In this email you will discover the following about flower bulbs:
- Why should I plant flower bulbs?
- Where should I plant flower bulbs?
- When should I buy bulbs online?
- When should I plant flower bulbs?
- When should I dig, divide, and transplant flower bulbs?
- How do I plant daffodil bulbs and other bulbs? How deep do I plant daffodil bulbs?
- How do I care for daffodils? Should I fertilize daffodils?
- Gardening with flower bulbs: an investment in your garden and relationships.
Flower bulbs such as daffodils, snowflakes, rain lilies, crinums, and more are reliable perennial flowers and choosing the right selections will give your garden year round blooms, often when there are few other flowers blooming the garden – in other words, flower bulbs accent our garden and extend the season of color in our gardens. Flower bulbs are treasured because they have bold colors that catch the eye. Working bulbs into your landscape architecture is an integral part of a year-round garden with foliage structure and colorful blooms.
Flower bulbs add to the depth and pleasing year-round appearance to your garden. Almost all bulbs are monocots and pair nicely with most garden plants that are often dicots. It sounds simple, or almost silly, but monocots with their grass like foliage and parallel veins in their leaves are a pleasing juxtaposition against the branched, multi leafed companions they are planted with. To help illustrate the difference between dicots and monocots, try to recall our child biology lessons when we planted a bean (dicot) and corn (a monocot). The bean came up with two leaves and spread out more horizontally. The corn came up with one singular bold leaf, almost like a blade of grass and definitely vertical. Both were plants but both grew and had a form distinctly different but complimenting each other.
Apply the stark contrast between monocot and dicot plants of beans and corn to something more subtle, like mixing the monocot daffodils with a low lying ground cover such as verbena or with other flowers like pansies or snapdragons. In simple terms, flower bulbs with their bold and grass-like foliage are very easy to pair with other common flowers that often have wider leaves and more horizontal growth habits. Using daffodil flowers in your garden is pleasant to the eye and makes it look like you really know what you are doing with garden design!
Here are the top 5 things to consider when planning your garden with flower bulbs:
- Ensure they will have plenty of sun during their growing season
- Plant them in a spot where you will not be tempted to do any of the following to the foliage after the bloom: cut, mow, tie, hide, braid, or otherwise NOT let the foliage brown up and die down naturally as the bulb is going dormant
- Plant where they can be seen and enjoyed
- Choose the right companion plants with your bulbs
These are simply some quick tips on planting flower bulbs. Don’t stress too much about where to plant them! You can always move them later. The number one reason bulbs don’t bloom is because gardeners forget or get too busy to plant them. Take a break, grab a shovel, and go plant your bulbs in the ground!
This answer changes depending on the type of the flower bulb.
You should generally buy the bulbs when you have time to plant them and when they are available from reputable sources. The Southern Bulb Company grows many of our heirloom daffodil varieties in our daffodil fields here in Texas. We loosely define an heirloom bulb as a variety grown before major commercial hybridization of large trumpet daffodils began. These heirlooms are generally not available from overseas sources and amounts are limited. We ship these bulbs “in the green” in the spring which means they will ship having recently bloomed and with foliage on them.
With these locally grown heirloom daffodils you should expect the following:
- They will be available at various times from January through late spring and into the summer
- Plant them when they arrive
- Expect the foliage to being browning and dying down naturally
- Don’t cut the foliage. This is a natural process of the daffodil leaves sending nutrients back down to the bulbs for their summer dormancy
- Expect growth and blooms the next winter/spring season
We also grow our crinums and rain lilies here in Texas and they are available almost year round.
Plant flower bulbs:
- As soon as you can
- When you have time
- When they are given to you
- In the summer and fall
- When you are thinking about them!
In summary, don’t delay planting your flower bulbs! Perfect is the enemy of good. It is surprising how many customers, friends, family, and even the well-trained master gardeners have flower bulbs but for one reason or another, they do not get around to planting them.
The worst times to plant the bulbs are:
- After you let them sit in your garage for two years
- Right before or during a very hard freeze or flood event
Below are some variety specific times and when to plant flowerbulbs.
Daffodils and Narcissus: When should I plant daffodil bulbs? Traditionally, people plant daffodils in the fall, and this allows for overseas growers to harvest, clean, sort, and ship the bulbs to customers around the world. Locally grown bulbs can be planted from late spring all the way through summer, fall, and winter.
Surprise lilies and Spider lilies (Lycoris radiata and other Lycoris sp): When should I plant Lycoris? You can plant Lycoris selections year round. Typically Lycoris are harvested by major growers in the late spring and summer and are available in the larger market in the fall.
Iris: When should I plant iris tubers? In warmer climates, Iris like to grow over the winter and bloom in the spring. They can be planted almost any time, but try to plant them before the winter growing months.
