10 Spring-Blooming Bulbs You Should Plant This Fall

Purple, bulbous allium growing in a field of flowers
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Many bulbs that bloom in the spring are planted in the fall. They go through a long biochemical process during the cold winter period, then emerge to display their brilliant colors after the last frost. While fall might seem too far in advance to plant spring flowers, one of the benefits to this peculiar planting cycle is that you can spend the summer staking out the best spots for them in your garden.

From the classics, like tulips and daffodils, to lesser-known beauties like fritillaria and summer snowflakes, here are 10 spring-blooming bulbs to plant in the fall.

Warning

Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

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Tulip

Tulips in various colors planted along a white picket fence
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Tulips, ideally planted between September (in colder climates) and December (in warmer climates), are one of the first flowers to kiss the sun. They start blooming in late winter and continue to decorate lawns and gardens in early spring. With varieties small and large that bloom in both soft hues and louder, psychedelic colors, there’s a tulip to match every garden.

Tulips are technically perennials, but North American climates—mixed with years of hybridization—have dampened their ability to come back year after year, so they should be treated like annuals.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loamy or sandy, neutral to slightly acidic, well-draining.
2
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Primrose

White primrose growing next to purple flowers

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Primroses that are planted in the fall will bloom for an exceptionally long period of time—typically starting in early spring and lasting throughout the summer. These pretty flowers make up several species in the Primula genus, which includes lovely perennials that bloom in various tones of purple, red, yellow, and pink. The most common varieties seen in domestic gardens are hybrids such as Primula x polyanthus, a cross of P. vulgaris and P. veris. These varieties feature clumped, deep-green, crinkled leaves and bright dishlike flowers that love damp environments.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, well-draining, moderately fertile.
3
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Crocus

Bunch of purple flowering crocus growing in garden
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Crocuses should be planted six to eight weeks before the first hard frost, when soil temperature is below 60 degrees. Depending on the variety (Barr's Purple, Blue Pearl, Jeanne d'Arc, and so forth), they may bloom as early as late winter or in the spring.

While they're technically corms rather than bulbs, they're widely treated as the latter because they're easily propagated. Crocuses are treasured amid green thumbs because they tolerate a wide range of soils, can handle some shade, and come in around six different soft-yet-brilliant colors. Often some of the first flowers to appear in a garden, crocuses have beautiful two- to four-inch blooms.

What Are Corms?

Similar to bulbs, corms are underground-dwelling storage organs that consist of a swollen stem base covered with leaves. Examples of plants that grow from corms are crocus, gladiolus, and taro.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loamy, well-draining, ample organic matter.
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Grape Hyacinth

Dozens of grape hyacinths growing in garden

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Grape hyacinth, also called muscari, is a spring-blooming perennial flower that should be planted in mid- to late fall. Many plant them in large drifts to create a "river" effect in which they will waft their famously sweet scent in the warm, spring breeze. Grape hyacinth is known for its lavender shade, but it can also produce white and yellow flowers. Like crocuses, these small bulbs grow thin leaves that look like grass. Grape hyacinth is quite easy to take care of and great for planting directly in the ground or being potted and kept indoors.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loamy, well-draining, moderately fertile.
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Allium

Purple, bulbous allium blooms growing in a bunch

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Although herbacious alliums, such as Allium tuberosum and Allium millenium, grow like regular perennials and can be planted anytime during the growing season, most alliums grow from bulbs that should be planted in the fall. Also called ornamental onions, these colorful, pompomlike blooms bring a hefty dose of character to spring gardens.

If you're looking to add height to your garden, try these perennials, which can get up to four feet tall. There are more than 700 species to choose from—popular spring-blooming alliums include "Purple Sensation" (Allium hollandicum) and "Mount Everest" (Allium stipitatum), both among the taller varieties.

