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How to Grow

Flowering Bulbs
Everything you need to know, including where to purchase your bulbs, planting advice and fertilizing tips.

Complete Guide To Planting Flower Bulbs In Fall In Zone 3 & 4

by on October 29, 2023
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I was several years into my gardening journey before I ever planted flower bulbs in my Zone 3 garden and let me tell you….I only wish I had started doing so sooner! Planting flower bulbs in the Fall in Zone 3 & 4 is not only easy but will result in early Spring blooms, resulting in gorgeous bouquets of tulips, daffodils, alliums, crocus’ and more….without requiring you to have to put in much work at all.

This post covers:

  • The Best Places To Buy Fall Bulbs In Canada
  • When To Plant Flower Bulbs In Zone 3 & 4
  • When To Plant Flower Bulbs In Canada
  • Where Is The Best Place To Plant Bulbs
  • 5 Easy Steps To Planting Flowering Bulbs In The Fall
  • What Is The Best Mulch For Bulbs
  • Can You Plant Flower Bulbs In The Snow

The Best Places To Buy Fall Bulbs In Canada

As an organic gardener, I’ve found it extremely challenging to find organic flower bulbs here in Canada.

This is due to a few reasons….

The first being that the majority of Canadian garden centres and seed providers import their bulbs from producers located the Netherlands. Sourcing organic bulbs and then shipping them all the way to Canada increases the cost significantly and so many don’t do it.

Secondly, tulips and other Fall flowering bulbs are susceptible to diseases and so are often treated before shipping. Again, making it tricky to find completely organic bulbs.

Here’s a few great places where I’ve ordered my Fall bulbs from in Canada (both organic & non-organic):

If you are familiar with more Canadian organic flowering bulbs providers, please comment below! I’ll happily adjust this post to include them.

When To Plant Flower Bulbs In Zone 3 & 4

The perfect time to plant flowering bulbs in Zone 3 & 4 is before the ground is frozen but after temperatures have dipped.

This sweet spot is generally mid to late October for Zone 3 & 4. However, it past cold years I’ve planted my bulbs as early as September 30th. Whereas in warmer Falls I’ve waited until early November.

A good guideline is to plant your bulbs when temperatures are hovering around 0°C/32°F consistently.

So the perfect time to plant flowering bulbs in Zone 3 & 4 is really dependent on your exact microclimate. If you pay attention to what is happening in your own backyard, you will quickly become in tune with your unique grow zone.

When To Plant Flower Bulbs In Canada

If you’re located outside of Zone 3-4 in Canada, here’s when it’s the best time for you to plant your flowering bulbs.

Zone 5-6: Plant as early as mid October and as late as end of November depending on your temperatures.

Zone 7-9: Plant as early as end of November to the end of December depending on your temperatures.

Zone 10+: Bulbs can be planted as late as mid-January depending on your temperatures.

You might be wondering…

“Can I Plant My Flower Bulbs In The Spring In Canada?”

And the answer is no. Bulbs require a long cold period of at least 12 weeks in order to bloom. Our short Springs in Canada aren’t long and cold enough to provide bulbs the cool temperatures they need.

So wherever you’re located in Canada, it’s best to plant your flowering bulbs in the Fall.

Where Is The Best Place To Plant Flower Bulbs

Follow this checklist when you’re deciding where to plant your Fall bulbs.

The below list of items should apply to the area you select:

  • Gets a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct daylight
  • Has well draining soil
  • Does not retain additional moisture or standing water
  • Can easily be protected by chicken wire if needed to keep rodents out

I’ve found that bulbs do great planted in raised beds as well! Especially if you deal with pest pressure from squirrels or other rodents and want to cover your bulbs, a raised bed makes this easy!

It’s also very important to practice crop rotation when planing flowering bulbs, choosing a new area of your garden each Fall to plant them in.

This is because of a common disease easily spread by bulbs called tulip fire. It’s a fungal disease that will cause your flowers to look damaged and distorted. It can also easily spread in your soil to other plants, so be sure to change the planting environment of your bulbs each Fall!

5 Easy Steps To Planting Flowering Bulbs In The Fall

Follow these 5 easy steps when you’re ready to plant your flower bulbs and I’m confident you’ll have a gorgeous patch of tulips come Spring.

Step 1: Prepare your planting area by digging a shallow trench about 3x the depth of your bulb.

You don’t need to dig an individual hole for each bulb. In fact, tulips and other bulbs do better and look better in your garden when they’re planted close together, which is why digging a trench works best!

I typically dig a hole about 6-8″ deep as my bulb is usually 2-3″ big. You want to plant your bulbs deep enough that they’ll be well insulated by the soil from the cold of Winter.

However, many experts suggest not planting bulbs too deep as it can sometimes lead to foliage and no blooms, which obviously nobody wants.

So a good rule of thumb is to plant no deeper than 8″ and then add extra mulch on top of your bulbs for additional insulation. More on mulch later in this post!

