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Best Bulbs for Fall Planting

Spring-blooming bulbs are a feast for the eyes after a long, dreary winter. And if you think your only choices for spring blooms are daffodils or tulips, you are in for a treat. Many other types of spring-blooming bulbs come in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes. In addition to the springtime, some bloom in the summer or even early fall. You can plant all of these bulbs in the fall when the weather is mild and it’s enjoyable to be working in the garden. Then, all you have to do is sit back and wait for your garden to wake up in the spring. Many spring-flowering bulbs are even deer resistant.

Tip

Choose bulbs that bloom at different times, so you can enjoy several weeks of early blooms in your garden once spring arrives.

Here are ten of the best bulbs to plant in fall

Alliums
Few plants are as carefree as alliums. They don’t need deadheading, they rarely need dividing, and even deer don’t bother with them. Just plan to keep their soil moist when they’re in bloom. Alliums generally bloom in May and June, and many will stay in bloom for four to five weeks. Tall varieties, such as ‘Gladiator’, ‘Mount Everest’ and ‘Globemaster’ can reach four feet tall with six- to eight-inch globe-shaped florets. The smaller varieties are among the first bulbs to emerge and bloom in spring. And medium sizes include ‘Purple Sensation’ and the fireworks allium.

Two drawbacks are associated with growing alliums. The first is that the larger the bulb, the more expensive it is. So filling your garden with them can get pricey. The other drawback is that with some varieties, such as ‘Purple Sensation’, the foliage starts fading even before the flowers have bloomed. So, to avoid that problem, plant those bulbs behind or between other plants to hide the unsightly allium foliage.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5-8
  • Color Varieties: White, pink, purple, yellow
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Average, slightly acidic, well-draining

Autumn Crocus
This truly is one odd little flower. You plant it in the fall and then wait until the following fall for signs of life. The flowers appear first, blooming for two to three weeks, and then they die back. The next spring, long leaves will sprout and then disappear as summer heats up (the foliage provides food for the bulb). The plant remains dormant throughout the summer. And just when you’ve forgotten all about it, the flowers surprise you again in early fall. They look like crocus flowers, though they are very distant relatives. The flowers are a bit larger, about four inches across, and each plant blooms in a cluster of up to four blossoms.

Because they are fall bloomers, don’t wait too long to plant your bulbs. Late summer is preferable to late autumn. You might even get flowers the first year if you plant early enough. If you can find a spot that receives only afternoon sun, you’ll get the most abundant blooms. The bulbs benefit from being divided every four years or so. Dividing will keep the bulb clumps healthy and prevent the center of the clump from dying out.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8
  • Color Varieties: Lavender, pink, white
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil Needs: Sandy loam or rocky, well-draining

Bluebells
Many plants use the common name bluebells. But the two bulbs that are ideal for fall planting are Spanish bluebells and English bluebells, which are actually members of the hyacinth family. You might know them by their other common name, wood hyacinth. The bulbs will naturalize and spread with each plant producing dozens of nodding tubular flowers for an incredible carpeting effect. Be careful about planting them in small borders where they can spread and crowd out other plants. It’s better to plant them in the lawn near a tree or on the edge of woodlands.

English bluebells are fragrant and make wonderful cut flowers. They tend to be the more heat sensitive of the two and should be grown in partially shaded areas or at least given regular waterings. The flowers bloom along only one side of the stalk, eventually causing the stalk to bend under their weight. Spanish bluebells are tougher plants and can take a bit more sun. They hold their flower stalks upright amid sword-like leaves. Beautiful as they are, they lack the fragrance of English bluebells. Both species will bloom from mid-spring to early summer.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-8
  • Color Varieties: Bluish-lavender, violet-blue
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining

Daffodils
Would it be spring without daffodils? There is no more welcome sight after a winter of white than the slowly opening golden buds of daffodils in early to mid-spring. And there is probably no easier bulb to grow. Daffodils are incredibly long-lived and low-maintenance plants. Just make sure their soil stays moist, but not soggy, which can cause rot.

Not all varieties of daffodils are the trademark brilliant yellow flower. You can get ruffled pink blooms, long-necked trumpet daffodils, tiny three-inch charmers and more. Mail-order daffodil bulbs can be more expensive than the bulbs often sold at garden centers, but they will also be larger, which means more and larger blooms. Of course, you could always be patient and wait a few years for the smaller and less expensive bulbs to mature.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8
  • Color Varieties: Pink, white, yellow, orange
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining

Dutch Iris
Dutch iris is a delicate, slender plant with orchid-like blooms in a variety of colors that is grown from surprisingly small bulbs. If you’ve ever purchased a florist bouquet with irises in it, it is probably a Dutch iris. These plants need excellent soil drainage, or the bulbs can rot. Don’t plant the bulbs too deeply; three to four inches deep is sufficient. These plants are low-maintenance and are easy to grow.

