HELP! I ran out of time to plant my fall bulbs! Now what?

“I know you’re not supposed to plant fall bulbs in the spring but we were hit with hard winter weather rather early this year and I am left with at least 100 tulip and daffodil bulbs that were unable to get planted. Would they survive to bloom next year if I were to plant them now?”

~Dianne from Idaho

Dianne asks a very good question…and one I’ve heard quite often! We all know what it’s like to have the greatest plans for our yard that never seem to quite materialize. Sometimes you even get so motivated that you actually purchase the bulbs and yet they still never make it in the ground! Whether it’s a forgetful mind, the unpredictability of Mother Nature, or just plain running out of time, it’s okay: we’ve ALL done it. And the best news? It may not be too late for your bulbs!

These bulbs were bought with good intentions...anything you can do with them now?

These bulbs were bought with good intentions...anything you can do with them now?

The most important factor to consider when deciding what to do with fall bulbs which were never planted in fall is the conditions in which they have been stored. Were they kept in a cool, dry place since you bought them? Were they left out in the garage? Were they left on the warm kitchen table? Test your bulbs for firmness by squeezing them. Also look for signs of rot or blight by checking the outside of the bulbs for dark or mushy spots. If the bulbs feel firm and have a rather healthy-looking outside, then you’ve got yourself some winners! Most likely, if the bulb was left outside or in a very cold garage and was allowed to freeze, it is no longer salvageable.

So now that you’ve determined that your bulbs are still healthy enough to survive, it’s time to get them “chilled.” As you may or may not know, most fall bulbs (tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth to be specific) need to be chilled in order to grow and bloom properly in the springtime. When planting them in northern climates which receive consistently cool weather in the winter (Zones 3-8), this happens naturally. However, since your bulbs were not planted before the winter and now the ground is frozen, the bulbs can no longer be planted in the ground this year. This leaves you with two options:

  1. Plant the bulbs in one large (or a few small) pots. Plant them at the correct depth but don’t worry too
    These 'Queen of Night' Tulips need to be chilled in order to grow and bloom correctly.

    These 'Queen of Night' Tulips need to be chilled in order to grow and bloom correctly.

    much about the spacing. As long as the bulbs aren’t on top of one another or smashed side-by-side, they’ll be fine. Place this pot in a cool but not freezing garage (upper 30’s and 40’s for temperature). If you do not have a garage or shed which meets this criteria, the pot can be left outside on a patio or deck as long as it is wrapped in something which will protect it from frost (such as burlap or bubble wrap). The bulbs will then receive their necessary “chilling” period but will not freeze. In approximately 10 to 12 weeks or so, you should start to see a little growth. Once this happens, move the pot to a nice sunny patio or lawn area (or remove the bubble warp). The bulbs will continue to grow and bloom just as they would in the ground. The bulbs can then be dug out of the pot and moved to a flowerbed either during their growing cycle or after the foliage has browned and dried. OR…

  2. Place the bulbs in a paper bag in the refrigerator. Be sure that the refrigerator is set at a temperature between 35°F and 50°F. Also, rid the refrigerator of any fruit (particularly apples) as these produce a plant hormone called “ethylene” when ripening which will cause flower bulbs to rot. After a period of 10-12 weeks, the bulbs may start to sprout. At this time, the ground outside should be thawed and the bulbs planted in the ground. They will then grow and bloom as normal!

One important thing to keep in mind when doing this is that the environment required by these bulbs is being artificially created. Therefore, be forgiving of your bulbs and do not expect them to be super all-star growers and bloomers the first year. It may take them a little while to readjust but after they have completed their first full growing season, you’ll never be able to tell the difference!

Because Dianne’s question was featured in the Bulb Blog, she received a $5.00 off coupon for her next Holland Bulb Farms order. Congratulations to her and thank you for the great question! Keep them coming and you may get a coupon, too!

Until next time,

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Got a gardening question for Bridget? Email her at bridget@bulbblog.com! If she features your question in a post, you’ll receive a coupon of your next order at www.hollandbulbfarms.com!