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How to Make Sure You Buy the Best Flower Bulbs

By: Garden Gate staff
Check out our handy guide on how to plant bulbs in fall for a beautiful garden bursting with spring-flowering bulbs next year.

Mix of flower bulbs

What to look for when buying flower bulbs

When it’s time to plant bulbs like tulips and daffodils, make sure you’re buying the best ones to ensure you have a spectacular show next spring! You’ll probably have the most selection if you order online or from a catalog. Learn a few of our favorite places to buy bulbs here. But if you are shopping at your local garden center, you want to make sure you buy the best high-quality bulbs.

Moldy bulbs

If you closely examine the bulbs above, you may see a few blemishes, but they’re all OK. If fuzzy surface mold rubs off and the bulb looks smooth and firm, it’s probably fine, too. If the mold won’t rub off, put the bulb back.

Weight of the bulb

You may have to pick up several before you get a feel for this. But if the bulb feels light, it’s dried out from too much heat or being held too long in storage. Unlike a seed, a dry bulb can’t be rehydrated—don’t buy it.

Soft spots

The basal plate is where roots sprout. It should always be firm, not soft or mushy.

Helpful Bulb Planting Tools:
Bulb Auger
Bulb Planter
Hand Bulb Planter

Flower bulbs: Avoid blemished or nicked bulbs like you see on the right.

Check the bulb surface

Most bulbs have a thin, dry tunic that helps keep them moist. Some cultivars have tight, snug tunics while others will fall away as they are handled. Both of the bulbs on the left side of the photo are OK to bring home. But even if the tunic is missing, the bulb might be OK. The white bulb at the back is missing its tunic but the bulb is heavy with a smooth surface, so will be fine.

Avoid shriveled or blemished bulbs

On the other hand, the bulb on the right has nicks and blemishes and it’s beginning to shrivel. Note the brown tip compared to the healthy bulb behind it. Don’t buy dried-out bulbs like this. They are at risk for rot and drying out.


Bulb size

Bulbs vary in size, depending on the cultivar. So how do you know what to buy? Look for the term “top size” on the package or in the catalog description. In general, the bigger the bulb, the better the flowers next spring.

Hyacinth bulb sizes

However, biggest is not always best. Top-size hyacinth bulbs will produce big flowers that are top heavy and bow down after a rain. For this bulb, look for the circumference, listed in centimeters. A good size hyacinth for the garden will be labeled “16/17 cm”.

Daffodil bulb sizes

The bulbs of each daffodil cultivar can vary greatly in size. So daffodils are often listed with “DN” in the description. This stands for double-nose and tells you how many bulbs are attached together. A DNII has two flowering-size bulbs. DNIII gives you more bulbs, but not all of them may flower the first year.

You Might Also Like:
How to Force Bulbs Indoors
How Many Bulbs Do You Need?
Companion Plants for Spring Bulbs

Published: Dec. 1, 2017
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Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work in the garden. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.


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