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Spring-Flowering Bulbs

By: Jim Childs
Spring is just around the corner! Check out our favorite spring-flowering bulbs that will bring loads of beauty & color to your early season garden.

Daffodil, tulips and grape hyacinth blooming in spring: Add beautiful color to garden beds with spring-flowering bulbs!

Greet spring with flowering bulbs

"You can never have too much of a good thing” is definitely true with spring-flowering bulbs. The more the better! From the well-known tulips and daffodils to the less familiar Spanish bluebells and glory-of-the-snow, spring-flowering bulbs bring color to the awakening spring world at a time when we need it most.

Most of these spring-flowering bulbs bloom for several weeks, but there’s no hard-and-fast time frame for them. In cool weather they may bloom longer, and if the spring days turn hot, they finish in a shorter time. So with that in mind, I’ve put together a list of bulbs that will keep your garden colorful for a couple of months. The first one blooms as the cold temperatures are leaving and the last one will finish as summer arrives.

How long will the bulbs last?

All of these spring-flowering bulbs should last for many years, though tulips tend to decline after several seasons. Most, like the striped squill, multiply and spread without being lifted, so it pays to feed them. To start, use a bulb food as you plant. It should have a higher second or third number (phosphorous and potash) to promote flowers. A 3-5-3, 10-15-10 or 10-10-20 analysis is good. Read the label to find out how much you’ll need to apply.

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Feed your spring-flowering bulbs

There are two ways to tackle feeding established bulbs: Granular foods or liquid. Spread granular bulb fertilizer around the area as soon as you see the bulbs coming up in the spring. That way it’ll have time to work its way into the soil in time for the summer roots to take it up. To give your spring-flowering bulbs a faster boost, use a liquid fertilizer with a similar analysis. Mix it with water according to package directions and use a watering can to sprinkle it over the foliage as the flowers fade. That’s the time the bulb is storing food for next year’s flowers. One or two applications before the foliage withers is usually enough.

You Might Like These Bulb Planting Tools:
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Meet our favorite spring-flowering bulbs

You might be familiar with some of our selections below while others may be new to you. Let’s look at Garden Gate’s top picks for best spring-flowering bulbs — I bet you’ll find at least a few perfect candidates for your garden.

Checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris)

Though you may have to kneel down to see it, charming checkered lily's bell-shaped flowers have a unique checkerboard pattern, which will make up for its faintly skunky fragrance. It is a darling addition to the woodland garden.

Growing tips

Checkered lily grows best in part sun, in moist soil that drains well. Adding compost will give the soil plenty of fertilizer for these plants. In addition, plant the bulbs sideways so the hollowed dip in the top doesn't hold water and rot.

Type Bulb Blooms White, pink, purple, dark red, in mid- to late spring Light Part sun Soil Moist, well-drained Size 9 to 12 in. tall, 3 to 6 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9 

Daffodil (Narcissus spp. and hybrids)

Daffodils are a sure sign of spring! These iconic bulbs are rabbit- and deer-proof, plus, they will continue to return year after year each spring.

Growing Tip

Plant daffodil bulbs three times deeper than their height in early autumn to give them time to establish roots while the ground is warm.

Type Bulb Blooms White, pink, pale salmon, yellow or orange blooms in spring Size 4 to 24 in. tall, 3 to 12 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 10

Tulip (Tulipa spp. and hybrids)

There are some plants that just stand for a certain season, and nothing says “spring” as loud and clear as tulips! You’ll find nearly any color and even flowers streaked with two or three colors. Some are that classic tulip shape while others have fringed or ruffled edges, double blooms or elegant, pointed, lily-shaped flowers.

Growing Tips

Like most bulbs, tulips bloom best in a spot that’s sunny in the spring, but they’re perfectly content under big shade trees that leaf out after they’re up and blooming. Just make sure they’re in well-drained soil, or the bulbs can rot.

Type Bulb Blooms Wide range of bloom colors from early to late spring Size 4 to 24 in. tall, 3 to 5 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

Don't be surprised to see grape hyacinth foliage poking through the soil soon after you plant them in the fall. Their leaves are evergreen, sprouting in the fall and lasting until after their spring flowering.