Daylilies: When should I plant daylilies (Hemerocallis)? Day lilies can also be planted anytime of the year, but they will die back in the winter time and bloom in the spring. It is best to try to plant them from spring to fall. This will allow them time to put out roots and be ready for spring blooms the next season.
Rain lilies (Habranthus and Zephyranthes): When should I plant rain lilies? Avoid planting rain lilies immediately before a hard freeze, but other than that, plant them as soon as you can!
Crinum: When should I plant crinum bulbs? Crinum bulbs can be planted year round, but just like the rain lilies, do not plant them right before a hard freeze. Once they are established, a little mulch generally helps them overwinter and survive freezes in milder climates.
Schoolhouse lilies (Rhodophiala bifida): Also known as oxblood lilies, the best time to plant these bulbs is anytime after their foliage has died down and before their growth in winter. Ideally, you would plant these bulbs from spring to late summer in time for a fall bloom. After they bloom, they will send their foliage up to grow all winter long.
When SHOULD I dig, divide, and transplant flower bulbs? How do I care for the flower bulbs when they are out of the ground?
Generally, the best time to dig and divide flower bulbs is after they bloom and the foliage has had a chance to die down naturally.
The worst time to dig a flower bulbs is at the very beginning of the growth cycle—right when it begins to put out fresh roots and fresh foliage growth.
Are these digging and transplanting times practical? A much more practical answer on when to dig, divide, and transplant daffodils is a familiar answer: when you have time! Yes, you really should not dig flower bulbs once they have started to put out roots and grow foliage, but you can if you need to (like if you are moving, or a road expansion project is going to wipe out an old house garden with generations of heirloom flower bulbs).
Here are some variety specific pointers on when to dig, divide, transplant, and care for bulbs out of the ground:
Daffodils and Narcissus: Daffodils can be transplanted from just about anytime from the time they bloom and on. The worst time to dig them is early in their growth cycle as new roots and foliage begins to appear in late fall and winter. If they are dug close to their bloom time, be sure to allow the foliage to die down naturally. You can store the bulbs in a cool, dry, and dark spot that is well ventilated. It is best to plant them as soon as possible to avoid any possibility of diseases spreading on the exposed bulbs.
Surprise lilies and Spider lilies (Lycoris radiata and other Lycoris sp): While it is tempting to Lycoris while they are blooming, this is generally NOT a good time to dig them. The bloom on these surprise lilies occurs at the beginning of their growth cycle, and those blooms are indicators that the fresh root and foliage growth is about to begin. It is best to wait until later in the life cycle of the foliage before being dug. The best time do dig them would be in May and June, but sometimes it is hard to find them once the foliage has disappeared for the season. To increase your chances of a fall bloom, it is sometimes helpful to store Lycoris in peat moss over the summer if you cannot plant them right away – they don’t like to dry out!
Iris: Try not to dig iris in early spring as this is early in their growth cycle. Dig following their blooms later in the spring and early summer. Most iris can be out of the ground for a while and stored in a cool, dry, and dark spot that is well ventilated. However, iris tubers have a tendency to dry out quicker than many other bulbs.
Daylilies (Hemerocallis): Daylilies bloom in the spring, and it best to dig after their bloom and throughout the summer. Daylilies will dry out in the summer, so pack them in peat moss if you must store them for awhile.
Rain lilies (Habranthus and Zephyranthes): Rain lilies can be dug, divided, and transplanted all year long, but you will want to avoid planting right before a hard freeze. Also, don’t dig, divide, and transplant right before their bloom season if you can help it! Why spoil their pretty blooms for the year. Rain lilies are generally smaller bulbs, but they are pretty good about not drying out. However, just be prepared to plant them as soon as you can.
Crinum: Crinum are large and will last a couple years out of the ground! Dig and divide them whenever you have help and time…trust me, you want help if it is an established clump of bulbs. You might pack an extra shovel to use after you break the first one. If you do leave a crinum out of the ground for a couple of year, help keep it away from hard freezes, and like always, provide it a cool, dry, and dark spot that is well ventilated.
Schoolhouse lilies (Rhodophiala bifida): Schoolhouse lilies can be dug in the spring and throughout the summer. If dug in the spring with foliage still on them, make sure you let the foliage die down naturally and don’t cut it. Schoolhouse lilies will rot if given too much moisture! This would be the opposite of other bulbs such as Lycoris and daylilies—do not pack Rhodophiala in peat moss.
Sometimes the easiest time to move daffodils in your garden is when they are blooming.
