What to Plant in Fall for Spring Bulb Success | Midwest Living

What to Plant in Fall for Spring Bulb Success

Fall's the time to get spring-blooming bulbs in the ground. Here are tips for how to plant bulbs and what bulbs to choose for Midwest gardens.
  • When and where to plant bulbs

    Rosie Lerner, extension consumer horticulture specialist at Purdue University, shares tips for bulb planting.

    Plant spring bulbs in the fall before the ground freezes—ideally, when soil temps are between 40 and 50 degrees. "This gives them a chance to get roots established before going into winter," Rosie says.

    Find a sunny spot. Generally, bulbs do best in full sun and well-drained soil.


  • How to plant bulbs

    Plant bulbs in groups for a loose, natural-looking display. "I like to plant lots of a particular variety for a massing effect," Rosie says. Place five or six bulbs in each hole, making sure the hole's depth is two to three times the bulb's height. The pointy end should face up.

    Protect bulbs from critters with a layer of gravel or mulch or a sheet of wire mesh over holes. You can remove the wire mesh when bulbs begin sprouting.

    Plant with other perennials, such as hydrangeas, peonies or daylilies, that will help hide the bulbs' foliage after blooms fade.  "For them to make a good comeback, they need their foliage to live as long as possible," Rosie says. Don't cut back foliage until it's yellowed.

  • Top bulb pick: daffodiils

    Bulbs don't get much easier than daffodils, Rosie says. These cheerful yellow or white blooms are the clear winner for a beginner. "They are reliable and relatively trouble-free," she says. To prolong bloom season, stagger the early- and mid-season bloomers. ‘Dutch Master’ and ‘Carlton’ are a couple of classic yellow cultivars that do well in the Midwest.

  • Top bulb pick: snowdrops

    These sweet late winter/early-spring bloomers look like little drops of snow. "They typically bloom in late February or early March in Indiana," Rosie says. Sometimes they show up when snow is still on the ground. They naturalize well (spread and come back year after year) without taking over, Rosie says.

  • Top bulb pick: crocus

    Another super-early bloomer, these gorgeous cup-shape flowers come in shades of lavender, yellow and white. "These are also trouble-free," Rosie says.

  • Top bulb pick: allium

    These globe-shape purple, yellow or white flowers add fun texture to gardens. They bloom in late spring, and most cultivars are well-behaved and won't pop up in places you didn't put them, Rosie says. 

  • Top bulb pick: tulips

    These spring favorites come in an amazing array of vibrant colors and shapes. If you want them to come back year after year, look for bulbs labeled with the term "perennialize." This means that they'll act like perennials. Some tried-and-true cultivars: 'Orange Emperor', 'Peppermint Stick', 'Golden Parade' and 'Apeldoorn's Elite'. "Some of the fanciest hybrids are not good repeat performers," Rosie says. You can still plant them; just treat them like annuals.

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