Growing Tips

You can divide clumps of grape hyacinths in late summer, just before the foliage sprouts. Lift the bulbs, carefully break off the small side bulbs and reset them 3 to 4 inches deep, 10 to 15 bulbs per square foot. Depending on the size of these small off-shoots, it can take up to five years for them to begin flowering.

Type Minor bulb Size 6 to 8 in. tall Bloom Fragrant blue, pink, white, purple, or yellow flowers in early to mid-spring Soil Well-drained Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Peruvian bluebells (Scilla peruviana)

This scilla doesn’t start until almost summer. And the softball-sized clusters last several weeks unless the weather turns hot and makes them open faster. Either way, the top buds are still tightly closed as the lower ones finish.

Growing Tips

When you’re planting Peruvian bluebells, you’ll need to set the bulbs deeper than most of the other minor bulbs — 4 to 5 inches deep. That’s because Peruvian bluebells have bulbs that are bigger than the rest, about 1½ inches in diameter.

Type Bulb Blooms Lavender-blue flower clusters in late spring to early summer Soil Moist, well-drained Light Full sun Size 10 to 12 in. tall Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 9

Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae)

Glory-of-the-snow blooms right after crocus in shades of lavender-blue, white or pink, like ‘Rosea’ in the photo above. Plant these bulbs 3 inches deep, with 15-20 bulbs per square foot.

Growing Tips

This bulb actually needs cold winter temperatures or it may not bloom. Try a few of these bulbs scattered through an area of low-growing ground cover, such as sedum, or naturalized in a lawn. It spreads by reseeding and by bulb division.

Type Bulb Blooms Lavender-blue, white or pink in late winter to early spring Size 6 to 10 in. tall Light Full sun to part shade Soil Well-drained Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides)

The flowers of striped squill open along the stems and are about ½ inch in diameter with a pale blue stripe on each white petal. Some people think striped squill smells faintly of lily-of-the-valley.

Growing Tips

Cold winters and cool summers are ideal growing conditions for striped squill — it doesn’t like it hot. Grow it under deciduous trees and shrubs where it has shade during the summer. A 1- to 2-inch-thick layer of mulch will also help keep the bulbs cool.

Type Bulb Blooms White flowers with a pale blue stripe bloom in early spring Size 4 to 6 in. tall Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis)

Hyacinth is a classic spring flower with loads of fragrance. You’ll enjoy the fragrance wafting through the air from clusters of flowers scattered through your garden.

Growing tips

For the prettiest display, plant bulbs in bunches of at least three to five, about 6 to 8 in. deep and 6 in. apart. In zones 7 and colder, plant bulbs in fall, in zones 8 and warmer, in late winter. Hyacinth bulbs last just a couple years, so plant new ones each year.

Type Bulb Blooms Fragrant flowers in shades of blue, purple, yellow, pink, peach and white, sometimes striped, in spring Size 6 to 12 in. tall, 3 to 5 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Soil Well-drained Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Most Spanish bluebells are a pale blue color like the species in the photo above. But colors range from deep-blue ‘Excelsior’ to lavender-pink ‘Queen of the Pinks’ and snowy ‘White City’. The nodding bells last well in a vase indoors.

Growing Tips

The bulbs multiply easily, and within five years form groupings like the one in the photo. If you want more bulbs for other areas, dig and divide clumps in early autumn, replanting the bulbs immediately 3 inches deep with 6 bulbs per square foot.

Type Bulb Size 8 to 15 in. tall Bloom Blue, lavender-pink or white in mid-spring Soil Moist, well-drained Light Full sun to full shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 10

Spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum)

A nice thing about spring snowflakes, other than they don’t melt? Critters, like rabbits and deer, won’t eat them. For later-blooming bulbs with similar flowers, try summer snowflake (L.aestivum) and autumn snowflake (L. autumnale).

Growing Tips

When it comes time to divide old clumps, dig them in the spring right after they flower and replant the bulbs immediately in moist soil and a bit of shade 3 inches deep and 6 to 8 per square foot. This is a bulb that reseeds, but very slowly.

Type Bulb Size 6 to 8 in. tall Bloom White flowers in late spring Soil Moist, well-drained Light Full sun to full shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Spring starflower (Ipheion uniflorum)

Each spring starflower stem usually only produces one flower, with a light, pleasant fragrance in vivid blue, lavender blue, or pure white. But crush the foliage and you’ll notice the pungent smell of garlic. That smell makes them unattractive to rabbits and deer.

