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Popular Spring Flowers for Western States… You Plant in the Fall

by | Updated: Sep 8, 2021

Tulips, daffodils and allium: Three of the best spring flowers for Colorado and Utah gardens that you plant in the fall as bulbs

It may seem like a strange time to chat about spring flowers…

… when we have pumpkins and Halloween decorations appearing outside the grocery stores.

But if you’re interested in growing spring flowers…

Autumn is the ideal time to plant spring bulbs in most parts of the West.

For example:

  • In most elevations of Colorado, the ideal times to plant spring bulbs are late September and October.
  • In northern Utah, the ideal times are usually October and early November.

Yep, you plant these flowers in the fall — not the spring!

Weird, right?

Okay, technically, you plant their bulbs.

This is what tulip bulbs look like

Think of a bulb like a battery for the plant.

It stores energy (food and water) for the flower.

It may seem counter-intuitive that you plant spring bulbs in the fall, but:

  • Bulbs need to go through a cold period, so they can come up and give you big, showy color in the spring.
  • They also need a little time to establish their roots before the ground freezes.

Here are 3 popular spring flowers for western gardens.

These spring flowers offer beautiful pops of color.

Plus, they’re low maintenance.

And friends, we are all about low maintenance!

Once planted, these flowers can return year after year with minimal effort.

Tulips
(officially, Tulipa)

This is what tulips look like. They come in a WIDE range of colors.

This is what colorful tulips look like -- they come in many pretty colors

Tulips bloom in the spring, but not all at one time.

There are early, middle and late spring tulips.

This means that some start blooming earlier than others.

The package of bulbs you buy or the signage at the garden center should tell you when the tulips will bloom (early, middle or late spring).

That way, you can pick bulbs with the bloom at different times, so you can get longer-lasting color.

Tulips like sunny conditions and soil that drains well.

If you have a damp spot where water sits in the ground or if your soil is dense clay, it’s probably not the best place for tulips.

What’s dense clay like, you ask?

Imagine sticking your shovel in the ground, and the soil sticks to your shovel like bubble gum to a shoe.

When clay soil is damp, it’s sticky, heavy and dense. It’s tough for water to drain.

Tulips don’t mind if the ground is on the dryer side during the summer, which is good for our semi-arid summers in the West.

A tulip is a pretty spring flower for western states like Colorado and Utah

In my opinion, the biggest downside to tulips is…

… that animals LOVE them.

Deer, rabbits, squirrels, voles. Take a number!

In my back garden, squirrels decapitate my tulips every spring, just as the petals are opening.

I’ve tried a variety of suggested remedies, from animal-repellent sprays to cayenne pepper. (Seriously.)

The only thing I’ve found that works is to fence the tulips off.

Not the prettiest look, ahem.

So, if you have critters, you may want to check out the other spring flowers below.

Daffodils
(officially, Narcissus)

These are daffodils. They come in colors like yellow, white, orange, peach or pink.

This is what yellow daffodils look like

Typically, daffodils prefer sunny conditions and soil that drains well.

You may be able to get away with a partially sunny spot, but your daffodils may not bloom as well.

They prefer moist (but not wet) soil.

If the ground is too wet, daffodil bulbs will rot.

Daffodils are not only beautiful, they’re also resistant to many animals.

YESSS!!

Normally, deer, rabbits and other rodents avoid daffodils. That’s a plus if you live in an area with your fair share of critters.

(Daffodils can be toxic to dogs, so keep that in mind if you have fur babies.)

Creamy white tulips with an orange center

Allium
(commonly known as Ornamental Onion)

Allium flowers add a hint of whimsy to your garden. They look like giant lollipops!

Purple allium are spring flowers that look like round balls

They’re one of my favorite spring flowers.

You can find allium flowers in purple, white and even blue.

Yes, BLUE!

Blue allium flowers add a hint of whimsy to your garden and such fun, round shapes!

Similar to tulips and daffodils, allium will give you the best show when you plant them in places in your garden that get a lot of sun.

And like the other spring flowers we’ve discussed, allium flowers bloom at staggered times.

Allium are related to onions.

In fact, they’re commonly referred to as “ornamental onions.”

Deer are not big fans of these plants.

Rabbits tend to avoid most allium as well.

When allium flowers are done blooming, you may see gardeners spray-paint the finished blooms.

Check out the photo below for an example.

Painted allium: After allium stop blooming, you can spray paint the blooms

I think this is a fun trick to highlight the colorful, round shapes after the flower petals fall off.

You also can just snip off the dead blooms. That way, the plant can focus its energy on recharging its bulb for next season.

IMPORTANT TIP if you live in Idaho, Oregon or Washington!

Your states have special restrictions on buying bulbs like allium flowers. The University of Idaho Extension has a helpful publication explaining the special rules for Idaho.

Do you live someplace with really cold winter temperatures?

Some types of tulips, daffodils and allium do better than others in frigid temperatures.

If you have a mountain garden or you live someplace with really cold winters, make sure the bulbs you’re buying grow well in your “plant hardiness zone.”

Not sure what a plant hardiness zone is? Get the scoop here.

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 get more confident with flower gardening, so you can create an outdoor space you love. More about Ann >>

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