How and when to plant spring bulbs

Spring bulbs are ideal for anyone who rates themselves as 'keen-but-clueless'. They are one of the easiest plants to grow and bring plenty of impact, whether grown in pots or the border. Provided you plant them at the right depth and time of year, they'll reward you with a reliable display of blooms.

Follow these simple planting tips if you're thinking about potted bulbs for the patio or planting bulbs in your garden.

when to plant spring bulbs
when to plant spring bulbs

When to plant spring bulbs

The planting time for bulbs varies broadly according to their flowering time. As a rule of thumb, you should plant spring-flowering bulbs from early autumn. This gives them plenty of time to produce new roots before the ground freezes with the onset of winter. As a general rule, aim to plant bulbs 6 to 8 weeks before the first hard frost in your area.

Tulips are the main exception to this rule. You can plant tulip bulbs in late autumn, or even early winter, without adversely affecting the following year's flowering. Planting tulips as late as November can even be preferable. Growing bulbs in colder weather can help them avoid the fungal disease 'tulip fire' which thrives in warm, damp conditions.

Summer bulbs like dahlia and gladioli, and autumn-flowering bulbs like colchicums, are best planted from late spring onwards.

Scroll down to our table below to check the planting time, depth and spacing for the most popular bulb types.

How to plant spring bulbs - step by step

If you've never planted bulbs before, it can feel a little daunting, however, it is generally very straightforward. Follow these simple steps to plant spring bulbs for top displays that will last for months

1. Choose the right spot

Pick an area that suits the growing conditions of your bulb. Most hardy bulbs, like daffodils and tulips, prefer a sunny spot with good drainage as they originate from dry summer climates. Bulbs from woodland habitats like snowdrops will prefer a cool, partially shaded spot with moisture-retentive, humus-rich soil.

2. Prepare the soil

Before planting in the ground, first cultivate the soil to give your bulbs the best possible start. Break it up and ensure the soil is loose, fertile, and free from weeds. Add organic matter, such as well-rotted compost and sharp sand or grit, to improve drainage and add essential nutrients.

If you are planting your bulbs in pots or containers, use a well-draining multi-purpose compost.

3. Dig the planting holes

If you are only planting a few bulbs, use a strong trowel or bulb planter. To save time, you can use a soil auger fitted into an electric drill to speed up the process. Ideal depth and spacing varies with the type of bulb, so consult our guide below.

For most bulbs you'll want to dig a hole two to three times the bulb's height. This allows new roots plenty of room to develop.

For larger swathes of bulbs, it's better to use a spade to dig out a planting block to the correct depth. Position the bulbs and then replace the excavated soil. On heavy, poorly drained soils, sit the bulbs on a layer of sharp grit to aid drainage and help prevent rotting.

To achieve a natural-looking swathe of bulbs, you'll need to plant them in irregular blocks at variable planting distances. If you find this difficult, try scattering the bulbs and planting them exactly where they land.

4. Planting the bulbs

Plant bulbs with the pointed 'nose' (where the shoot emerges) at the top and the flat 'basal plate' at the bottom. The only exception to this rule is with crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis). These bulbs are hollow, so you should always plant them on their side to prevent rotting.

When you've placed all the bulbs into the holes, gently backfill the hole, firming the soil around the bulb. You may want to 'mark the spot' of your planted bulbs with marker stakes so you don't unearth them by mistake.

5. Watering and mulching

After planting, give the bulbs a thorough watering to promote root growth. A layer of mulch will keep weeds at bay, hold onto moisture and insulate bulbs in the colder months. Composted bark or leaf mould are both good options.

naturalising spring bulbs, like snowdrops in lawns
naturalising spring bulbs, like snowdrops in lawns

Naturalising bulbs in the lawn

When planting in lawns, carefully peel back the turf, then dig out the soil and plant the bulbs. Once you have replaced the soil, tread it down lightly then replace the turf. You can fill any gaps with sieved garden soil.

Under trees, it's better to plant bulbs singly. Large excavations can damage trees' roots and encourage suckering.

If you have had problems with rodents digging up and eating your bulbs in the past, you'll need to protect them. Try covering the whole planting area with a layer of chicken wire buried just below the surface.

Planting guide for popular spring bulbs

Spring bulbs vary, so check our planting guides for each type to ensure the best displays.


