It was June and I was getting impatient. I had planted everything, but nothing was blooming yet. I had planted ammi, snapdragons, zinnias, celosia, and cosmos. All of that work, and it was taking forever.
I had read “Cool Flowers,” and I had planted the hardy annuals before my last frost date. But something was clearly wrong. I had heard the term “the dreaded June gap” somewhere, and I’m not sure who came up with it, but it perfectly describes what I was experiencing.
I had a similar experience where there was a sudden burst of flowers followed by a long period of nothing. Did that happen to you as well?
I have found that Fall Planting is an effective way to deal with anxiety.
If the idea of planting flowers in the fall is too overwhelming, that’s okay. You can just prepare a few beds or rows and plant them in the spring.
Although it’s later in the year, fall planting is a great way to get a head start. Depending on where you live, you may not be able to harvest everything by June, but typically you’ll be able to get flowers at least two weeks earlier than if you had waited.
Why Plant in the Fall?
One of the benefits of planting in the fall is that you can get blooms earlier in the year than if you planted the same flowers in the spring. This is because the fall-planted flowers have already had time to put down roots and adjust to the weather. Some flowers even need a cool period in order to set blooms.
The key is to only plant “cool” or cold-resistant varieties that can withstand the lowest average temperatures you experience.
What Are Fall Bulbs?
There are certain types of bulbs that are planted during the fall season in order for them to bloom during the spring. Some examples of these fall bulbs include crocus, snowdrops, daffodils, tulips, and hyacinth.
This is different from bulbs that flower in the summer, such as dahlias, elephant ear, caladium, gladiolus, and cannas, which are planted in the spring.
Why do we plant spring-flowering bulbs in the fall? These spring beauties are what we call “dormant perennials.” They need the cool, moist autumn soil to awaken them from their dormancy so they can begin growing roots in preparation for the spring show.
If you are a beginner gardener, bulbs are an easy way to get started (and spark your interest in gardening)! They are easy to plant and really lift the spirits, not to mention feed the early pollinators such as the drowsy queen bumblebees.
When to Plant Fall Bulbs
I’m not very good at starting seeds early. I usually wait too long and then things get difficult.
The deal is that you need to plant out all cool-season flowers and perennials six to eight weeks before your first fall frost date, and those flowers should have been started four to six weeks before that transplanting date.
- transplant or direct seed 6-8 weeks before your first fall frost date.
- start the actual seeds 6 weeks before you transplant them, 12-14 weeks before your first fall frost date.
Does that make sense so far? For example:
I need to transplant my seedlings on August 14th and direct seed six weeks before that on July 3rd.
You will need to research the cold hardiness of each particular flower to see if they will survive in your area.
The ideal time to plant fall bulbs is when soils are below 60°F in the late fall, or approximately six weeks before a hard frost is expected.
This usually happens during September and October in the North. A good deadline to set would be Halloween. In the South, bulbs are generally planted a little later in October and November. One exception would be tulips. You can plant them as late in winter as you can get them into the soil.
You will need to pre-cool some bulbs in the warmest parts of the south. This means that you will need to put them in a ventilated package in the bottom of your refrigerator at 40° to 50°F for 12 to 16 weeks. You should check with your bulb supplier to determine whether the bulbs you purchase have been pre-cooled or whether you may need to give them a cold treatment.
Some bulbs will only bloom one season and then they die, for example tulips. You will have to plant them again each year, but they are still beautiful and worth it. Other bulbs, such as daffodils, are perennials and will come up every year.
The better the quality of the bulb, the more likely it is to be large for its type and produce a lot of flowers. Less impressive bulbs have a lower rate of germination, produce smaller blooms, and are less likely to come back year after year.
You should only choose good bulbs that are fresh and firm. Avoid any that are brittle, rotted or moldy. It is also best to choose bulbs with intact husks as they will be better able to fight any disease. Once you have received your bulbs, plant them immediately or store them in a cool, dark and dry place at 60° to 65°F. If the temperature is above 70°F it may damage the flower buds.
If you have animals that dig up your flowers, you may want to avoid planting tulips or crocuses, as they are delicate. Another option is to build a cage around your bulbs using chicken wire.
We suggest you buy bulbs from either a reputable nursery or local garden center instead of a generic big box store. However, it is also easy to order online from many different wonderful high-quality nurseries, including Dutch suppliers. Another advantage to ordering from a bulb specialist is picking unusual varieties or colors since there are many more choices available.
Make sure to plant additional flowers so you can cut them and bring them inside to enjoy the spring colors.
Best Flower Bulbs to Plant in Fall
Below is a list of the most reliable spring-blooming bulbs.
We prefer daffodils over any other bulbs because other animals leave them alone! Daffodils come in many colors, not just yellow (pink, orange, white, multi-colored) and their flowers range from trumpets to flat rings to little rose-like cups. They grow best in well-draining soil that has been amended with organic matter or compost. They should be planted at least 6 inches deep and 6 inches apart. They look great in large drifts in groundcover beds or in meadows or planted under hostas.
- Jonquils is the term usually used for a specific type of daffodil known as Narcissus jonquilla. They have tiny blooms and naturalize. They’re one of the first flowers to bloom—and look especially lovely when planted in a grove or field together.
* Do NOT plant if deer are a problem.
