There’s no two ways about it: flowering bulbs are a spring sensation, cheerfully popping up out of the cold winter ground and putting a smile on everyone’s face. If you want these delightful plants in your garden this year, autumn is the time to get them in the ground.
Read on to find out how to get started.
How do bulbs work?
To understand the best timing for planting bulbs, it’s worth knowing a thing or two about the life cycle of bulbous plants. These are generally perennials, with an underground stem – that being the bulb itself.
Each year, after the plant has flowered and its leaves have naturally browned off, the bulb goes into a period of dormancy.
During this time, bulbs can be either left in the ground or lifted out and stored until the next planting season. Whether or not lifting is required largely depends on climatic factors.
In any case, the bulbs need to be in the ground months ahead of their flowering time, making autumn the perfect time for planting spring bulbs.
For more on the life cycle of spring flowering bulbs, read our earlier post on the topic, which has a handy breakdown of month-by-month planting and maintenance.
Planting bulbs in March
It’s worth knowing that most of our spring bulbs have their origins in places with very cold winters compared to those in Australia. This means they’re adapted to cold exposure, and need a certain degree of cold in order to send up shoots.
When planting these bulbs in autumn, wait until the high temps of summer have passed. Hot, wet conditions can cause some bulbs to rot, so April and May are generally considered prime time for planting. In cooler areas, though, you should be able to get started as early as March.
Best bulbs to plant in early autumn
Delightful daffodils are among the first spring bulbs to go in the ground, also being the first to flower from late winter to early spring.
These are fantastic for planting in drifts under deciduous trees, where they’ll enjoy the winter sun before the leaves grow back in.
Aim to have your daffodils from late March through April.
They look wonderful planted en masse, and there are numerous bloom styles, sizes and even colours to try. Find out more in our post on daffodil types.
Jonquils are the early birds of the spring bulb brigade, often flowering as early as mid winter – so get started on planting them in early autumn.
They do well in warmer climates, where planting can be delayed until April or May, and are great in pots.
Both daffodils and jonquils are Narcissus varieties (usually hybrids), with jonquils distinguished by having a cluster of flowers atop each stem and earlier flowering.
They usually have a strong fragrance and make for long-lasting cut flowers.
Freesias bring classic spring cheer to the garden, with a beautiful fragrance and lovely, colourful blooms that make excellent cut flowers.
They’re also one of the easiest bulbs to grow, being unfussy about soil type (although, like other bulbs, they dislike boggy soils).
Most varieties are able to grow across the full spectrum of Australian climates, from cool through to tropical. In cooler areas, you can get away with planting in March, but wait til April or May in hotter zones.
More tips for planting bulbs
- About a month before planting, prepare your bed by weeding thoroughly, digging in plenty of compost, and adding a good layer of mulch
- When your bulbs arrive in the post, unpack them straight away and store with the bags open in a cool, dry spot with plenty of air flow
- Plant bulbs at a depth of 2-2.5 times their length
- Leave roughly the same amount of space between individual bulbs
- Certain types of bulbs, notably tulips, can benefit from being put in your fridge crisper for 4-6 weeks before planting (but don’t keep them in the fridge much longer than this)
- Consider bulb planting tools to help plant your bulbs!
Get your bulbs now!
When it comes to planting bulbs, planning ahead is your ticket to springtime success. If you’ve already got your bulbs, it’s time to mark planting time in your calendar, dig out your gloves, and get ready to get your hands dirty.