5 Helpful Tips for Buying Spring Flowering Bulbs in the Fall

by | Updated: Nov 5, 2021

Let’s say you’d like to grow pretty spring flowers in your garden, like tulips or daffodils.

Awesome! These spring flowers grow from bulbs that you plant in the fall.

Here are a few examples of spring flowering bulbs:

Examples of spring flowering bulbs: Crocuses, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Daffodils and Tulips.

In this week’s tip, you’ll get 5 helpful tips for buying spring flowering bulbs.

Tip 1: The best time to plant spring bulbs is when your weather starts to cool.

Generally, it’s a good idea to plant your bulbs when temperatures start to cool off — but there’s still time before the ground freezes. That way, your bulbs have time to establish their roots.

(Yep, bulbs have roots!)

Look for days when temperatures are in the 60s. For example:

  • The best time to plant bulbs in Colorado’s Front Range is usually late September into October.
  • In northeastern Utah and western Colorado, the timing is often October into early November.

The timing can vary slightly from year to year. If you’re getting blazing-hot temps and it still feels like summer, it’s likely too early to plant your spring flowering bulbs.

So, what does this tip have to do with buying spring flowering bulbs?

It’s common to buy bulbs earlier than they should be planted.

Simply put them in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to plant.

Tip 2: Spring flowering bulbs often start appearing in stores in August and September.

When you're buying spring flowering bulbs, you'll find a variety of packages.

Typically, you can buy spring flowering bulbs from:

  • Local garden centers
  • Online retailers like High Country Gardens (they often have unusual bulbs)
  • Costco and similar retailers
  • Home improvement stores

Are you looking for unique bulbs or spring flowers that are showstoppers?

Sometimes, you can find bulb sales at your local botanic gardens. For example:

These dates may not help you this year, but make a mental note for next year!

Do you live in Idaho, Oregon or Washington? These states have restrictions on where you can buy some types of bulbs (like allium bulbs). You can get the scoop in this publication from the University of Idaho Extension.

Tip 3: Spring flowering bulbs are sold in different types of packages.

You can buy bulbs as:

  • A pre-assembled package (sometimes with several types of flowers)
  • Individual bulbs you can choose from open containers

Buying a pre-assembled package is easy.

You just pick the bag of flowers you want and go!

The tradeoff is that you may not be able to tell whether you have healthy bulbs in your package.

If your package contains several types of flowers, the bulbs may be all mixed together or they may be bagged separately. In the photo below, you’ll see two types of daffodil bulbs that were included in the same package. (I like it when they’re bagged separately because you have a little more control over the design.)

When buying a mixed package of spring flowering bulbs, each variety may be bagged separately -- or they may all be mixed together.

Sometimes, you can pick individual bulbs at local garden centers.

Though, it feels like this is becoming less common.

Why would you want to choose each bulb individually?

  • You can be picky and look for healthy bulbs.
  • You can choose as many bulbs as you like.

The downside is this approach can take longer.

Plus, you have to trust that the right bulbs are in the right containers. If someone picked up a bulb and put it back in the wrong place, you may not be able to tell … until that flower comes up next spring.

(Hooray for surprises!)

Tip 4: Here’s how to choose healthy bulbs, so you aren’t wasting money on duds.

Think of a flower bulb as a battery. It stores energy for the plant.

Ideally, you want the bulb to be fully charged (totally hydrated), as big as it can be, and in good condition.

With that in mind:

  • Don’t mind the papery skin — it’s good for the bulb! Bulbs have a brown, papery skin on them, kind of like an onion. It’s called a tunic. The tunic is good for a bulb. It helps keep moisture in the bulb.

  • Choose the heavier bulbs. You want the bulbs to feel heavy in your hand. Hold a few, so you can get a sense for which ones weigh more than others. If a bulb feels light, it’s probably dehydrated. Don’t choose that one. (Keep in mind, some types of flowers have small bulbs, so “heavy” is relative.)
  • Look for the biggest bulbs of the bunch. Yep, size matters in most cases. There is a correlation between the size of the flower and the size of the bulb.
  • Focus on the bulbs with minimal blemishes. If the papery tunic has fallen off (it happens), look at the condition of the bulb underneath. Ideally, the bulb should look smooth, creamy and firm. If the bulb has nicks and blemishes, is turning brown, is shriveled, or looks moldy, it’s a good idea to skip that one.

These tips are helpful when you’re picking individual bulbs.

But you can also use them to inspect bulbs that come in clear or semi-clear packages. You can pick out the best bag of the bunch.

Tip 5: Spring flowering bulbs bloom at different times.

You may want to choose bulbs that bloom at different times of the spring.

That way, you’ll have longer-lasting color.

Usually, you can find the description of when the bulbs will bloom on the package. I’ve included a few examples below, so you can see what I mean.

By the way, this approach can help you with our wacky spring weather too.

Let’s say you get freezing temperatures in the spring that ruin some of your blooms.

If you have flowers that bloom at different times, you may still get color from your other spring flowers.

It’s like you’re hedging your bets with Mama Nature.

Ah, the joys of living in the intermountain West! 🙂

Related tips that may interest you:

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Ann from Go West Gardener with her flowerpots and garden

Hey there, I'm Ann

I’m a Certified Colorado Gardener, dog mama and Midwesterner-turned-Colorado girl. I help budding gardeners in the intermountain west skip the “Why didn’t anyone tell me that phase?”, so they can get pretty results faster. More about Ann >>

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