We are always happy to see crocus blossoms in the early spring. They are low-growing bulbs that come in purple, white, yellow, and striped varieties, and they are about 4 to 6 inches high. Crocus does best in well-drained soil and can grow in partial shade or full sunlight. They are a good choice for garden borders and look attractive when planted in a lawn. Their blooming period ends before it’s time to start mowing the lawn!
Snowdrops (Galanthus) are small white bells that are very pretty in the late winter and early spring. Deer, voles, and other small animals do not eat them, so choose snowdrops instead of crocus if you have problems with these animals.
If you were to see a large group of these flowers blooming at once, it would feel as if you had stepped into a storybook. We enjoy planting them in large numbers in landscaped beds.
Snowdrops generally prefer moist soil and partial shade, although they are adaptable to other conditions. They should be planted three inches deep and three inches apart, and adding leaf mold or compost at planting will help ensure plentiful blooms.
* NOT critter-resistant
A popular spring bulb, tulips come in many colors and variations. They grow best in soil that is well-drained or sandy and rich in fertilizer. Planting them in a group is ideal, as they bloom after daffodils. They also pair well with grape hyacinth.
Beware that tulips nowadays are mostly one-time delights. Because of hybridization and the fact that squirrels adore these bulbs, they are generally considered annuals. It is unlikely that more than three fourths of the bulbs will come back in their second year, and even less will survive to see a third year. You will simply have to replant tulip bulbs every year (which isn’t difficult) or shield them with a nylon mesh.
Some readers say that planting tulips with daffodil bulbs repels pests since they find daffodil bulbs to be smelly. If this works for you, let us know.
Hyacinths bloom around the same time as daffodils and tulips and have a great fragrance. They have small blue clusters of tiny bell-shaped blooms and are also good for naturalizing. (They come in paler pinks, baby blues, yellows, and white). An annual application of compost should provide adequate nutrients. The size of the flowers may decline in subsequent years, so some gardeners treat hyacinths as annuals and plant fresh bulbs each fall.
The best time to plant irises is in the fall. They are tall and easy to take care of which makes them attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, and cut flower enthusiasts. Irises need good drainage and at least half a day of sun. If you have heavy soil, adding sand or humus will help with drainage.
It is very important that the roots of newly planted Iris are well-established before the growing season ends, so we would plant irises on the earlier end of the range (September in the North and October in the South).
Allium (Ornamental Onions)
Try growing allium if you are looking for a deer- and rodent-resistant bulb. Allium is a member of the onion family.
The flowers of this plant are a deep purple and are very prominent in the late spring and early summer. They are tall, and have large orb-shaped flowers. There are also smaller varieties of this plant. The larger bulbs grow best in sandy soil.
Ornamental alliums make great cut flowers, and bees love them!
How to Plant Fall Bulbs
Planting bulbs is generally an easy task (unless you’ve ordered hundreds of them), but there are some things that you want to make sure to get right. Here are tips to keep in mind:
Bulbs will grow best if they get at least some sun all spring. They look beautiful planted beneath trees, in large groups or in drifts, or mixed with spring annuals in containers.
Plants will do best if they are placed in an area with good drainage to avoid rotting. It is recommended that a few inches of compost or organic matter be worked into the soil before planting for nutrients and drainage, especially if the soil is heavy clay. If the soil is sandy, it is best to plant bulbs slightly deeper, while in clay soils they should be planted slightly shallower.
Before planting bulbs, refrain from planting them with the point facing up and make sure the roots are facing downward.
The standard rule of thumb for bulb planting is to plant at a depth 3 times the width of the bulb.
Be sure to plant bulbs with different bloom times so that you have flowers throughout spring! Early spring, mid-spring, and late spring blooming bulbs will keep your garden looking fresh all season.
This will create the illusion of the bed being fuller than it actually is. Short bulbs in the front will make the bed look fuller than it is.
In order to ensure that you have plenty of plants, it is best to plant more bulbs than you think you will need. This is especially true if you live in an area with squirrels, as they may eat some of the bulbs. If you want a more natural look, plant the bulbs in a random order and spacing. If you prefer a more uniform look, you will need to buy and plant many bulbs together.
You can use a special tool to help you plant bulbs, or if you’re planting a lot at once, you can just use a shovel to make a big hole.
Bulbs can add a lot of visual interest when planted in groups, for example in a grove of trees, near the mailbox, or in garden beds with different colors.
- After planting, apply a fertilizer that’s fairly low in nitrogen, such as a 9-6-6 formulation.
- Water bulbs deeply after planting—and remember, if your bulb was planted 6” deep into the soil, that water needs to soak in 6” deep to benefit the bulb. This will help settle the soil in the planting bed plus provide needed moisture for the bulbs to start rooting.
- Water again before the ground freezes — the wintertime is when they are developing roots. Don’t overwater which can lead to bulb rot. Gardeners in southern locations can water again in late December or early January if it’s been an unusually dry winter.
- Apply mulch to the planting area to keep the weeds down, hold in moisture, and avoid heaving from wintertime thawing and freezing.
- Note: You will not need to start watering again until the flower buds first appear on the plant in the spring. Once bulbs start growing in the spring, water once a week (if you haven’t had any measurable rain) — this is especially important while they’re flowering. Water with a soaker hose to keep water off the bloom.