappled shade
Hyacinth bulbsFull sun or partial shade
Lily bulbsFull sun or partial shade
Narcissus bulbsFull sun or partial shade
Snowdrop bulbsDappled shade
Tree lily bulbsFull sun or partial shade
Tulip bulbsFull sun

Planting Bulbs in Borders

When planting in borders, the bulbs should always be planted with the pointed, growing tip upright. If you are not sure which side is the top of the bulb, plant it on the side. Not all tuberous plants have an obvious growing point so you would do well to have the intended side upright, below the surface. 

Planting Bulbs in Pots

If you are planting bulbs in pots, you have an easier time finding the right soil mixture and multipurpose compost is usually fine, or you can even bulb compost. You can pick and choose the bulbs you want most and then select appropriate potting soil from there if it’s specific. That being said, planting them in pots gives you the opportunity to easily move your flowers around the garden once they are in full bloom.

In fact, with containers you can move some of the early bloomers out of the way as they die back, making room for the late bloomers. It is best to use general purpose compost with some fine grit to aid in drainage. There are, however, bulb compost mixtures available as we have already mentioned if you so choose. 

planting bulbs in pots

When planting bulbs in pots you should water them regularly as they are growing early on, and then water them regularly throughout flowering. Once the foliage starts to die back you can reduce the watering. If you go to battle against mice or squirrels, you can wrap chicken wire around your containers or pots to try and protect them. Squirrels have been known to dig bulbs up before they have sprouted so putting some wire over the top of pots early on is usually worthwhile if you have problems with squirrels.

Planting Bulbs in Grass

When you are planting bulbs in grass, you will find that bulbs grown in more informal areas are best because they can be left to their own devices without being mowed. To achieve the most natural look, it is best to gently scatter the bulbs across the area where you want them to grow, and then plant them wherever it is they land.

planting bulbs in grass

With a bulb planter, you can dig a hole that is the appropriate depth for the bulbs in question, and then drop the bulbs inside (making sure they are facing the right direction). Then cover them with soil and pack it down gently enough to remove air bubbles. Don’t walk across the grass area until they have grown in, otherwise, you might damage the tips. 

If you are spreading the bulbs across a larger swath of land, it might be simpler to remove entire pieces of turf and then place the bulbs where you wish underneath before placing the turf back. Crocus and daffodils are both varieties that will grow well when planted under grass.

Planting Depths for Bulbs

The plant depth for the bulbs is based on the variety and species. As a general rule, you want to plant the bulb 2-3 times the height. For the most part, the depth should be between 10cm and 20cm and the spacing between bulbs is similar.

how deep to plant bulbs

Below is a chart for quick reference, including some of the most common bulbs:

Allium bulbs10cm10cm
Crocus bulbs10cm7cm
Daffodil bulbs10cm10cm
Bluebell bulbs10cm10cm
Hyacinth bulbs10cm8cm
Lily bulbs20cm15cm
Narcissus bulbs10cm10cm
Snowdrop bulbs10cm10cm
Tree lily bulbs20cm15cm
Tulip bulbs15cm13cm

Overall, bulbs are suitable for adding colour to borders, containers, or naturalised grasses. They come in all shades, from white to dark purple. Do not let the concept of a bulb frighten you away from growing the flowers you want most in your garden.

Tulips, scillas, even snowdrops (although it’s usually easier to plant them in the green) are among the easiest to plant. Summer flowering options like Lilies give tall and scented blooms while autumn flowering bulbs give your garden a delayed, colourful display. Moreover, if you are daring, you can rotate out the bulbs you bring home so that your garden becomes an almost year-round display of colour but this takes some planning.

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