When to Plant Flower Bulbs

Summary: Depends on where you live, but if you have bulbs that are supposed to be perennials in your climate, you should generally plant them as soon as possible and any time of year is better than never planting at all!  If your bulbs are crispy to the core and years old, then you probably missed your planting window!

Pink tulips blooming
Pink tulips blooming

If we are talking about traditional fall planted bulbs in the Southern United States, you really should try to have them planted by the end of December.

But how early can you plant them?  The truth is, most of our bulbs are harvested in the summertime, cleaned, sorted, packaged, and shipped to stores/consumers by early fall.  However, locally produced bulbs can be shipped “in the green” meaning that they still have their foliage on them.  This means you can plant these fall planted/spring blooming bulbs as early as the spring if you receive them with foliage.

Flower bulbs shipped in the green will begin to have their foliage die down soon after “lifting” or harvesting them.  This is a normal process, and the foliage should not be cut down and the bulbs should still be planted as soon as possible. The advantage to receiving bulbs in the green, is that it is easy to see what you are receiving, know where you are planting them, and most importantly get the bulbs when you want them and have time to plant them.  The disadvantage is that the bulbs really thrive on having their foliage collect as much sun in the spring as possible. Have no fear, the right garden bulbs for your environment will recover just fine and be with you for generations.

For perennial bulbs that are well suited for your climate, it’s never really too early or too late to plant them, but there are ideal times. For more information read this article: Edit Post “How to transplant red spider lilies correctly.” ‹ The Bulb Hunter — WordPress

Crinums blooming
Crinums blooming

For further detail, let’s look at some specific examples:

Bulbs still “breath” through their stomate (remember bulbs are nothing more than compressed modified leaves so they have stomate or stoma).  This means they will dry out eventually, even when left in a cool dark spot (away from sun and freezing temperatures) and out of harms way (away from disease and pests that will eat them).  The best way to find out if it is too late to plant your bulbs, is to take a sacrificial sample, slice it open, and see if the leaves are still white with some moisture. If so, plant your bulbs!  If you want an even quicker test, try to grip the bulb tight or squeeze with your fingers…if the leaves give way to a brown/gray void of old leaves, then you’ve probably missed your window.  I fall back to something I say often, don’t wait for the perfect time to plant your bulbs. Plant them when you can…it doesn’t all have to be perfect!  Hope this helps you enjoy your gardening experience!

11 Responses

  1. Thank you … my mother never planted flowers when I was growing up…
    Years later my parents bought a home next to my grandparents. There were flowers everywhere, rosebushes, lilies, lilacs, and many others.
    I asked her one time why we didn’t have flowers when I was a child. She said it was because she didn’t own the house, and wasn’t going to do it just to leave it. It’s saddens me that she missed out on the beauty of the flowers all of those years.

    1. Thank you for your comment. What a mixture of emotions it causes! It causes me to reflect on why we plant so many flowers around our household (when we have time!) If you’ll allow me to ponder this out loud? Where do I find enjoyment now by planting flowers?
      1) Find ways to enjoy the process (true about life, right?). Yes, it is about the end goal, but also about enjoying the moment. I do it with my girls, ask my wife her opinions, take my shirt off and get some sun, have a kiddy pool to splash around in, find worms and play with them, or be thinking about a nice drink to enjoy when the work is done, and maybe who to invite over to enjoy their company on the patio that evening.
      2) Plant a mixture of perennials and annuals. Mowing the lawn is so rewarding, because when you are done you can see the results. I try to plant annuals during a garden day, so at least there is some immediate color to enjoy. I also plant the perennials so I can enjoy them later and forever! Maybe for my grandchildren???
      3) If I know my spot is temporary, go all out on pots! We lived in an apartment for awhile. Spend the money on a really cool pot, and fill it with plants that cover the 3 main ingredients of a successful potted plant: thrillers, fillers, and spillers. What plant can be my centerpiece!? What flowers can fill the gaps down low? What plant can spill over the side and lazily drape with texture and color?
      4) Dare I say, we actually enjoy silk flower arrangements inside the house…they can be expensive, but (if not overused) can be a fun design feature. Now I’m rambling…

      Your short story really made me think and ponder. I hope you are enjoying flowers in your life and thank you for reminding us all to do the same!

  2. Hola Amo los bulbos y sus flores pero plante bulbos de fresias y no me están dando las flores no se si es x mucho riego me gustaria que me explique cómo cuidarlos gracias Admiro su fortaleza por Amar y cuidar las flores gracias.

    1. I haven’t had much experience with freesias unfortunately. However, being from South Africa originally, they like warm days and cool evenings. In many of our warmer humid climates, our evening don’t cool down. That can cause bulbs like freesias, agapanthus, Nerine, and others not to bloom well for us. Hope this helps!

  3. What time of year do we order your species tulips? Of course they’re out of stock now; when should I plan to come back to place an order for them? We live near Houston and have thick “gumbo” clay soil. We’re excited about the idea of buying bulbs that are grown in our climate so they will be more likely to be able to return each year!

    1. Hi! We usually have them ready around October, but please let me offer a word of caution for the Houston area as it relates to perennial tulips. I’ve seen them in Tomball come back in elevated beds with a lot of rocky soil that drains well. This allows them to dry out and stay dry during the humid and sometimes wet summer months in Houston. The number one thing that kills the tulips in the Houston area is that they will rot. So, sometimes that gumbo clay holds too much moisture and as you get to west Houston or South of Houston or even Jersey Village etc, I haven’t seen folks have much success with them. This is in contrast with the blackland prairie clay that stretches from San Antonio through Austin and up to Dallas, where I have seen species tulips be great perennials. Hope all of this info helps!

        1. Hi Suma,

          Yes, they are annuals in Sugar Land. I would plant them this time of year with violas or pansies for a spring bloom, but I would change that flower bed out and discard them after they bloom there.

  4. I live in Florida and summers are too hot and HUMID

    But my sister lives in SoCal Temecula, CA to be exact. Hot, Dry Rocky,
    will they grow there?

    Thank you

    1. Judy,

      There are many bulbs that grow well in Florida and southern California. Some may require more water to perform their best, but a good place to start is making sure that you have the right growing zones for each bulb. Since I’m not sure which bulbs you are most interested in, please contact our office at 1-888-285-2486.

      Thank you.

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