Down the Garden Path: Digging spring flowers

Patrons walk among thousands of tulips during the Midwest Tulip Festival at Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park on Friday, April 28, 2023.

I am always excited to see the fall bulb catalogs start to arrive. Now is the time to look around the yard for areas that you want to fill with spring blooms. Think about the colors you want to see and how you might combine them. Maybe you are adding more to previously planted bulbs that you enjoyed or bringing something new into the garden. A little digging now will result in beautiful spring blooms later.

Choosing the Right Bulb

The variety and color possibilities are endless. When making your decision, keep in mind sun or shade exposure recommendations. Also, some flowers, such as tulips, are easily damaged by wind. If this is a problem for you, consider choosing varieties that are wind resistant with shorter stems. Spring blooming bulbs must overwinter in the cold in order to flower. Whether you order or buy from a retail store, bulbs should be planted before the soil freezes. October through early November is the ideal time to plant in our zone. Most bulb companies ship when it is time to plant. Make sure to look for zone 5 appropriate bulbs when ordering as they may ship all over the country. Bulbs should be firm, not mushy or moldy and must be kept in a cool, dark, dry location until planted. If you have critter problems, consider bulbs that are more resistant to rodents and deer, such as daffodils, allium and grape hyacinth.

Planting Tips

Directions for planting are often included on the packaging. Make sure to plant at the indicated depth which is usually 3-6 inches from the top of the bulb. There are tools available at your local hardware or garden store to make the digging process easier. The bulb must be placed in the hole with the sprouting end up. This is often difficult to determine. I look for the pointed end (sprout or shoot end) with tiny roots visible at the opposite end. Bulbs can vary quite a bit in appearance. A bulb fertilizer may be applied at the time of planting following the manufacturers’ directions. I find it helpful to place some type of marker by my bulb plantings. This prevents accidentally digging up the bulb or planting on top of it later when not blooming.

What to Expect

The actual blooming time of bulbs can vary from very early spring (crocus may bloom while there is still snow on the ground) to early summer. Colors can be quite dramatic. Most bulbs will rebloom in subsequent springs but will become less productive over time. Try to avoid cutting off the stems after blooms have died and while they are still green as these stems are helping to feed the bulb so it will bloom next spring. Some additional examples of spring flowering bulbs include crocus, hyacinths, fritillaria and snowdrops to name a few. Plant these bulbs in the fall and watch for a reward of beautiful blooms come spring.

Have a question for the Master Gardeners? Residents can contact the Kendall County Master Gardener volunteers on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. by calling 630-553-5823, stopping in at 7775B Route 47, Yorkville, or emailing For helpful hints on what to include in your email, visit