When to plant bulbs: The simple test to see whether your bulbs will flower

Alan Titchmarsh gives tips looking after daffodils

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Bulbs are a rewarding option for both containers and borders, and many can be left in the ground ready to bloom again the following year. While taking good care of your spring and summer bulbs is essential to get them to re-flower, many gardeners forget to make one simple check before planting them out in the first place. This is the key test you should always do before planting fresh or stored flowering bulbs in your garden.

How to tell if bulbs will flower

Growing a successful display of bulbs depends on several factors, with everything from the planting depth to the soil moisture having an impact on your crop.

While it may seem impossible to see if your newly planted bulbs will bloom before even trying, there is one simple test you can make before digging fresh, or stored bulbs into your garden.

The key is to inspect the bulbs before adding them to the border or container, but what exactly are you looking for?

One of the best things about bulbs is that they can be dug up and replanted before the next flowering season.

While it’s a relatively easy task to do, it can be easy to forget about stored bulbs tucked away in your shed or garage.

If you find a few strays, it is best to get them potted up or planted out as soon as possible – but only if they’re in good condition.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), it is best to avoid planting soft, damaged or visibly expired bulbs.

The RHS said: “There aren’t many problems to watch out for, apart from checking that the bulbs are healthy to start with.”

A soft texture is one of the key signs of an unsuccessful bulb, but you should also look for signs of rot.

For bulbs that have already been planted, you can check if they will re-flower by inspecting the existing plant for disease.

According to the RHS, the most common problems associated with spring bulbs are:

  • Daffodils viruses
  • Grey mould in snowdrops
  • Narcissus basal rot
  • Tulip fire
  • Tulip viruses

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Are other stored bulbs safe to plant?

As a general rule, you should discard any that are soft or rotten first, though it is worth noting that the remainder are worth a go.

You may be able to grow a successful flowering bulb even if they have started to sprout before planting.

The RHS said: “Some bulbs store longer than others (tulip compared to daffodil, for instance) so it will be a bit hit and miss.

“If you are relying on a display, maybe top up with potted bulbs from the garden centre.”

In most cases, unsuccessful bulbs will have a brittle, shrivelled, mushy or even mouldy appearance.

When to plant bulbs

Spring, summer and flowering bulbs offer seasonal displays which will brighten your garden, but what are the best types of bulbs to plant, and when should you do it?


Spring and some summer-flowering bulbs can be planted throughout autumn to secure a vibrant seasonal display from as early as March.

Daffodils, crocus and hyacinths, preferably by the end of September, while tulips are best planted in November

Hardy summer-flowering bulbs, such as lilies, alliums and crocosmia can be planted in September and October.


Spring is the time to dig-in tender summer-flowering bulbs, including gladioli.


Autumn-flowering bulbs, such as nerines should be planted by the end of the season.

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