November Conundrums: Is It Too Late to Plant Bulbs?

 

plant bulbs
Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel

It’s officially November. Does that mean it’s too late to plant bulbs in your garden?

The answer to this question is, “It depends.”

Growing Depends on the Temperature

What it depends on are the average nighttime temperatures in your area. The best chance of success with spring-flowering bulbs is to plant them about six weeks before you can expect a ground-freezing frost. This will give the bulbs enough time to set out some roots and to establish themselves. While you may be tempted to get them in the ground early, planting too early can lead to disease and fungus problems. Typically the best time for planting is when the average nighttime temperature is within the 40 to 50 degree range. September and October are usually the best months in cold northern areas, which it may be necessary to wait until December in warmer areas.

Don’t Miss Planting Time

If you miss the best planting time, don’t hang onto your bulbs for the spring or next fall. Unlike seeds, they don’t survive indefinitely out of the ground. If you find a bag of bulbs in January, and the ground is not frozen solid, get them planted. They have a better chance of surviving in the ground than in a basement or garage. By design, bulbs are meant to survive through the winter. You may be surprised to find those late-planted bulbs blooming better than the ones you planted in September or October.

Spring Flowering Bulbs

If you planted spring flowering bulbs late (and you live in a hard freeze area), leave them planted. Allow the leaves to die back naturally to produce energy for the bulb for its next season. It will go through the next cold winter and should produce beautiful blossoms the following spring. If you live in a no-freeze area, dig up the bulbs and store in a cool dry area until time to plant in the fall.

Summer Blooming

Summer-blooming bulbs are treated differently. In warm areas then can be allowed to go dormant and left in the soil until the following summer. In a milder climate, bulbs that are left in the ground are treated as perennials. If you live in a hard freeze area, some summer-blooming bulbs must be dug up before winter and stored in a cool and dry place to be replanted in early spring.

Basically, if you plant bulbs too late for good flowering next spring, just leave them alone and wait for the following year.