Growing Tips

If you want to divide an old clump, dig it in the fall and replant the bulbs immediately, 2 to 3 inches deep and 10 to 15 bulbs per square foot in a spot where you can leave them undisturbed for as long as possible.

Type Bulb Size 4 to 6 in. tall Bloom Blue, lavender-blue or white, purple flower in mid-spring Soil Well-drained Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Reticulated iris (Iris reticulata)

Petite reticulated iris are one of the first spring flowers to bloom. They look especially striking planted in masses, and also make great cut flowers.

Growing tip

Reticulated iris are drought tolerant, making them ideal for rock gardens. Foliage dries up and bulbs go dormant shortly after they bloom. Though not usually long-lived, dividing the bulbs and replanting after they go dormant will give these iris a longer life.

Type Bulb Blooms Blue to purple, yellow or white, early spring Light Full sun to part shade Soil Well-drained Size 3 to 6 in. tall, 2 to 3 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9 

Checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris)

Though you may have to kneel down to see it, charming checkered lily's bell-shaped flowers have a unique checkerboard pattern, which will make up for its faintly skunky fragrance. It is a darling addition to the woodland garden.

Growing tips

Checkered lily grows best in part sun, in moist soil that drains well. Adding compost will give the soil plenty of fertilizer for these plants. In addition, plant the bulbs sideways so the hollowed dip in the top doesn't hold water and rot.

Type Bulb Blooms White, pink, purple, dark red, in mid- to late spring Light Part sun Soil Moist, well-drained Size 9 to 12 in. tall, 3 to 6 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9 

Striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides)

The flowers of striped squill open along the stems and are about ½ inch in diameter with a pale blue stripe on each white petal. Some people think striped squill smells faintly of lily-of-the-valley.

Growing Tips

Cold winters and cool summers are ideal growing conditions for striped squill — it doesn’t like it hot. Grow it under deciduous trees and shrubs where it has shade during the summer. A 1- to 2-inch-thick layer of mulch will also help keep the bulbs cool.

Type Bulb Blooms White flowers with a pale blue stripe bloom in early spring Size 4 to 6 in. tall Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Daffodil (Narcissus spp. and hybrids)

Daffodils are a sure sign of spring! These iconic bulbs are rabbit- and deer-proof, plus, they will continue to return year after year each spring.

Growing Tip

Plant daffodil bulbs three times deeper than their height in early autumn to give them time to establish roots while the ground is warm.

Type Bulb Blooms White, pink, pale salmon, yellow or orange blooms in spring Size 4 to 24 in. tall, 3 to 12 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 10

Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis)

Hyacinth is a classic spring flower with loads of fragrance. You’ll enjoy the fragrance wafting through the air from clusters of flowers scattered through your garden.

Growing tips

For the prettiest display, plant bulbs in bunches of at least three to five, about 6 to 8 in. deep and 6 in. apart. In zones 7 and colder, plant bulbs in fall, in zones 8 and warmer, in late winter. Hyacinth bulbs last just a couple years, so plant new ones each year.

Type Bulb Blooms Fragrant flowers in shades of blue, purple, yellow, pink, peach and white, sometimes striped, in spring Size 6 to 12 in. tall, 3 to 5 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Soil Well-drained Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Tulip (Tulipa spp. and hybrids)

There are some plants that just stand for a certain season, and nothing says “spring” as loud and clear as tulips! You’ll find nearly any color and even flowers streaked with two or three colors. Some are that classic tulip shape while others have fringed or ruffled edges, double blooms or elegant, pointed, lily-shaped flowers.

Growing Tips

Like most bulbs, tulips bloom best in a spot that’s sunny in the spring, but they’re perfectly content under big shade trees that leaf out after they’re up and blooming. Just make sure they’re in well-drained soil, or the bulbs can rot.

Type Bulb Blooms Wide range of bloom colors from early to late spring Size 4 to 24 in. tall, 3 to 5 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Most Spanish bluebells are a pale blue color like the species in the photo above. But colors range from deep-blue ‘Excelsior’ to lavender-pink ‘Queen of the Pinks’ and snowy ‘White City’. The nodding bells last well in a vase indoors.

