Ask The County Agent: ‘When is the best time to plant bulbs?’


By Stephanie Butcher, Coweta County Extension Office

Question:  “I have always wanted to plant flowering bulbs but have never taken the time. When is the best time to plant them?”

Agent:  Great question! Tulips are my favorite flowering bulbs, but I too can never seem to find the time to get them planted.

Here in Georgia, October is a great time to plant spring-flowering bulbs. In fact, they can be planted anytime from October through late December. It’s best to wait until temperatures are consistently below 60 degrees at night though. It looks like that might be late October this year since summer temperatures are hanging around longer than expected.  If you purchase bulbs but can’t plant them right away, then store them at around 60-65 degrees F. in a dry area. Temperatures above 70 degrees F. may damage the flower buds.

Since we are prone to have mild winters in our area, you may want to pre-cool certain bulbs since most spring-flowering bulbs require a 12-16 week cold period. To do this, you can store the bulbs in ventilated packages in the bottom of your refrigerator at 40-50 degrees F. before planting. Check with your bulb supplier to determine whether or not the bulbs you purchase have been pre-cooled. If not, then you may need to give them a cold treatment.

Most spring-flowering bulbs prefer light shade to full sunshine, so find a site that provides at least 6 to 10 hours of direct light per day. Insufficient light usually results in poor flowering, but too much light will bleach the flowers and foliage of some species.

Also consider locating beds and plants where they will be aesthetically pleasing and effectively arranged in the landscape.

Planting depth and spacing are very important to the success of bulbs. Planting depth (from top of bulb to soil surface) should be two to three times the greatest diameter for bulbs 2 inches or more in diameter and three to four times the greatest diameter for smaller bulbs.

Spacing will vary from 1 to 2 inches to as much as several feet. When spacing bulbs, consider not only how much space each plant needs, but also how frequently it will be dug and divided. Also, consider how they will look in the landscape when they bloom. Plant the bulbs carefully and don’t broadcast them as they could be bruised or injured.

Plant the bulbs upright (rhizomes and tuberous roots are usually planted on their sides), and press the soil firmly around them. Water the beds thoroughly to help settle the soil.

If you haven’t soil tested in a while, then go ahead and get a soil test done before you plant so that you can add any lime or fertilizer prior to planting. The soil pH should be between 6.0 and 6.8 for most bulbs. Also, good drainage is essential, so choose an area that doesn’t hold water too long. When in doubt, dig a hole about a foot deep and fill it with water. If the water drains away in 8-10 hours, then that should be just fine for most bulbs.

For more information about planting flowering bulbs, contact the Coweta County Extension office at 770-254-2620 or [email protected] and ask for the publication, “Flowering Bulbs for Georgia Gardens”.