What you need to know about planting bulbs in August

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Updated Aug 13, 2019

planting bulbs in a colorful gardenWhile spring already sprung months ago, now is the perfect time of the year to think about flowers for next year.

Spring is the most popular season for planting flowers and bulbs, but there are a few bulbs that actually need to be planted in the fall or early winter to yield results.

Some spring-flowering bulbs, like daffodils and tulips, have to be planted in either fall or early winter because they require a long period of cool temperatures to spark the biochemical process that will then cause them to flower. This will give them enough time to develop strong roots and give them more of a fighting chance come spring.

When to plant

Generally, planting earlier is better, but be sure to crosscheck that with your climate zone. If the ground in your area is prone to freezing, you will want to plant the bulbs at least six weeks before this takes place. If your area doesn’t receive much ground freezing, pre-chill the bulbs six to 10 weeks before planting.

No matter how late in the season, tell your customers that bulbs will try to bloom because they are living plants that contain a full storehouse of food. So even if you or your customers happen to come into a bag of bulbs later on into the winter, try planting them anyway. Chances are, even if they are planted late, there will still be good results.

Assure your customers that even if your area experiences some strange weather, such as an uncharacteristically hot day followed by a cold snap, tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs are tough.

Experiencing a short cold snap shouldn’t do much damage to the young bulbs and shoots, but it could potentially “burn” blossoms that are already open. Experiencing a warm spell may cause bulbs to bloom early, but in many cases it won’t result in damage.


If your customers have older tulips or other spring-flowering plants present that have reached their end, the best course of action is to dead-head the tulips and leave the leaves alone. By leaving the leaves alone, the plant can then put its energy into recharging the bulbs for the following spring. In the meantime, this energy will be stored in the bulb’s “scales,” which is the white fleshy part of the bulb.

Be sure to leave the green foliage exposed until at least six weeks have gone by since blooming or until it turns brown. Don’t tie, bunch, cut or braid the leaves during this period, and resist the urge to trim them back during the die-back phase.

Interplanting annuals and perennials

If your customers are just absolutely not fans of this temporary look, talk to them about the possibility of interplanting bulbs with perennials and annuals, or plant them nearby so that the latter can mask the decline of the bulb foliage.

If there are annuals in the same bed as bulbs, avoid fertilizing until the bulbs have died back. In spring, bulbs should only get a dose of fast-release nitrogen about six weeks before flowering, if they are fertilized at all. If the bulbs are fertilized too close to flowering time, the bulbs won’t be able to metabolize the food, which will encourage fusarium disease and other illnesses.

When choosing a spot for the bulbs, also take into account that come fall and winter, the surrounding non-evergreen and deciduous trees will shed their leaves. This will result in a lot more sunlight, but thankfully bulbs like tulips are sun and shade lovers.

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