Growing Tips

The bulbs multiply easily, and within five years form groupings like the one in the photo. If you want more bulbs for other areas, dig and divide clumps in early autumn, replanting the bulbs immediately 3 inches deep with 6 bulbs per square foot.

Type Bulb Size 8 to 15 in. tall Bloom Blue, lavender-pink or white in mid-spring Soil Moist, well-drained Light Full sun to full shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 10

Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

Don't be surprised to see grape hyacinth foliage poking through the soil soon after you plant them in the fall. Their leaves are evergreen, sprouting in the fall and lasting until after their spring flowering.

Growing Tips

You can divide clumps of grape hyacinths in late summer, just before the foliage sprouts. Lift the bulbs, carefully break off the small side bulbs and reset them 3 to 4 inches deep, 10 to 15 bulbs per square foot. Depending on the size of these small off-shoots, it can take up to five years for them to begin flowering.

Type Minor bulb Size 6 to 8 in. tall Bloom Fragrant blue, pink, white, purple, or yellow flowers in early to mid-spring Soil Well-drained Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum)

A nice thing about spring snowflakes, other than they don’t melt? Critters, like rabbits and deer, won’t eat them. For later-blooming bulbs with similar flowers, try summer snowflake (L.aestivum) and autumn snowflake (L. autumnale).

Growing Tips

When it comes time to divide old clumps, dig them in the spring right after they flower and replant the bulbs immediately in moist soil and a bit of shade 3 inches deep and 6 to 8 per square foot. This is a bulb that reseeds, but very slowly.

Type Bulb Size 6 to 8 in. tall Bloom White flowers in late spring Soil Moist, well-drained Light Full sun to full shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Peruvian bluebells (Scilla peruviana)

This scilla doesn’t start until almost summer. And the softball-sized clusters last several weeks unless the weather turns hot and makes them open faster. Either way, the top buds are still tightly closed as the lower ones finish.

Growing Tips

When you’re planting Peruvian bluebells, you’ll need to set the bulbs deeper than most of the other minor bulbs — 4 to 5 inches deep. That’s because Peruvian bluebells have bulbs that are bigger than the rest, about 1½ inches in diameter.

Type Bulb Blooms Lavender-blue flower clusters in late spring to early summer Soil Moist, well-drained Light Full sun Size 10 to 12 in. tall Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 9

Spring starflower (Ipheion uniflorum)

Each spring starflower stem usually only produces one flower, with a light, pleasant fragrance in vivid blue, lavender blue, or pure white. But crush the foliage and you’ll notice the pungent smell of garlic. That smell makes them unattractive to rabbits and deer.

Growing Tips

If you want to divide an old clump, dig it in the fall and replant the bulbs immediately, 2 to 3 inches deep and 10 to 15 bulbs per square foot in a spot where you can leave them undisturbed for as long as possible.

Type Bulb Size 4 to 6 in. tall Bloom Blue, lavender-blue or white, purple flower in mid-spring Soil Well-drained Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae)

Glory-of-the-snow blooms right after crocus in shades of lavender-blue, white or pink, like ‘Rosea’ in the photo above. Plant these bulbs 3 inches deep, with 15-20 bulbs per square foot.

Growing Tips

This bulb actually needs cold winter temperatures or it may not bloom. Try a few of these bulbs scattered through an area of low-growing ground cover, such as sedum, or naturalized in a lawn. It spreads by reseeding and by bulb division.

Type Bulb Blooms Lavender-blue, white or pink in late winter to early spring Size 6 to 10 in. tall Light Full sun to part shade Soil Well-drained Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Reticulated iris (Iris reticulata)

Petite reticulated iris are one of the first spring flowers to bloom. They look especially striking planted in masses, and also make great cut flowers.

Growing tip

Reticulated iris are drought tolerant, making them ideal for rock gardens. Foliage dries up and bulbs go dormant shortly after they bloom. Though not usually long-lived, dividing the bulbs and replanting after they go dormant will give these iris a longer life.

Type Bulb Blooms Blue to purple, yellow or white, early spring Light Full sun to part shade Soil Well-drained Size 3 to 6 in. tall, 2 to 3 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9 

Published: Jan. 13, 2021
Updated: Feb. 17, 2021
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