February 15, 2023

Bulbs are an excellent way to get a beautiful flower bed of color in any season. After a cold, dreary winter, the sight of spring flowering bulbs appearing from the dormant soil is an inspiring image sure to make anyone smile. Bulbs make you wait to see the results, but the results are well worth the time and effort required.

Close up perspective photo of snowdrop flowers

What is the Difference Between Bulb Types?

There are three main groups of bulbs, and they are differentiated by their blooming season.

Some of the most popular flowering bulbs are:

  • Spring Flowering Bulbs:

Allium, crocus, hyacinth, iris, narcissus, tulips, and lilies.

Spring flowering bulbs are planted in the fall before a hard freeze; they need a dormant period of cold temperatures to stimulate root development. In the Ann Arbor area, this usually means October through early November. Spring flowering bulbs are usually hardy and will not need to be dug out before winter.

  • Summer Flowering Bulbs:

Amaryllis, begonia, dahlia, elephant ears, gladiola, and lilies.

Summer flowering bulbs are planted in the spring. Most of these bulbs are delicate and will need to be dug out after their blooming season and stored indoors over the winter.

  • Fall Flowering Bulbs:

Colchicum, crocus, and cyclamen.

Fall flowering bulbs can be planted after the last frost and through midsummer, to bloom in the fall.

Flower Bulbs And Their Needs

Flowering bulbs vary considerably, yet most bulbs should be kept cool until they are ready to go into the ground. Also, most bulbs should be planted in areas that have good drainage and sunlight.

If the area is too soggy, many bulbs can rot unless the bulbs are specifically meant for wetter areas (like Siberian Iris for instance.)

Or, if an area is too shady, the bulbs may only flower the first year and will need to be replenished each year afterward (for example some hybrid Tulip blooms will diminish over time, and are treated like annuals.) Read further to see a list of Bulbs that Bloom In Shade below.

Many bulbs, if planted correctly, will come back year after year.

However, critter controls may be needed for your particular area.

Planting and Planning for Flower Bulbs

Prepare the soil by loosening and mixing in nutrients and fertilizer. Plan to plant the bulb 2 to 3 times as deep as the bulb is tall for the best results. Bulbs should be planted with the pointy end up and the roots down. Cover all bulbs with soil, lightly tamp without making ‘divots’, and then add a light layer of mulch before giving a good watering to settle them.

Planting bulbs in clusters produces the greatest visual impact; layer plant heights according to views for all flowers to be seen; and plant for various bloom times to extend the colorful flower displays.

For all bulbs, after blooming, the stem should be cut back, but the foliage should be allowed to turn yellow and wilt, as this means energy is being stored in the bulb for the next year.

Planning for annuals, and/or perennials to cover the fading flowers and foliage of certain spent bulbs may be desirable. Consider contacting Twin Oaks Landscape for further Landscape Garden Design ideas!

Bulbs that Bloom in Shade (often because they bloom before other plants leaf out, or do not like the heat of long, direct sunlight):

  • Snowdrops
  • Crocus
  • Scilla
  • Chionodoxa
  • Daffodils
  • Tulips
  • Muscari
  • Fritillaria
  • Anemone blanda
  • Leucojum
  • Lily of the valley
  • Camassia

Storing Bulbs During the Off-Season

Most Spring bulbs can stay in the ground and flower year to year, but other bulbs will need to be dug up and stored after their planting season (e.g., Dahlias, or Cannas.)

To dig up bulbs, loosen the soil and carefully remove the bulb after cutting them back. Shake as much soil as possible, spread the bulbs out on newspaper in a cool, shady place, and allow them to dry. Once dry, store them in a mesh bag or a cardboard box with holes. Fill the container with peat moss, sawdust, or vermiculite—enough to cover each bulb by one inch. Make sure the bulbs have enough air circulation to prevent rotting. They should be stored in a cool, dark, and dry location, usually a basement or garage. Labeling the bulbs is a good idea! Sprinkling yellow sulfur can be helpful for protecting your bulbs, corms, and tubers from storage rot that can sometimes occur.

Buying quality bulbs and researching the best way to plant, care for, and store them is the best way to have a beautiful flower garden that will bloom year after year. Whether you grow your bulbs in formal gardens or scattered throughout your property, you will have years of enjoyment from your investment. If you’re interested in learning more about planting bulbs, or you’d like to know how we can help manage your bulb planting for you, contact Twin Oaks Landscape to schedule a consultation.