One issue with Dutch iris is that the flowers only bloom for about two weeks in the late spring to early summer. So consider planting a large drift to really enjoy them while they’re around. They make great cut flowers, though the blooms only last up to five days after cutting.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 6-9
  • Color Varieties: Blue, maroon, violet, white, yellow
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moderately moist, well-draining

Fritillaria
Blooming in the late spring to early summer, fritillaria blooms look quite exotic and a little intimidating, but they’re just as easy to grow as any other bulb. Just make sure they receive regular water. Although fritillaria likes moist, rich soil, it is adaptable to even heavy clay. These plants are deer-resistant.

The subtle snakehead or checkered lily produces delicate bell-like flowers that dangle from slender stems. You can naturalize these bulbs in a lawn, though you can’t mow until bulb foliage has faded. Don’t remove the spent blooms, as the plants can self-sow to increase your patch.

Crown imperial is a large bulb that produces a three-to four-foot single stem topped by a a cluster of yellow, orange, or red bells and a spiky green top knot. Plant the bulbs at a depth that’s two to three times the height of the bulb. The bulbs have a slight depression in their centers, so plant them sideways so that water doesn’t collect in the depression and rot the bulb. It can be easier to dig one large hole and randomly space the bulbs at the bottom rather than digging individual holes for each bulb. All parts of the plant emit an unpleasant odor, so they are not suitable as indoor cut flowers.

As with most long-lived bulbs, fritillaria does not like being disturbed, except to divide large clumps. Also, be sure to wear gardening gloves when working with fritillaria bulbs, as they can cause skin irritation on some people.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-8 (snakehead) and 5-8 (crown imperial)
  • Color Varieties: Purple, white, gray (snakehead), and orange, red, yellow (crown imperial)
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining

Grape Hyacinth
The tiny grape hyacinth bulb produces flower clusters that look like bunches of grapes and they are deceptively hardy. The bulbs are planted in the fall for early to mid-spring blooms. Don’t be surprised if you see some leaves emerge in fall and stick around until spring. This is actually a good feature because it prevents you from accidentally digging in the planting area.

Don’t plant the bulbs deeply; two inches deep will do. They are fleshy bulbs that can dry out quickly because they are so small, so water them well after planting. And keep them watered until the ground freezes or is covered by snow. Once established, they won’t need any extra care. The bulbs multiply rapidly, so if you’d like to divide them do so in late summer while they are dormant. Some bulbs have a tendency to poke above the soil when they want to be divided.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8
  • Color Varieties: Shades of blue and purple, white
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil Needs: Loamy, well-draining

Lilies
Lilies have one of the sweetest scents of any flowering plant, and there are many varieties to choose from. Even though they are prized for their elegance, they are just as rugged as any other flowering bulb in the garden. Start with the largest bulbs you can afford, not just because the blooms will be large but also because large bulbs will be the most hardy. Make sure the soil has good drainage because lilies will rot in soggy soil. Also, lilies never go into full dormancy, so leave the plants standing after they bloom and continue to keep them watered on a regular basis.

Lilies generally flower in the summer, and you can extend the bloom period by planting lily species that bloom at different times. For instance, start with the early season Asiatic lilies. As these fade, Turk’s cap lilies or martagons, will begin to open with their backward curved petals. Trumpet lilies herald peak summer. And don’t be without the late-blooming Oriental lilies, the most fragrant of them all.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-9, depending on the variety
  • Color Varieties: Orange, pink, red, white, yellow, purple
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining

Snowdrops
Tiny snowdrop flowers break through frozen ground in the late winter to early spring and bloom in temperatures most people would rather avoid. Even a fresh coating of snow or ice does not dampen their spirits.

Plant your snowdrop bulbs in groups of 12 or more about two to three inches deep. A single bulb won’t make much of an impact in the garden, but a blanket of them looks lovely in the spring. You won’t need to divide snowdrop bulbs. However, if you want to move some, immediately after flowering is the best time to dig them up. Don’t remove the foliage until it has considerably yellowed and degraded, as this gives the plant a chance to store nutrients for the next year.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-7
  • Color Varieties: White, pale green
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil Needs: Humusy, moderately moist, well-draining

Wild Hyacinth
Wild hyacinth plants like full sun and moist soil. If you can provide that, your plants will re-grow for many years with minimal maintenance. If your soil tends to be dry, you can try growing them in partial shade and watering regularly to keep the soil moist, but they never seem to thrive the way they do in ideal conditions.

The bulbs will bloom with their star-shaped flowers in the late spring to early summer. When planting them in the fall, position the pointed end of each bulb upward, and plant the bulb about four inches deep. Then, water your bulbs well. The foliage will begin to degrade by mid-summer, but don’t remove it. The plant is still using the foliage to store nutrients for next year’s blooms.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8
  • Color Varieties: Pale blue, lavender, white
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Moist, well-draining

Information courtesy of TheSpruce.com

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