Typically, it's best to get them in the ground as soon as possible after bringing them home. If you must wait, store bulbs in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. You don't want to wait too long since bulbs need ample time in autumn to develop roots. So dig and drop six weeks or so prior to hard ground frosts and you'll be done in plenty of time for spring blooms. Bulbs have one mission in life and that's to grow, so even if you dig and drop when the ground is already hard and chilled, be sure to water (though not when it will freeze) and bulbs will begin their root growth cycle. They aim to please!
Trees, shrubs and bulbs are all competing for nutrients in the soil, so flower bulbs planted in these locations need to be able to hold their own. It can be a good idea to choose early-flowering bulbs for these sites since they'll stand out among the still bare woody plants. A mixture of at least six varieties of naturalizing bulbs that flower at successive times is perfect here. Plant them in variously sized clusters in the lightest spots in a wooded area, or along the edge of a wood. You'll enjoy years of flowering that becomes increasingly profuse year after year.
In general, plant 3x as deep as the bulb is long (measured from the base of the bulb).Typically 8 inches (20 cm) for big bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and hyacinths and 5 inches (13 cm) for small bulbs like grape hyacinths and crocus. Plant in well-drained soil, cover up, water well and wait for spring. It's as simple as dig, drop, done! For specific directions on individual varieties, check out our Bulb Browser .
Bulbs don't require mulch, but it can help to keep the soil moist while maintaining a cool, stable soil temperature. Three inches is plenty (8 cm). Apply when the ground is cool and just before it freezes. If you mulch when the ground is still warm, field mice and other critters might make themselves a warm, winter home and help themselves to some tasty bulb treats.
Bulbs contain the nutrients they need to bloom their first year, but a fertilizing program will keep plants healthy and ward off diseases and pests. Compost and manure are two good organic fertilizers that improve the soil and ensure a good soil structure for bulbs. Use organic supplements to add nutritional balance. Compound mineral fertilizers can also be applied, but check the label to see if fertilizing is appropriate for your bulbs and the best time of year to do so.
Bulbs pack muscle. And even if the ground is dry, they'll push through. Just be sure to give your bulbs a drink from time to time.
So long as the soil drains well, bulbs will thrive. Which means you should avoid planting them in hollows or low spots or under drain spouts, where water collects or puddles. In soggy soil, most bulbs will rot. Exceptions include echequered fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris), camassia and leucojum.
Plant them as soon as you can. Digging may be a little harder, but bulbs can't survive if left unplanted. They may come up shorter than usual if they get less than 10 - 14 weeks of sustained cold temperatures, but they'll recover in future years if they are types and varieties that perennialize or naturalize (be sure to let the foliage die back after bloom in the spring). Also, if you suspect you won't be able to plant until very late, small tarps or leaf piles over your planting area will keep the soil warm and workable until you are ready to dig. As a last ditch effort, you can pot unplanted bulbs for indoor forcing or as container plants. Containers allow you to control the initial soil temperature (use a light potting soil mix). Move them into an unheated garage or other cool, protected place. In spring, bring them indoors or use them as accent plants.