How to Plant Bulbs: A Complete Guide

Learning how to plant bulbs? Discover our top tips to help you get started and become an expert.

Are you ready to add some new life to your garden, but the same old options at the garden center aren’t quite what you’re looking for? One of the best ways to bring more variety to your outdoor space is by planting bulbs.

Bulbs add a stunning range of colors, textures, and shapes to your garden, but they do require a few specific planting and care techniques.

Whether you're a seasoned green thumb or a gardening novice, this guide will cover everything to know about how to plant bulbs, including when to plant, essential plant care tools, and how to care for your new additions.

What Is a Bulb?

The term “bulb” is often used as a catch-all to refer to any plant with an underground energy-storage structure that contains the plant’s full life cycle.[1] These bulb-like structures include:

  • Corms
  • Tubers
  • Tuberous roots
  • True bulbs (like lilies)

The planting techniques in this guide apply to all of the above, even if they are not a true bulb.

[1] University of Illinois Extension. Bulb basics.

Bulb Varieties

Many bulbs and their cousins fall into the spring bulb category. They harness the power of the freezing winter temperatures to hibernate and grow into beautiful spring blossoms of color and life.

One of our favorite spring bulbs is the Lilium orientalis, or the “stargazer” lily, which shows its beautiful pink and white hues in early summer. Or, if you’re hoping to add even more color variety to your garden, Dutch Asiatic mixture lilies bloom in orange, yellow, pink, and white.

7 Steps for Planting Bulbs

Whether you have bulbs, tubers, or corms, you can follow the same general planting tips for how to plant a bulb.

#1 Choose a Location

The first step is to choose a location where your bulbs can thrive. A few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Avoid soil surfaces in low-lying areas that tend to collect puddles.
  • Opt for full sun, since most bulbs require 6+ hours of direct sunlight daily.
  • If your space doesn’t get enough sunlight, use a grow light to provide adequate light.
  • Early spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and crocus can be planted under deciduous trees because they’ll appear before the leaves on the tree cast shade.

#2 Prepare the Soil

Whether you're planting spring bulbs, fall bulbs, or summer bulbs, soil preparation is crucial. You can dig up a large area to create an eye-catching display, or simply dig individual holes for each bulb. If the soil is heavy or clay-like, mix in some compost or other organic matter to improve drainage. Loosen the soil and work in any soil amendments to a depth of about 12 to 18 inches.2

#3 Plant the Bulbs

Place the bulb in the hole with the pointed end facing up, and be mindful of the planting depth while doing so. Then, cover it with soil and gently tamp it down in its planting hole. Generally, cold-hardy bulbs should be planted about 2-3 times deeper than the bulb is high.

#4 Water the Bulbs

Make sure the soil is evenly moist. Watering is especially important in the first few weeks after planting as the bulbs establish roots. Don’t overwater them, though, as bulbs are highly susceptible to root rot.

#5 Mulch in the Fall

Mulch helps retain moisture and prevents extreme temperature fluctuations, which can lift bulbs out of their sleeping space in the ground. Use a layer of straw, leaves, or other organic material to cover the soil over the bulbs. Remove the mulch in the early spring.3

#6 Wait for Growth

Summer bulbs will begin to sprout in a few weeks to a month, depending on the type of bulb and climate. You’ll have to wait a few months for your hardy spring bulbs, but your patience will pay off when the weather begins to warm.

#7 Trim Dead Leaves

So, what do you do with amaryllis bulbs after they bloom? After your bulbs have flowered and the leaves have begun to die back, you can trim the dead growth. But don’t trim too soon—bulbs continue to store energy produced by their leaves until they’re completely brown.4

[2 & 4 ] University of Illinois Extension. Planting and Care.

[3] University of Maryland Extension. Bulbs.

Bulb Care FAQs

From when to plant your bulbs to how much sunlight to give them, we’re answering your most common questions as you start bulb planting.

What Time of Year Should I Plant Bulbs?

Adjust the timing of your planting based on the type of bulb. Look up your USDA zone, and the average frost dates in your region to determine the best time for planting.

Remember this rule of (green) thumb:

  • Plant tender bulbs in spring, after the last frost
  • Plant hardy bulbs in the fall, before the first frost

Should I Soak Bulbs Before Planting?

Some varieties of bulbs should be soaked, including freesia, anemone, and ranunculus. It’s helpful for fall-planted bulbs because they need to root before winter. Pre-soaking gets the bulb ready to sprout roots quickly.

What Do I Do After Flowering?

Wait until the leaves have died completely to allow the bulb to finish storing the energy it will use to bloom again next year. On your spring bulbs, continue to cut back the dead flowers and leave the green leaves and stalks through the warm weather.

How Much Sunlight Should My Bulbs Receive?

How does light affect plant growth? The amount of sunlight needed depends on your bulb variety, but typically, bulbs do well in plenty of sunlight. For example, some spring varieties, like the Lilium asiatica, require full sun to bloom brightly in early- to mid-summer. Other varieties, like the Lilium orientalis, prefer partial sun. You might consider getting grow lights for indoor plants to give them optimal light.

From the tall gladiolus corms to the showstopping blooms of lilies in the spring, bulbs and bulb-like flowers add an exciting variety of forms and colors to any garden. They take a little more care and timing than some other plants, but bulbs will reward your work year after year once you've mastered their requirements.

Whether you choose to enrich your garden with the true bulbs of spring or other bulb-like varieties, at Greendigs, we have the supplies and tools you need to succeed. Get ready for a beautiful display of blooms all season long with help from Greendigs.


University of Illinois Extension. Bulb basics.

University of Illinois Extension. Planting and Care.

University of Maryland Extension. Bulbs.