In the South, November Is the Time to Plant Bulbs

Garden Design

Spring-flowering bulbs are still readily available in November, and this is a great time to plant them in our region. Daffodils, tulips, summer snowflakes, and Spanish bluebells all need as much chilling as they can get in this part of the country, so planting them early is essential for spring flowers. Plant bulbs with a nice scoop of compost to help them make roots while the ground is still warm. With new roots in place, they will be ready to collect chill hours when the temperatures drop into the 40s.

Early-blooming daffodils (Narcissus spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8) are a great choice for Southern gardens. The window between early-blooming daffodils and everything else blooming can be short, so late-season daffodil flowers are often lost in the spring rush of everything else flowering. Here are a few of our favorite early bloomers.

February Gold daffodil
‘February Gold’ daffodil is reliably the first to bloom in our garden. Midsize yellow trumpet daffodils arise in showy clusters that grow 14 to 16 inches tall. Photo: courtesy of Meneerke bloem via Wikimedia Commons
light yellow daffodil
‘Erlicheer’ bears 6 to 12 showy double flowers per stem and has an amazing fragrance. Photo: Shelley Powell
bright yellow daffodils
‘Twinkling Stars’ produces good-sized bunches tiny, fragrant jonquil flowers. It grows 8 to 12 inches tall and blooms for a long time. Photo: Shelley Powell
yellow and white daffodils
‘Ice Follies’ is a large white daffodil with a yellow flat cup. It gets about 18 inches tall and is a great grower and a reliable bloomer. Photo: Steve Aitken

While typical tulips require some chilling and finagling to bloom in the South, many of the species tulips are reliable perennials here. These midspring bloomers may be smaller than traditional tulips, but they are charming and showy. Make sure they have plenty of sun and good drainage.

lady tulip
‘Lady Jane’ lady tulip (Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’, Zones 3–7) has white petals that are colored pink on the outside. It grows about a foot tall and blooms over a period of two or three weeks. Photo: Steve Aitken
Florentine tulip
Florentine tulip (Tulipa sylvestris, Zones 3–8) is a bright yellow tulip that usually grows about 10 inches tall. It spreads by underground stolons to form a beautiful, long-lived colony. Make sure it gets lots of sun and excellent drainage. Photo: courtesy of Agnieszka Kwiecień via Wikimedia Commons
little white spring bulbs
Summer snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum and cvs., Zones 4–8) are the South’s version of snowdrops (Galanthus spp. and cvs., Zones 3–7), which refuse to bloom here. Leucojum begin blooming early and keep flowering. They occasionally still have flowers in late April. Often found at old home sites, these survivors form large clumps over time. Photo: Shelley Powell
Spanish bluebells
Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica, Zones 3–8) bloom a little later in spring. They form large clumps of blue, white, or pink flowers that last for two to three weeks. They are less heat sensitive than English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Zones 5–8), with foliage that persists into the summer. They are surprisingly drought tolerant and will even flower in some shade. Photo: Steve Aitken

Time to get planting! Remember, it never hurts to try something out even if “it won’t grow here.” Microclimates are a thing, and most bulbs are a bargain. There are so many great spring-flowering bulbs, you might never run out of new varieties to try.

—Jason and Shelley Powell own and manage Petals from the Past, a garden center in Jemison, Alabama.

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