- You can easily identify the flower
- The foliage is up, so you know exactly where the bulbs are (even the small baby offsets)
- The rest of your perennials (and weeds for that matter) are mostly dormant so you have some space to move around
- You can quickly plant them in other prepared areas and sometimes they don’t even know they were out of the ground
Plant daffodil bulbs with the bulb completely under the ground with several inches of soil over the bulb. While it helps to have the roots down and the pointy end up, it is not essential. Some tips to proper planting of daffodil bulbs:
- If you don’t know which way is up, plant the bulb on its side
- If you’re not sure how deep you should plant the bulb, plant it 2 to 3 times its height under the ground
Here is a figure one of our talented artists drew for us.
Crinum bulbs and other amaryllis are slightly different and should be planted with their neck just above the ground level. An illustration here would help:
Let’s look at 4 different techniques to successfully plant daffodils in your garden:
- Perennial Garden Daffodil Design
- Bold, Colorful, and Highly Visible Daffodil Plantings
- Naturalized and Woodland Plantings of Daffodils
- Arboretum Daffodil Plantings
- Trial Plantings
Perennial Garden Daffodil Design
In a garden at your house, daffodils often look good planted in clumps of 2 or 3 together. To achieve this, simply dig a hole with a shovel, use the shovel to cave in the sides of your hole and flatten the bottom out some, and throw in the bulbs. While the hole is open, I often add some fertilizer or potting soil so that their roots will have the nutrient rich additives close to their growing region where they can readily absorb it. I cover the hole back up and try to keep the squirrels away from digging up my freshly planted bulbs!
Bold, Colorful, and Highly Visible Daffodil Plantings
Another technique I use to plant daffodils in a home garden, is designate a certain area as an “all bulb area” that I change out seasonally and plant with companion annuals. I reserve this more intensive method for smaller areas that have high visibility, like by the entrance to our front door, a patio location in our backyard, or by the mailbox by the road. With this method of planting daffodil bulbs, I remove all of the soil in the area to a depth of about 5-6 inches and put that soil on a nearby tarp or in a wheelbarrow. I put a fresh layer of nutrient rich potting soil into my excavated area. Then I space all the daffodils out on top of this newly laid soil. I space the daffodils a couple of inches apart – this is almost like square foot gardening with flower bulbs, and I place about 5 daffodils per square foot.
Once I have the daffodil bulbs laid out in a pattern and proximity that I like, I use the excavated soil and start covering the daffodils. Before I have all of the bulbs fully covered, I use colorful annuals in 4 inch pots to fill in the spaces between the daffodils. This means the bulbs are a little deeper than the annuals, but I still have the daffodil tops exposed so I can see to not plant the annuals right on top of the bulbs. The remaining soil is used to cover the bulbs and fill in the gaps around the annuals. I keep extra potting soil on hand to fill in any gaps. This planting will generally look good from the time of the planting through the next 3 to 4 months as the spot grows into a masterpiece. The climax is the bloom of the bulbs, and generally we have cars stopping to take pictures, even though this was just a small spot. I plan to pull all of the annuals and bulbs up once the garden area peaks and then repeat the above process for the next flower bulb. In this case, after the daffodil or tulip blooms are finished, I’ll prepare a summer bed with caladiums. I repeat this process about 3 times a year: paperwhites for the fall/holiday season, tulips or daffodils for late winter/spring, and caladiums for the summer. Yes, daffodils are perennials. I could leave them in the ground and not need to replant them each year, but I also enjoy using daffodils in seasonal displays in certain areas.
Naturalized and Woodland Plantings of Daffodils
In deciduous forest or woodland settings, there is a fun daffodil bulb planting method for areas where I want to plant hundreds of daffodils for a natural look. Grab a bag and fill it with daffodil bulbs. Make sure the bag is not too heavy and that you can comfortably reach into the bag and grab handfuls of daffodil bulbs. Reach into the bag, grab some flower bulbs, and scatter the daffodil bulbs like you are spreading seed. Do this in the fall once temperatures have started to cool some but before the leaves fall off of the deciduous trees. This should ensure the bulbs aren’t exposed to brutal summer sun and heat, and the soon to fall leaves will act as a natural mulch. Remember, our farm is in a zone 8 climate, so even though we do get freezes, they are rarely hard freezes like a zone 6 or colder, so the leaves provide plenty of cover for these shallowly planted daffodil bulbs. Over time, the years of falling leaves and the natural growth of the daffodils allow the daffodil bulbs to bloom reliably each year. This method is best used with heirloom flower bulbs that often adorn hay meadows where old house gardens remain, but the house itself has long been torn down and removed. These heirloom daffodils and heirloom narcissus have proven themselves to bloom for well over 100 years, while modern, larger trumpet daffodils have a tendency to grow only foliage with very little bloom after about 5 years.
