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Gardening in Jersey: Planting Fall Bulbs for Spring

There’s nothing quite like the joy of watching daffodils and tulips peek up through the soil after a long cold winter. These colorful garden staples are easy to plant and grow, but you can’t wait until spring to do it. Plan ahead to order your bulbs in September and plant them in October, and you’ll enjoy a bevy of blooms next spring.

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Choosing the Right Location

Purple and White Crocus in Bloom

New Jersey has the perfect climate for a bulb garden. All of the Garden State lies within USDA zones 6 to 7, which provides the right combination of cold winters and warm springs to encourage bulbs to bloom year after year. Choose a spot that receives at least five to six hours of sunlight each day. If you’re not sure about this, watch the area closely for a full day to time how long your garden patch is in the sun.

Many early-bloomers even do well when planted under deciduous trees. They won’t leaf out until April, leaving them to bask in full sunlight until then. Gardeners in Cape May and the suburbs south of Philadelphia and Wilmington can also choose a spot that receives afternoon shade to keep bulbs cool.

Tulips-1400Bulbs aren’t picky about soil fertility, but the planting area should be well drained to prevent rot. Planting on a gentle slope or under a large tree can help with drainage, and slightly sandy soils are ideal. The only no-no is planting them in a ditch or boggy area where puddles form during spring rains.

Finally, bulbs look best when they are in bloom, but once the flowers die, you are stuck with the leaves until they turn brown and die back. This process can take a couple of months, so consider planting them behind other perennials or amid a groundcover that will fill in and hide the unsightly leaves as summer progresses.

Choosing the Right Bulbs


There are no rules for designing a bulb garden, and you should feel free to follow your fancy to choose shapes and colors that you love. For a long-lasting display of color, try planting varieties that bloom at different times. A mix of early crocuses, mid-season daffodils and late-blooming tulips and alliums will provide interest from March through June. For maximum impact, you can also plant several varieties of bulbs that will all bloom at the same time. To make this work, pay close attention to the bloom time of each bulb. Many nurseries also offer tried-and-true bulb mixes. These takes the guesswork out of designing the perfect bulb garden.

Planting Fall Bulbs Step by Step

  1. Plant bulbs once the soil has cooled to about 60 degrees but before the first frost. In New Jersey, Columbus Day weekend should be about right.
  2. Determine placement by setting your bulbs out on the ground first. In general, they can be planted four to six inches apart, and they look better in groups of at least three. Try to make natural-looking drifts and curves instead of straight rows.
  3. Use a garden spade to dig a hole about twice as deep as your bulb is tall.
  4. Sprinkle some bone meal in the hole to encourage root growth, and then place your bulb root-side down in the hole. The roots are generally on the flat part of the bulb, which will leave the point facing up.
  5. Cover the bulb with soil and press firmly in place.
  6. Once you’ve planted all of your bulbs, water generously.
  7. That’s it! Your garden will emerge in the spring to put on a beautiful show.