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Crocus tommasinianus 'Whitewell Purple'

Spring bulbs to plant in autumn

For a fabulous spring display, you need to plant spring bulbs in autumn. Here are 10 of the best.

Nothing lights up the garden better than spring bulbs – they provide a burst of colour before most perennials, trees and shrubs have got going and mark the start of longer, brighter days. With a bit of planning, you can enjoy colour from bulbs from February until May.

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Spring-flowering bulbs are planted in autumn. They can be planted directly into borders and most grow very well in pots, making them perfect for patios and smaller gardens. As a rule of thumb, bulbs need to be planted at a depth of around three times their size. Spring bulbs generally need sun or partial shade and free-draining soil, so if your soil is very heavy, incorporate some horticultural grit when planting.

Plant as many spring bulbs as you can afford or have room for – they really do look best planted en masse, whether in the ground or in pots. Some will happily naturalise in undisturbed areas under trees or in lawns, creating a natural-looking carpet of colour.

Most spring bulbs are perennial, and will come up year after year if the conditions are right (tulips are the exception – while some may flower for a few years, they’re best topped up every autumn for the best display). Always allow the foliage to die back completely before removing it – this feeds next year’s bulbs. If you’re growing bulbs in pots, give them a liquid feed after flowering to help feed next year’s bulbs, and store the pot somewhere cool over summer. Alternatively, dig the bulbs up after flowering and replant them in the garden.

More on growing spring-flowering bulbs:


Spring bulbs to plant in autumn

1

Snowdrops

Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis
Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are the first bulbs to flower, usually in February, and are often hailed as the first sign of spring. They flower whatever the weather – even in snow. Grow in moist, well-drained soil in partial shade – they look particularly good under shrubs and trees. Snowdrops can also be grown in pots. Read our full guide to growing snowdrops

Height x Spread: 10cm x 10cm
When to plant: October or November
Tip: You can also plant snowdrops ‘in the green’, just as after they’ve flowered, in February or March – find them online


2

Winter aconites

How to grow winter aconites
Winter aconites, Eranthis hyemalis

The cheerful yellow flowers of winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, are a welcome sight in early February. They look best grown en masse in a natural setting, under deciduous trees or shrubs, and combine beautifully with snowdrops. They can be tricky to establish but once settled they will spread naturally. Ideally, grow in a spot that is sunny in winter but shaded in summer, as aconites will not thrive in dry soil. Read our guide to growing winter aconites.

H x S: 10cm x 10cm
When to plant: October and November
Tip: Winter aconites can also be bought ‘in the green’, in February or March


3

Reticulate iris (Iris reticulata)

Iris reticulata
Iris reticulata

Iris reticulata are fabulous bulbs for small pots, window boxes and raised beds, plus other sunny and free-draining spots in the garden, such as the front of a border. They bring much-needed colour in February and March, and their mostly blue and purple flowers have beautiful, intricate markings. They are extremely popular with early bees. Find out more about growing iris.

H x S: 10cm x 5cm
When to plant: September to November
Tip: If you forgot to plant Iris reticulata in autumn, you can buy them in flower in small pots at garden centres in late winter and early spring.


4

Crocus

Best bulbs for pots - Crocus tommasianus 'Barr's Purple'
Crocus tommasianus ‘Barr’s Purple’

Carpets of small purple, yellow and white crocus flowers are a highlight in the garden from late winter onwards. They also provide a much-needed source of nectar and pollen for pollinating insects just emerging from hibernation. Crocuses are easy to grow and are well-suited to growing in pots or at the front of borders and naturalising in grass. They like a sunny spot. Read our full guide to growing crocus.

H x S: 10cm x 5cm
When to plant: September and October
Tip: When planting, throw the bulbs in the air and plant where they land, for a natural look


5

Daffodils

Daffodil Narcissus 'Jetfire'
Daffodil Narcissus ‘Jetfire’

Daffodils (Narcissus) brighten our gardens throughout spring. There are many different varieties, some flowering as early as February and others as late as early May. Daffodils range in height from about 10cm up to 45cm and come in a variety of colours and forms. In addition to the usual yellow, flowers can be white, cream or lemon, with trumpets of contrasting shades. Some are scented. Daffodils grow brilliantly in pots and look great in borders. Some are suitable for naturalising in grass, too. Read our guide to growing daffodils.

