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When to Plant Flower Bulbs
Summary: Depends 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 anytime 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!
***For a discussion on different seasons of bulbs and what to plant when, take a look at this link: How To Move My Spider Lilies Around***
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 summer time, 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. See this blog post here: https://bulbhunter.com/2021/01/what-is-the-best-way-to-transplant-red-spider-lilies-or-how-do-i-move-my-flower-bulbs-around/
For further detail, let’s look at some specific examples:
- Crinums: it is rarely “too late” to plant them. They are so big they can live 2 years out the ground in a cool dry spot. However, the longer they are out the ground, the longer it will take them to “recover” and the longer they are exposed to disease and pests.
- Tulips/Narcissus/Hyacinths etc. These traditional fall bulbs harvested in the summer for fall planting start to decline fast during the spring season. If you miss the fall/early winter window, they are going to struggle to survive.
- Spring planted bulbs/semi-tropical bulbs: usually depends on the size. Crinums mentioned above last for a long time because they are so big. Rain lilies (Zephyranthes, Habranthus) won’t last nearly as long because they are so small.
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!