  • USDA Growing Zones: Varies by species, usually 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining.
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Scilla

Scilla flowers opening after a spring rain

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Bearing dainty swaths of fragrant flowers year after year, this perennial should be planted in mid- to late fall for a spring emergence. Best planted after the first frost, scillas will typically bloom blue flowers, but some species are white, pink, or purple. Plant their bulbs three to four inches deep and apart, ideally in a shady spot under a shrub. One of the more popular varieties is the Siberian squill (S. siberica), which will easily multiply when planted in moisture-rich soil.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining and fertile.
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Snowdrop

Snowdrops growing densely in a garden

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The Galanthus genus consists of a relatively small number of perennial bulbs that flower in winter, with some species blooming in early spring and late autumn. Aptly named per their size and color, these seemingly delicate little snowdrop flowers are actually very tough and can survive late spring snows, high winds, and freezes. You can grow them from tiny bulbs or seeds, depending on your preference, but be sure to plant bulbs straight away, as they're prone to drying out after a couple of weeks above ground.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7.
  • Sun Exposure: Full or partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist but well-drained.
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Iris

Close-up of purple iris flowers
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Irises come in several varieties, but one of the most common species of this perennial genus—bearded irises (Iris germanica)—will bloom into distinctive six-petal flowers starting around April. The blooms have a lovely gradient effect to their color, commonly pink and purple. They're tall compared to other Irises, rising to at least 28 inches.

Most Irises should be planted early, starting in July and no later than September—make sure overnight temperatures remain between 40 and 50 degrees or higher before planting.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Moist but well-draining; clay or loamy.
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Daffodil

Yellow and white daffodils growing in garden
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While several daffodil species bloom in the fall, the spring-blooming bulbs are much more popular, and are commonly available packaged up and ready for fall planting. While diverse in color and shape, the iconic yellow "Dutch Master" variety is perhaps the most well-known. However, If you'd prefer to downsize from their large trumpetlike blooms, miniature daffodils are a great alternative, with the added benefit of looking lively even as the bulbs start to go dormant.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Moderately fertile, well-draining.
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Buttercup

Field of yellow buttercups
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Although buttercups are best planted in April or May in the northern half of the U.S., those living in warmer climates—i.e., USDA growing zones eight through 11—may plant in fall for spring blooms. These characteristically yellow flowers—whose paper-thin petals are commonly included in floral arrangements—are perennial but must be planted annually in cooler growing zones as they're only half hardy. Buttercups are quite leggy, sometimes growing three feet tall.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 11.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Nutrient-poor, compact, sandy.
11
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Freesia

Cluster of purple freesias growing in garden
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Like the crocus, this sweet-smelling African herb grows from a corm that should be planted in October for springtime trumpet-shaped blossoms—but only where it's winter hardy, in the warm USDA growing zones nine and 10. In other zones, they should be planted in pots and kept inside through fall and winter, then transplanted outside in the spring, or planted directly outside in the spring for summer flowering. The freesia is a flower commonly grown for cutting as it has a long vase life and smells delightfully like baby powder.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, fertile.
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Lily

Close-up of pink lilies growing in a bunch

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Lilies should be planted at least four weeks before the last frost for spring flowers consisting of vibrantly colored, triangular blooms that curl open wide to expose a signature stamen-filled center. They're perennials, blooming year after year without needing much maintenance. The 90 lily species are categorized by divisions, such as Asiatic hybrids, American hybrids, martagon hybrids, and more.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, rich, sandy.
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Fritillaria

Fritillaria imperialis plants with red, downward-facing flowers

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Although technically in the lily family, fritillarias are a subcategory worth noting because of their unique dangling flowers, typically growing beneath a tuft of palmlike, deciduous grassy foliage. These ornamental perennials—a guaranteed conversation starter come spring—will give your garden exotic flair, especially if you go with the common snake's head variety, which has a peculiar checkered pattern. Fritillarias grow on extremely long stems, sometimes exceeding four feet tall.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Fertile, well-draining.
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Starflower

Many white starflowers growing in a garden

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Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, these star-shaped flowers—either blue or white in color—shoot from short and slender stems come spring. The woodland perennials are often used for ground cover as they grow in clumps that can be grouped together into a dense colony. Because of their spreading potential, starflowers are deemed wildflowers and can become invasive if they naturalize.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, moist, acidic.
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Summer Snowflake

White leucojum flowers hanging from stem
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Not to be confused with snowdrops, these summer snowflakes do, indeed, bloom in spring despite their name. While they also dangle with their blooms pointing downward, they can be distinguished from snowdrops by the green dot that decorates the tip of each petal (snowdrops get this, too, but not on every petal). Besides, snowflakes hail from the genus Leucojum while snowdrops are synonymous with the genus Galanthus. Summer snowflakes are perennials, but hybrids typically grow as annuals as they have been weakened by the breeding process over time.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Organically rich, well-draining.

To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center.