Planting Bulbs, Corms & Tubers

Geoff Hodge's picture
By Geoff Hodge, Botanical Expert (BSc, MCIHort)
Hand putting a new bulb into the ground

Daffodil, tulip, crocus, lily and even dahlia, canna and gladioli all fall into the category of bulbs or ‘bulbous plants’, which includes corms and tubers. They are all swollen parts of roots or stems which, when planted, grow into a new plant.

All bulbs and bulbous plants prrovide fabulous garden colour and are among the easiest plants to grow and look after.

Planting bulbs

There are two main planting times for bulbs.

Summer-flowering bulbs, such as dahlia, begonia, gladioli and canna lilies, are planted in mid- to late spring and early summer. Many of these plants are not frost hardy, so shouldn't be planted outside until the fear of severe frost has passed. You can always plant them up in pots in a protected area - such as a greenhouse or cold frame - and then plant out later.

Spring-flowering bulbs need to be planted in autumn, the earlier the better. The old advice was always to plant tulip bulbs in November, but there’s no proof that this has any effect and most experts now recommend planting with all your other spring-flowering bulbs.

Lilies and some anemones can be planted at either time.


Always improve the soil first, by mixing an organic-rich compost with the soil and enrich with plant food.

Follow the instructions on the packaging for the right depth and space apart. Bulbs always look better planted in bold clumps of one type or colour, so plant them together rather than spread far apart.

Bulbs look great in containers and dwarf varieties can even be grown in hanging baskets, and planting them in small pots that can then be sunk in the ground or more ornate pots when in full flower is a great way of filling gaps in beds and borders and patio containers.

After flowering

Once bulbs have finished flowering they need to be cared for, so that they produce the flower buds for the following year. Start by deadheading them once the flowers fade.

It may be tempting to remove the foliage or tie it into neat knots, but don’t. The bulbs need the leaves to feed them up, so they produce another wonderful display next year. Instead of removing the foliage, give the plants a feed. Liquid fertilisers are the best choice as they act quickly.

Autumn care of summer-flowering bulbs

Some summer-flowering bulbs - such as dahlias and canna lilies - are not reliably hardy and need some care and attention in autumn, depending on where you live.

In mild regions, you can leave them in the ground, preferably covered with a thick mulch of bark to provide insulation from cold and frost. You can try this in colder regions, but there is the risk that they will succumb to frost damage. Even if they survive the winter, they usually come into growth later in the year and flower later - or sometimes not at all. In such circumstances, it is far better to dig up the plants in autumn and overwinter them in a frost-free greenhouse, garage or shed.


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