Step 2: Gently sprinkle a small amount of all-purpose granular fertilizer into the trench

Some gardeners skip this step altogether and plant their bulbs directly into soil without fertilizer. You can totally do this too!

However, I like to amend my soil with a little bit of fertilizer first. Especially if I’m planting in an area of my garden that was growing another crop in that space the prior season. The soil is probably a little depleted of nutrients.

Your favourite all-purpose organic granular fertilizer will work here. And less is more, just add a small dusting to the trench.

Step 3: Space your bulbs 1-2″ apart

Bulbs grow extremely well when placed close together and of course, look really beautiful when planted like this as you’ll have compact patches of flowers once they bloom.

If you’re planning on growing bulbs to be used as annual cut flowers, you can follow the 1″ rule. As annuals, bulbs don’t really need an extra space to grow since you’ll be pulling them up after they’re done blooming anyway.

But if you’re planning on growing bulbs as a perennial, you can follow the 2″ rule or even plant them as far as 3-4″ apart. This will allow the bulb to produce I’ve personally never grown tulips or other bulbs as perennials here in Zone 3, but if you’re interested in doing so the Edmonton Horticultural Society has some great info on their blog linked here!

Step 4: Plant each bulb with the pointy side up

Similarly to planting garlic, you want to plant flower bulbs with the pointy side up. This is pretty self explanatory and obvious which side is up when you see a bulb!

Try your best to avoid planting bulbs on their sides as it could result in flowers with kinked stems or, even worse, no blooms at all.

Step 5: Fill in your trench and then cover with a heavy layer of mulch

Backfill your trench with the soil you dug out. Be sure to tightly pack the soil so the bulbs are nice and snug down below. Evenly packed soil will also help with moisture distribution come Spring!

If you live in a zone that doesn’t get a lot of snow or rain throughout Winter, you might also want to water your bulbs.

Then, mulch your bulb bed with 2-4″ of organic matter. This is especially important for gardeners in Zone 4 and colder. Mulch will act as insulation barrier to the extreme elements of Winter. Mulch can also help keep awake pesky rodents from digging up your bulbs! A win-win.

More on my favourite type of mulch for flower bulbs next!

What Is The Best Mulch For Flower Bulbs

Let me start by saying the best mulch to use in the garden is always whatever organic resources is most accessible to you. I truly believe this! And in order to be a responsible organic gardener, using what you have on hand is always a good practice.

However, I’ve found leaf mulch is the best option for mulching flower bulbs.

Here’s why….

  • You can shred them to allow even more moisture to move through them and to your bulbs. This isn’t necessary but can result in better blooms.
  • Leaves can trap some moisture within their layers and reduce the chances of your bulbs being in soggy soil or standing water.
  • Leaves are easy to remove come Spring as they will stick together from the melted snow…and yes, you 100% want to remove your mulch to help your bulbs bloom.

Another option for mulching flower bulbs is using straw mulch, which is also a fantastic insulator but will come at a higher price point. Again, if choosing straw be sure to remove it as soon as you can in the Spring to allow light to easily reach your bulbs.

Can You Plant Flower Bulbs In The Snow

Yes, you can absolutely plant flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils and more in the snow!

In fact, more years than not this is what I’ve done as we typically get our first snowfall before the end of October here in Zone 3.

The only reason you wouldn’t want to plant flower bulbs in the snow is if you’ve had a hard freeze and the soil is frozen. For one, it won’t be a very enjoyable task to dig in frozen soil. But secondly, your bulbs won’t be able to have their cool germination period and will instead just freeze, likely resulting in no blooms.

And there you have it!

There’s your complete guide to planting Spring-flowering bulbs in the Fall in Zone 3 & 4.

I hope you’re leaving with a few great tips to apply during your bulb planting this season. And if you have other bulb advice for fellow gardeners, please comment below. I love hearing from you and answer all comments.

For more organic gardening advice, you can follow me on Pinterest, Tik Tok & Instagram.

Happy planting, gardeners!

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Latest Comments

  1. October 31, 2023

    Great guide Maggie! I’ve recently become obsessed with bulbs. I think it’s an important reminder that bulbs don’t have to be planted in beds, but can go in lawns as well. My experience with it in Winnipeg is: I planted siberian squill and glory of the snow in the lawn last year, ordered from brecks and i was pleasantly surprised when basically all of them came up in the spring. Nice thing is they die back before it’s time to mow the grass…a perfect 2 month meadow. I did grape hyacinth around trees (because they don’t die back as early and i didnt want to mow them). This fall I did snowdrops in the back lawn and tulips all over the place in beds. Also, a squirrel dug up dozens of my bulbs, while annoying, don’t fret because i popped them right back in the ground and all of them were fine come spring time. Just thought I’d share my positive experience as i’m shocked how few people in manitoba naturalize with bulbs.

    — Matt
  2. November 9, 2023

    Hey Matt! Great tips and love that you were able to replant your bulbs even after they got dug up…I’m going to add that caveat into this post too.

    — Maggie