Planting bulbs is a fun way to prepare for winter and learn the life cycle of perennial plants.

As summer wanes, the smells and sights of autumn are beginning to fill our minds. The leaves are turning, the weather is getting cooler, and pumpkin spice and apples and cinnamon are on the menu.

The last thing we are thinking about is springtime, but spending a bit of time this autumn planting tulip bulbs will have its reward a few months down the road. After several months of winter weather, seeing the first tulips start to shoot up from the earth feels magical and hopeful.

Planting spring bulbs in autumn is a fun and tactile way for kids to learn about the life cycle of perennial plants. Plant a bulb now and wait for it to surprise you the spring!

How do tulip bulbs work?

Perennial plants have a unique life cycle that is different from annuals – their root systems can withstand cold winter months. While everything above ground dies in freezing weather, including the stalk, leaves, and flowers, the tulip bulb itself is alive and well, waiting to grow in the spring.

Tulips and many other springtime bulbs actually require a season of cold weather, called wintering over. Without this patch of cold, they won’t bloom! Tulips, daffodils, crocus and several other types of springtime bulbs need at least three or four months of near freezing temperatures. In colder climates, this is easy – simply plant bulbs in autumn.

If you don’t live in a cool climate, you can force tulip bulbs into a wintering over phase by keeping them in the fridge for several weeks prior to planting.

Choose your bulbs

The best time to purchase tulip bulbs is in late August or early September. For people living in a climate with cool winter that lasts several months, plant your bulbs between September and November. For those living in milder climates where the winter months are shorter, you can wait as late as December to plant your springtime bulbs.

Choose tulips that are large and firm and avoid bulbs that are soft, moldy, or missing their papery cover.

Now it’s time to get planting!

What you’ll need:

  • Gardening Trowel
  • Watering Can
  • Tulip Bulbs

Planting Time: Dig in!

Dig a hole roughly three times as deep as the bulb’s height, around 6-8 inches.

Plant the bulbs.

Place tulip bulbs pointy side up in the hole. If the bulb gets turned around, it can still grow but needs to turn itself around before it flowers in the spring.

Tulip bulbs can be planted in groups. Get creative with color combinations.

Scoop soil back over the bulbs until they are covered. Add a bit of mulch on top if you’d like to keep the soil moist.

Water your bulbs

Newly planted bulbs need a good drink of water to set in the soil and prepare for a long winter ahead. Now it’s time to wait! Over the winter months, the tulip bulbs will “winter over”. Come spring, you can expect tulip flowers in your garden.