H x S: 10cm to 45cm x 10cm
When to plant: September and October
Tip: Do not tie back the foliage once flowering has finished – allow it to die back naturally


6

Hyacinth

Hyacinthus 'Woodstock'
Hyacinthus ‘Woodstock’

Hyacinths are highly fragrant spring bulbs that flower in March and April. They come in a range of colours, from the traditional blue, pale pink and white to more contemporary dark purple, magenta and even pale yellow. Plant hyacinths at the front of garden borders or in pots for a fragrant splash of colour nearer the house. Read our full guide to growing hyacinths.

H x S:
25cm x 10cm
When to plant: September to November
Tip: Buy ‘forced’ hyacinth bulbs for an early display indoors


7

Grape hyacinth (Muscari)

How to grow muscari
Muscari flowers

Grape hyacinths, Muscari, have flowers that look like a cross between a bunch of grapes and miniature hyacinths, in April and May. They are known for their flowers in brilliant shades of blue, but white, pink and purple varieties are also available. They look good at the front of a border, naturalised in grass or under deciduous shrubs. They spread easily so if you don’t want them to do this, grow them in pots or window boxes. Read more about growing muscari.

H x S: 15cm x 15cm
When to plant: September and October
Tip: Deadhead plants in the ground to stop them self-seeding and spreading


8

Tulips

Tulips 'Cafe Noir' and 'Don Quichotte'
Tulips ‘Cafe Noir’ and ‘Don Quichotte’

The beautiful flowers of these showy bulbs come in almost every colour from pale pastels to deep, rich shades, and in a variety of flower shapes, too, from simple goblets to showy frilled blooms. They are perfect for adding spring colour to borders in April and May and grow very well in pots. Tulips are technically perennial, but years of breeding to get the most beautiful blooms means that many varieties only flower reliably for one year. Many gardeners plant new bulbs each autumn to ensure a good display. If you’re growing tulips in pots, you need to plant fresh bulbs each year. Read our full guide to growing tulips.

H x S: 60cm x 20cm
When to plant: November
Tip: Species tulips are smaller and come back reliably year after year


9

Bluebells

English bluebell flowers
English Bluebell flowers – Getty Images

The English bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, makes a spectacular display in UK woodlands, carpeting the ground in April. Bluebells will also grow happily in a shady garden, or under deciduous trees. The English bluebell is not to be confused with the larger, paler Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, which was introduced as a garden plant in the 17th century. This has posed problems for our native bluebell, which could eventually die out due to hybridisation. Do not plant Spanish bluebells if you live near a native bluebell colony and always buy bulbs from a reputable supplier. Read our guide to growing bluebells.

H x S:
15cm x 10cm
When to plant: September to November
Tip: You can also buy bluebells ‘in the green’ in spring. Bluebells take a while to establish


10

Alliums

Spring flowers - Allium Purple Sensation and Allium aflatunense
Spring flowers – Allium Purple Sensation and Allium aflatunense

Alliums flower in May and June, bridging the gap between spring and summer perfectly. Loved by bees, the beautiful pompom flowers on tall stems come mostly in shades of purple, but also pink and white. They look fantastic threaded through a border – grow as many as you can for the most stunning effect. Grow alliums in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. Read our full guide to growing alliums

H x S: 1m x 10cm
When to plant: September and October
Tip: Grow alliums among low-growing herbaceous plants, which hide their unsightly strappy foliage after flowering

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Advice on buying spring bulbs

  • You can buy spring bulbs at the garden centre from late summer. For the widest selection, buy online
  • Popular or sought-after varieties can run out, so order early. Some online bulb suppliers allow you to create a wish list, for despatch when the bulbs are available
  • Store your bulbs in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to plant
  • You can buy ready-selected collections of bulbs which provide a succession of colour or complement each other

Where to buy spring-flowering bulbs online