Garden Success with Easy Bulbs

Growing and Overwintering Bulbs: Tips for Northern and Southern Gardeners

Bulbs are nature's little powerhouses of beauty and joy that bring vibrant colors and delightful fragrances to our gardens. Whether you're a seasoned gardener or just starting out, growing bulbs can be a rewarding experience. Spring flowering bulbs are probably the best known but there are bulbs you can plant for summer blooms too.

Bulbs are famously easy to grow but do have zone-specific requirements regarding soil temperatures. We’ll provide detailed instructions for both northern gardeners looking to overwinter bulbs and southern gardeners aiming to cultivate spring-blooming bulbs that require a cold period for reblooming.

It’s So Easy to Grow Bulbs

Bulbs are remarkably easy to grow, making them a perfect choice for all gardeners, regardless of their experience level. The key to successful bulb growing lies in their ability to store nutrients and moisture within their fleshy scales or layers. This self-sufficiency means that bulbs have everything they need to bloom in their compact form. Here's a step-by-step guide on planting and caring for bulbs:

Choosing the Right Bulbs

Select bulbs that are plump and firm, free from any signs of rot or damage. Common spring-blooming bulbs like tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses are excellent choices for their reliable performance.

Picking the Right Location

Bulbs prefer well-draining soil and plenty of sunlight. Choose a location with at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Amend the soil with organic matter to improve drainage and fertility.

Planting Bulbs

Plant bulbs in the fall before the ground freezes for northern gardeners and in late summer or early fall for southern gardeners. Follow the recommended planting depth and spacing for each type of bulb. A general rule of thumb is to plant bulbs at a depth that is approximately three times their height.

Watering and Feeding

Water bulbs after planting to help them settle in. Once established, they generally require little additional watering. Fertilize the bulbs with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer during their active growth phase in spring.

Post-Bloom Care

After the flowers have faded, allow the foliage to naturally wither and turn yellow before cutting it back. The foliage plays a crucial role in recharging the bulb for the next growing season.


Overwintering Bulbs for Northern Gardeners

For gardeners in colder climates who wish to keep tender bulbs alive during winter, here are some tips to successfully overwinter bulbs:

Digging and Storage

In late fall, before the first frost, carefully dig up the tender bulbs such as dahlias, gladiolus, and cannas. Gently shake off excess soil and allow them to dry for a day or two. Store the bulbs in a cool, dark, and dry location, such as a basement or garage, in containers filled with peat moss, sawdust, or vermiculite.

Regular Inspections

Check on the bulbs periodically throughout winter to ensure they remain firm and free from rot or disease. Discard any bulbs showing signs of damage.

Preparing for Spring

In early spring, as the danger of frost passes, start preparing to replant the overwintered bulbs outdoors. Gradually acclimate them to outdoor conditions by exposing them to increasing amounts of sunlight and warmth.

Cultivating Bulbs for Southern Gardeners Requiring Cold Periods

For southern gardeners aiming to grow spring-blooming bulbs that need a cold period for reblooming, follow these guidelines:

Selecting Suitable Bulbs

Choose bulbs that require a chilling period, such as certain varieties of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. Look for pre-chilled bulbs or ones labeled as suitable for warm climates.

Artificial Cold Treatment

To simulate the required cold period, place the bulbs in a paper bag or a plastic container filled with slightly moistened peat moss, vermiculite, or sand. Store them in the refrigerator for the recommended chilling duration, typically 6-12 weeks before the desired planting time.

Timing the Planting

Plant the chilled bulbs in late fall or early winter when temperatures have cooled down sufficiently. Follow the standard planting depth and spacing instructions for the specific bulbs.


Growing bulbs is a simple and gratifying endeavor for gardeners of all levels of expertise. While bulbs have recommended hardiness zones, with a little planning and care, northern gardeners can successfully overwinter tender bulbs, while southern gardeners can delight in the beauty of spring-blooming bulbs by providing them with the cold period they need to rebloom.

So, plant those low maintenance bulbs in your garden, and give them a little fertilizer in their peak growing season. You’ll be rewarded with colorful and often fragrant flowers that are symbols of the season.