If you want to know the best time to plant bulbs in fall, nature provides the signs and signals. As fall transitions into winter, there are many seasonal changes that tell us the time is right.
Also see 20 Flowering Bulbs to Plant in Fall for more ideas.
Let Nature Be Your Bulb Planting Guide
phe·nol·o·gy | fi-ˈnä-lə-jē
You may not know phenology by name, but we all notice it in varying degrees. There are good phenology videos and examples here.
In plain but poetic language, we might call it the symphony of life: the relationship between all living things, and how they respond and change to weather and seasons.
The dictionary definition is, the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life, such as bird migration or plant flowering.
It’s all in the timing.
It can be as simple as tree leaves opening in spring as the amount of sunlight increases and the earth warms—just in time to provide cover for nesting birds needing to shield their young from predators.
It’s how migrations of butterflies arrive at their travel destinations just as their food sources become available.
It’s how nectar-rich dandelions and alliums bloom just as bees come out their winter slumbers hungry for food. That’s why I look for bulbs that do provide nectar for spring pollinators. Some are bred for other traits and have little or no nectar or it is inaccessible.
How frogs sunbathe beside a pond on days where their favorite insects will be flying by.
There are millions and millions of examples of this. It’s just how life on earth works, and, for those of us who love nature, it’s both intriguing and informative to observe.
Long before we had garden how-to resources, it was these cues from nature that helped guide growing decisions.
I wrote about some old-fashioned garden wisdoms here. Taken in isolation, they are not reliable, but watching the bigger picture, the interdependent relationship between living things is what how things survive. Of course.
And, once you spend a few years enthralled in the world of growing, you may find, like I have, that there’s a greater awareness of and reliance on these basic, natural guides.
Bulb Planting BasicsNEW! Click play to listen:
First, here are the basic recommended planting conditions for bulbs in fall:
- Consistent soil temperatures (measured 4-inches below the surface) of 50-55°F (10-13°C).
- Well-draining soil | Bulbs may rot in damp conditions.
- Sunny location | Most bulbs like 5-6 hours of sun a day during the growing season, but there are exceptions (read your plant labels).
Natural Signs It’s Bulb Planting Time
Here’s some things we may observe during optimum bulb planting time:
- Days are shorter and cooler
- Leaves are changing color and dropping from trees
- Squirrels and chipmunks are hoarding nuts and seeds
- Crickets and frogs have stopped chirping and peeping
- Bees and butterflies have disappeared for the winter
- Birds sit on tree branches in the sun and puff themselves up to keep warm
- Migrating birds are practicing for their travels south
- Buds have formed on spring-blooming shrubs including magnolias, forsythia, and lilacs
- Perennial flowers have turned to seed, and birds are dining on them
- Milkweed pods are brown and bursting open with seeds and coma (that white fluffy stuff)
- Frost or heavy condensation is present on car windows overnight
- Soil stays consistently cool but is not frozen
- First frost has occurred, or you can feel it coming soon
I’m sure you can also think of many ways we also adapt at this time of year as temperatures cool and we spend more time indoors.
All these are signs that winter is coming but it’s not here yet. You can still get a shovel in the ground and we’re right in between no mittens and mitten time.
More Bulb Growing Tips
The Magic of Winter
- It’s the coolness of winter that triggers future blooming in bulbs. For most flowering bulbs, a cool, dormant period (35-45°F or 2-8°C) for several months does the trick.
- Careful with fertilizers | Excess fertilizer, particularly during and after flowering, can cause fusarium bulb rot.
- After flowering, allow the foliage to mature naturally. These leaves provide the energy for next year’s blooms. This means you must let them brown and wither on their schedule, not yours.
- Daffodils and fritillaria are the two types of bulbs that have a scent that squirrels do not like. Mix them into your plantings to make things less desirable to these bulb thieves. Mind you, a truly hungry critter will eat just about anything.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