Fall-Planted Flower Bulbs: Why Size and Quality Matter
From late August through November, you can purchase fall-planted flower bulbs from many different outlets and at many different price points. Does it matter where and when you purchase them? It does, because the quality of the flower bulbs you plant, can have a big impact on the quality of the flowers you get. Read on to learn how you can be a savvy consumer and buy the best fall-planted bulbs for your garden.
What Does a Quality Flower Bulb Look and Feel Like?
In the US and Canada, almost all tulips, daffodils and other fall-planted flower bulbs are imported from Holland. Dutch growers harvest these crops in midsummer and then store the bulbs in climate-controlled warehouses until they are shipped abroad in late summer or early fall.
Longfield Gardens begins receiving these fall-planted bulbs in late August. When they arrive, we also store them in a temperature- and humidity-controlled warehouse until it’s time to ship to your growing zone. Maintaining proper storage conditions protects the viability of the bulbs and ensures you will receive them in the best possible condition.
Fall-planted bulbs should feel firm and relatively heavy for their size — like a potato or onion. This indicates they are still fresh and were stored at the correct temperature with the right amount of humidity. To check firmness, you can gently press on the bulb with your finger. It should feel solid, not soft or dried out. Surface mold on your bulbs, especially on tulips and lilies, is relatively normal and will not affect the performance of the bulb.
How are Flower Bulbs Measured?
When harvesting potatoes, you get tubers of varying sizes. This is also true when harvesting flower bulbs. Bulb growers expect a range of small, medium and large bulbs. So after the bulbs are harvested, they are measured (mechanically) and sorted by size.
Flower bulbs are measured in centimeters, around the widest part of the bulb. Each type of bulb has a different range of marketable sizes. The largest bulbs of each type are considered “top size” and will fetch the highest price at market. If you want to get the best possible results, these are the bulbs to buy!
Why is a Big Bulb Better Than a Small Bulb?
If you were to compare two different sized bulbs of the same variety, the larger of the two would contain the most stored food energy. With more energy reserves, that bigger bulb can produce a bigger plant with a more impressive display of flowers.
When comparing bulb sizes, you need to keep in mind that some types of bulbs are naturally smaller than others. The bulbs of a big-headed allium such as Globemaster are many times larger than those of a drumstick allium. Miniature daffodils naturally produce smaller bulbs than standard-size daffodils. And some varieties of tulips produce larger bulbs than others.
What Size Flower Bulb Should You Buy?
To get the best possible results, we recommend purchasing the largest-size bulbs you can find. Below are the acceptable size ranges (in centimeters) for some of the most common types of fall-planted flower bulbs. A plus sign indicates the bulbs may be slightly larger than this upper measurement.
Tulips: 10cm – 12cm+
Daffodils: 12cm – 16cm+
Hyacinth: 14cm – 19cm+
Crocus: 4cm – 5cm+
Large Allium: 9cm – 20cm+
Small Allium: 4cm – 6cm+
When to Purchase Fall-Planted Flower Bulbs
Fall-planted bulbs begin appearing in retail stores as early as August. Yet in most of the country, the best time to plant those bulbs is October or November. You can see a planting map by region HERE.
If you are planning to purchase bulbs locally, there’s no reason to wait. Buying early means you’ll have more choices. When you bring the bulbs home, store them in a cool, dark place until planting time. A perforated plastic bag will help them stay hydrated.
The other option is to order your bulbs online and have them delivered at the proper planting time for your growing region. This way, the bulbs will stay in a climate-controlled warehouse until they are packed and shipped. You can order early to make sure you get the varieties you want, but you won’t receive them until shortly before it’s time to plant.
To learn more about fall-planted bulbs, we suggest: