Plant Bulbs in Autumn for Spring Color

Hiding underground for most of their life, many bulbs spring forth in Spring with shining flowers to brighten our gardens and days. I know the trailing heat of summer (especially this summer) does not seem like the best time to think of spring color but it is!

(Nerd Note: In this article I am using the term “bulbs” to also include corms, tubers, and rhizomes.)

Plan Now

Like the title says, now is the time to order bulbs for planting now and into October. (Spring wildflowers too, but that is another blog.) Growing bulbs in the Southwest depends on four factors. Incidentally, never, ever, EVER! collect any native bulbs from the wild. Some species are threatened or endangered. Illegal collection further threatens populations and could lead to their extinction.

Four Tips for Bulbs in the Southwest

One. Get the right stuff.

In general, bulbs with hot climate ancestors will do better than their European cousins. Thus, desert tulips like the Turkish or Israeli wild-type tulips will do better than Dutch tulips which have been breed for the past five centuries to thrive in cold, wet climates. See the list on the Gardening With Soule webpage devoted to bulbs.

Avoid those tantalizing boxes of bulbs in the big box stores. Those bulbs are mass ordered for the entire continent and just there to make money for the company. They are mostly NOT the species that will thrive in our unique region. Find a local nursery – they generally offer bulbs you will succeed with. One exception is amaryllis at the holidays.

That “Christmas” amaryllis will survive in a Low or Middle desert garden, blooming year after year with no effort on your part.

Two. Plant in the right place.

Ignore the directions written for back East. Our full summer sun will bake even the desert natives. In my garden over the years I have discovered that bulbs do well in filtered summer sunlight, tucked around the rose bushes or under deciduous trees, like sweet acacia, mesquite or even plum. This makes sense because in the wild you rarely see bulbs in spots that bake. “Location, location, location,” as the saying goes.

Spider lilies prefer summer shade for survival. They may be dormant – but if the soil gets too hot – they die.

Three. Drain well.

Good drainage is absolutely essential for bulbs. Sandy soils are great. But if your soil is more clay, you’ll need to add organic matter such as compost or peat moss, and perlite or sand will help too. This gets back to planting them under the roses, in soil you have already improved.

Bulbs grow well with other bulbs, and can be planted together in a single pot.


Plant the correct depth.

Planting depth varies by species. My rule of thumb is that the bulb should be planted two to three times as deep as it is tall. Thus a 2 inch bulb (from rootlets to pointy tip) should be planted 4 to 6 inches deep.

Try some bulbs — any bulbs — this year. Add some more next October. That way, if the first group didn’t survive over the summer, you will have something in their stead. If they did survive, great! Think of the bulbs that don’t over-summer as a bulbous bouquet. They graced your life for a while, and brought pleasure while they lasted. Perhaps that is all any of us can aspire to.

Bulb Sales & Bulb Species for the Southwest

Please go to my webpage devoted to selections of bulbs – here.
I also have a webpage listing places where you can order bulbs.

Both of these are supposed to be under Zones, Pets & More – – like my page devoted to vegetable seed sources for the Southwest — but we are experiencing a few technical difficulties.

Learn More about Southwest Gardening

Please sign up for my newsletter and I will send you the latest free PDF guide to some aspect of gardening here in the Land of El Sol. Topic changes several times a year and all subscribers get the latest one!

More about growing bulbs in your landscape in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt – but you must give proper credit to Gardening With Soule. You must include a link to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

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