How to plant and grow bulbs, corms and tubers

Lily ‘Pretty Woman’ from Thompson & Morgan

Watch as Lily 'Pretty Woman' produces up to 30 blooms a year from one bulb!
Copyright: Visions BV, Netherlands

Planting flower bulbs, corms and tubers is an easy way to ensure colourful displays in your garden, particularly in spring before the rest of the garden has woken from its winter dormancy. Bulbs can be planted in containers or borders, and look particularly effective when naturalised in grass. 

So if you are wondering how deep to plant daffodil bulbs, how to plant up begonia tubers or when to plant tulips, take a look at our planting depth charts below and discover how easy growing bulbs can be!

What soil do bulbs prefer?

Begonia x tuberhybrida 'Giant Picotee Papilio'

Begonias produce sensational seasonal displays ideal for patio containers
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Different species require different growing conditions, and you can check their preferred position in our bulb planting depth chart below. As a general rule, plant your bulbs in well drained soil. Those sitting in waterlogged soil will rot.

Which way up should bulbs be planted?

Bulb baskets from Thompson & Morgan

Using a bulb basket for easy planting and lifting
Image: Bulb baskets from Thompson & Morgan

Always plant bulbs with the pointed growing tip facing upwards. If it isn't clear which is the top, then try planting bulbs on their side. Some tuberous plants such as begonias will be flatter than bulbs and don't have an obvious growing point. Position them just below the compost surface with the indented side facing upwards.

Growing bulbs in containers

Tulip 'Full Border Mix' from Thompson & Morgan

Plant spring bulbs in swathes for a gorgeous sea of colour
Image: Tulip 'Full Border Mix' from Thompson & Morgan

Planting bulbs in containers allows you to move your display into prime position while they’re in full bloom. After flowering, the containers can be moved out of view while the bulbs die back and become dormant. Use a good quality general purpose compost and mix in a handful of fine grit to improve drainage. Alternatively, you can choose specially prepared bulb compost.

Water bulbs in containers regularly as they begin to grow, and continue throughout their flowering period. Once the foliage begins to die back you can gradually reduce watering as they enter their dormant period.

If squirrels and mice become a problem, protect your containers of bulbs by covering the top of the pot with a piece of chicken wire. Once the shoots appear you can remove it to give the foliage and flowers space to grow.

How to plant bulbs in grass

Tulip 'Full Border Mix' from Thompson & Morgan

Plant English bluebells in your lawn to create a pollinator-friendly zone
Image: English Bluebells from Thompson & Morgan

Naturalising bulbs in your lawn can create an impressive display. They’re best grown informally in grass that can be left unmown until the bulb foliage dies back.

For a really natural look, gently scatter them across the planting area and bury each one where it lands. Use a sturdy trowel or bulb planter to dig a hole to the recommended planting depth and drop the bulb in, making sure that it’s facing the right way up. Cover the bulb with soil and gently firm the earth around the bulbs to fill any pockets of air. Avoid treading the ground afterwards as this may damage the bulb growing tips as the soil settles.

If you’re planting large numbers of bulbs then it may be simpler to lift an entire piece of turf with a spade and arrange the bulbs beneath before replacing it.

Planting depths for bulbs and tubers

Bulb Planter from Thompson & Morgan

Easily insert bulbs into the soil at the right depth with a bulb planter
Image: Bulb Planter from Thompson & Morgan

Bulb planting depths vary depending on their size and species; but as a rule of thumb, most bulbs can be planted at a depth of approximately 3 times their own height. Some tubers, such as begonias, are best started off indoors or in a frost-free greenhouse before transplanting outdoors. Full growing instructions can be found on individual product pages.

Bulb/Tuber When to plant bulbs Bulb Planting depths Planting distance between bulbs Position
Allium bulbs Autumn 10cm (4") 10cm (4") Full sun
Begonia tubers Spring 1cm (1/2") 30cm (12") Full sun, semi shade, dappled shade
Crocus bulbs Autumn 10cm (4") 7cm (3") Full sun, semi shade
Daffodil bulbs Autumn 10cm (4") 10cm (4") Full sun, semi shade
Dahlia tubers Spring 15cm (6") 45cm (18") Full sun
Bluebell bulbs Spring/Autumn 10cm (4") 10cm (4") Dappled shade
Gladiolus corms Spring 10cm (4") 15cm (6") Full sun
Hyacinth bulbs Autumn 10cm (4") 8cm (3") Full sun, semi shade
Iris reticulata bulbs Autumn 10cm (4") 8cm (3") Full sun
Lily bulbs Autumn 20cm (8") 15cm (6") Full sun, semi shade
Narcissus bulbs Autumn 10cm (4") 10cm (4") Full sun, semi shade
Ponerorchis tubers Spring 2.5cm (1") 7cm (3") Dappled shade
Ranunculus corms Autumn 8cm (3") 25cm (10") Full sun
Snowdrop bulbs Spring/Autumn 10cm (4") 10cm (4") Dappled shade
Tree lily bulbs Autumn 20cm (8") 15cm (6") Full sun, semi shade
Tulip bulbs Autumn 15cm (6") 13cm (5") Full sun
White Egret Orchid tubers Spring 2.5cm (1") 7cm (3") Dappled shade
Winter Aconite bulbs Autumn 5cm (2") 5cm (2") Full sun, semi shade, dappled shade

Quick guide:

How do you plant bulbs?

Plant bulbs with the pointed growing tip facing up. If it isn't clear, plant bulbs on their sides.

How do you plant bulbs in containers?

Plant bulbs in containers using good quality general purpose compost and mix in a handful of fine grit to improve drainage. You can also use specially prepared bulb compost. Bulbs are perfect for patio containers, just remember to water regularly through the growing season.

How do you plant bulbs in grass?

To plant bulbs in grass, achieve a natural look by gently scattering the bulbs and planting them where they land. Drop the bulb in the planting hole with the pointed tip facing up. Cover with soil and gently firm down to fill any pockets of air.

Find all you need to grow the best varieties of spectacular spring flowering bulbs, whether indoors and out in the garden, in one place at our spring flowering bulb hub page.

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