Fall officially began on Friday, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to put away your gardening tools! Fall’s cooler temperatures creates optimal soil for planting stunning early-blooming spring annuals, such as daffodils, snowdrop, allium, crocus, and tulips.
Like planting in the spring, there are a few guidelines you should follow when planting in the fall. Before you scamper to your local nursery to stock up on your favorite bulbs and dig into your new garden, read our 6 tips for successful cool-weather planting.
1) Plant your bulbs when the average nighttime temperatures are around 40 – 50 degrees. You don’t want to plant your bulbs too early, as bulbs planted in warm, wet soil can be susceptible to rot or mildew. Planting when the evening temperatures drop to 40 – 50 degrees provides the cool soil bulbs need, while giving the roots times to establish and strengthen before the ground freezes.
2) Location matters! Bulbs should be planted in a light, breathable soil in a well-draining area. Bulbs can suffocate and rot in wet, heavy soils, which is important to keep in mind when you’re selecting the location for your garden. Sunlight matters, too – most bulbs do best in full sun (around 6 hours of direct sun a day).
Check out Better Homes & Gardens’ Plant Encyclopedia if you’re unsure of your specific needs, or you can often find that information on the planting directions that come with the bulb.
3) Know which depth works best. The rule of (green) thumb is to plant larger bulbs 8 inches into the soil and smaller bulbs 3-4 inches into the soil. If you’re not sure which depth is right for your bulb, check the planting directions that come with the bulb – it should include a recommendation for your type of plant.
4) Protect the bulbs in the winter. Cover flowerbeds with 2-3 layers of shredded leaves or mulch or a sheet of wire mesh after planting. The leaves and mulch will minimize soil temperature fluctuation, maintain adequate moisture, and prevent weeds, while the wire mesh will protect your bulbs from critters. (If you go the mesh route, remove it after the bulbs start to sprout out of the ground.)
5) Don’t hold onto bulbs until next spring or fall. If you miss your window for fall planting, don’t wait until next season! Bulbs won’t survive out of the ground forever, so it’s best to plant them and give them a chance to grow.
If the ground is frozen, there are ways to preserve your bulbs until you’re able to plant. But, if you’re able to get the bulbs into the ground, do it – you’re more likely to get results in the ground than you are in the cupboard or garage!
6) Know what comes next. Spring seems like it’s ages away, but it’ll be here before we know it. After your flowers have bloomed and faded, remove the old flower heads so the plant doesn’t use energy producing unwanted seeds.
Let foliage turn yellow and die before cutting back, as bulbs need leaves to replenish their food supply. This will help keep the bulbs healthy for the following season.
Have more questions on fall planting? Check out this list of FAQs for planting spring flowers in the fall.