The best time to plant alliums is mid-late autumn. September to November is ideal as the ground is still warm, giving the roots time to establish before the frosts.

Depth: 10-15cm | Spacing: 10-30cm


Plant daffodils (narcissus) in early autumn, no later than mid-September. This allows the bulbs plenty of time to develop strong root systems.

Depth: 10-15cm | Spacing: 10-15cm


The best time to plant tulips is late October or early November, around six to eight weeks before the first frost. Planting too early can increase the chance of tulip fire.

Depth: 15-20cm | Spacing: 10-15cm


You can plant Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs indoors from autumn until early in the new year. They take eight weeks to flower, so if planting for Christmas, plant in early November.

Depth: 0cm | Spacing: 20-30cm


Plant anemones anytime between September and November. If you want later Anemones in spring, plant them from February to April.

Depth: 5cm | Spacing: 10-15cm

Autumn daffodils

Plant autumn daffodils (Sternbergia) in August or September. Once planted, leave them undisturbed and only dig up if flowering has stopped.

Depth: 10-15cm | Spacing: 15cm


The best time to plant Camassias is between September to November. As a perennial bulb, plant them where they are likely to remain undisturbed.

Depth: 8cm | Spacing: 20cm


Plant spring-flowering crocus in September or early October. As one of the first spring flowers to bloom, they need time to develop root systems.

Depth: 10cm | Spacing: 5-10cm


The best time to plant cyclamen corms is in September and no later than early October. This will give them the best chance for an early display.

Depth: 2.5cm | Spacing: 10-15cm

Fawn lily

Plant Erythronium, sometimes called Dog's tooth violet or fawn lily, as soon as you receive them in early autumn. They dislike being dry, so avoid planting under shrubs and trees.

Depth: 5cm | Spacing: 45-60cm

English bluebell

The best time to plant English bluebells (Hyacinthoides) is September or October. Plant them in naturalistic drifts to enjoy their full effect.

Depth: 10cm | Spacing: 10cm

Foxtail lily

The best time to plant Eremurus (foxtail lily) is from late summer, August until October. You can plant them later, until February; however, the soil may be cold, and they might not establish as easily.

Depth: 5cm | Spacing: 45-60cm


You can plant Fritillaria anytime in Autumn, from September to November. The bulbs are fragile, so take care and avoid disturbing them once planted.

Depth: 10-20cm | Spacing: 5-20cm


You can plant hyacinths indoors for flowers in January or outdoors for April flowers. Plant them in early autumn, no later than September, to ensure they have good root development.

Depth: 15cm | Spacing: 15cm

Iris (Reticulata)

To get early dwarf irises, plant them in September. However, you can plant Iris reticulata until mid-November for a slightly later flowering season.

Depth: 5cm | Spacing: 5cm


Plant grape hyacinths (Muscari) between September and November but before the first frost. Plant in small clusters for a natural look.

Depth: 10cm | Spacing: 7-10cm


You should plant Nectaroscordum or honey garlic, which is part of the allium family, from mid-late autumn. Sometime during October or November is perfect.

Depth: 15cm | Spacing: 15cm


A low-growing bulb with upright spikes with around ten-star-shaped white and blue flowers. Plant striped squills (Puschkinia) throughout autumn, before the first frosts.

Depth: 5-7cm | Spacing: 7-10cm


You can plant Ranunculus in spring or autumn. If planted in spring, they will flower during the summer; if planted in autumn, they will flower in spring.

Depth: 7-10cm | Spacing: 7-10cm


The best time to plant scilla is in the autumn, before the first frost. This gives them time to develop roots before the soil is too cold.

Depth: 8-10cm | Spacing: 8-10cm


The best time to plant Snowdrops (Galanthus) is September or early October. This gives the roots enough time to establish before the first frost.

Depth: 5cm | Spacing: 5cm

Spring snowflake

The best time to plant spring snowflakes (Leucojum) is in the autumn before the first frost. In the UK, this is between September and the end of November.

Depth: 10cm | Spacing: 8-10cm


Plant star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum) throughout the autumn for May-June flowering. Best planted in naturalistic groups, this perennial will come back year after year.

Depth: 5-7cm | Spacing: 20-30cm

Winter aconite

Plant winter aconite (Eranthis) in early autumn, no later than mid-September. They prefer soil that will stay moist until summer.

Depth: 5cm | Spacing: 5cm


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