Is It Too Late to Plant My Bulbs?

or another title

“Can I Plant Tulips in January?”

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!

Today we published a video with a fun winter time kit to plant tulip bulbs in old terracotta orchid pots that I salvaged at an estate sale. They should “force” bloom in about 2 months (You can order those here).  This brings up the question, “Is it too late to plant flower bulbs?”

***For a discussion on different seasons of bulbs and what to plant when, take a look at this link: https://bulbhunter.com/2021/01/what-is-the-best-way-to-transplant-red-spider-lilies-or-how-do-i-move-my-flower-bulbs-around/***

If we are talking about fall bulbs in the Southern United States, you really should try to have them planted by the end of December.  However, if you have chilled your tulips in your refrigerator, you can get away with planting them through the end of January, although that is not preferred. We are stopping the sale of our final tulips in inventory in a couple weeks (end of January). You may see the final selection here.

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!

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