Arboretum Daffodil Plantings
In an arboretum or formal garden, daffodil bulbs are sometimes lined out and planted in more linear patterns. Daffodils are planted like this with other bulbs, so that landscape architects and arboretums with daffodil shows can stagger different selections that bloom at slightly different times. This keeps the color going. (Have you seen the Dallas Blooms at the Dallas Arboretum!? Out of this world and worth going to. Click here to see a list of all of the arboretums and form gardens I know of that have nice spring flower bulb displays.)
The best way to care for most flower bulbs is to plant them where they receive plenty of sun during their growing season and plant them in a place where the foliage will be allowed to dry down naturally after the bloom. Daffodil foliage usually dies down and falls off naturally by the end of May. Crinum, rain lily, and other amaryllis family foliage generally dies down with the first hard frost as the bulbs go dormant for the winter. For more information on when to plant daffodils and how deep to plant daffodils, you can reference those two sections in this article.
Should you fertilize flower bulbs? Yes, you should fertilize flower bulbs that you plan to keep in your garden. However, with some selections of perennial flower bulbs, they will return and bloom each year with little input needed. Selections of crinums, rain lilies, and surprise lilies will usually bloom with very little to no fertilizer input. Daffodil and Narcissus varieties such as jonquils, campernelles, Grand Primo, italicus, Texas Star, and Lent lilies seem to bloom each year with very little fertilizer addition needed. Other selections of large trumpet daffodils, such as Carlton or Ice Follies typically need the extra fertilizer each year to keep them healthy and blooming.
What kind of fertilizer do flower bulbs like? Daffodils like a well-balanced fertilizer that is heavy on the Phosphorous and Potassium. They do appreciate some Nitrogen as well, but too much Nitrogen will cause them to grow all foliage and contribute very little to the health of the bulb. Think back to our monocot and dicot example of corn and a bean – flower bulbs are monocots like grass, and if they receive a heavy Nitrogen fertilizer intended for grass, they will grow foliage like grass does. Fertilizers for daffodils should focus more heavily on bulb growth that leads to more and healthier flowers, and that can be achieved by supplying more Phosphorous and Potassium.
When looking at fertilizer selections, remember that most of them display an N-P-K ratio, which is a ratio of Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium. A balanced blend of all 3 is OK as most likely your soil could use some more Nitrogen, but you typically want higher P and K numbers. Don’t forget to add compost and other organic materials which can help supplicate with other micronutrients and contribute to overall soil health.
When should I apply fertilizer to flower bulbs? Flower bulbs absorb and use the most fertilizer at the beginning of their growing season. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and other fall planted bulbs should have the fertilizer put out at the time of planting, and perhaps a light supplemental application of a Nitrogen rich fertilizer can be applied after the foliage has begun growing above the ground. Crinums, rain lilies, Hymenocallis, lilies, and other spring planted bulbs do best with fertilizer applied in the spring.
Flower bulbs are a perennial investment in your garden, and one planting can lead to a lifetime of blooms for you and your children. By following some simple techniques, such as planting the right bulbs in the right locations, you can have a garden that grows in bold colors of gold, yellow, orange, white, and pink year after year. Planting bulbs and working in the garden is often an event that I do with my spouse and children. This is a time that allows us to communicate and see life in a completely different perspective. When my children plant the bulbs, they learn the joys of nature, and experience the concept of delayed gratification – working hard today for long lasting results in the future.
Here are some tips to enjoy gardening with bulbs with your family:
- If you and your spouse garden together, designate an area you both agree on for the planting. Talk about it for a few weeks over coffee and garden walks to make sure you are on the same page.
- Prepare the planting area for the children. If the only time you have together is one Saturday, don’t spend that whole Saturday pulling weeds and moving rocks around. Find some time to prepare the area beforehand. Also, prepare by selecting a daffodil that you know will do well for your climate: it’s kind of like fishing – you want the first experiences to be a success.
- Keep it simple with the children. Give them each a bucket or bag of bulbs and say something like “OK, I’m going to dig a hole, and your job is to come behind me, drop in the bulb, and cover it with soil.”
- Don’t educate them to death with a boring biology speech. They’ll learn by doing, and your educating comments will soak in as you plant! As they get older, if they enjoy gardening with you, they will naturally spend more time doing it and become more curious as they get older.
- Perfect is the enemy of good. You might lose some bulbs that miraculously end up in the lawn (or wherever)! Just be patient and roll with the punches.
- Celebrate at the end by doing something fun with them! For example, play soccer in the backyard, candy land on the floor inside, or have tea and cookies with them at a garden party/picnic!
We hope this guide is helpful as you explore gardening with daffodils! Below are some frequently asked questions and comments on other areas of interest in daffodils. Let’s get into the weeds with daffodils.
Remember, plant now! The number one reason why bulbs don’t survive is that people forget to plant them!