Home & Garden: The Best Bulbs to Plant in Fall to Help Pollinators Come Springtime

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When spring finally arrives each year, I often feel starved for colorful flowers. And that's also how many hungry pollinators like bumblebees and honeybees feel. As temperatures warm, they need nectar from flowers to fuel them. Some of the earliest (and easiest!) flowers you can grow come from bulbs that you need to plant in the fall. These bulbs require the chill of winter in order to produce flowers in spring. According to Flowerbulbs.com, an educational resource for all things bulb-related, you can have something in bloom from earliest spring all the way into summer by choosing the right mix of species. Then you'll have cheerful color to chase away the winter blues, while also serving up some essential nectar and pollen for your local pollinators.

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a purple flower on a plant: These varieties are some of the first food sources for bees, beetles, and other important insects in spring when little else is blooming. Plus, these flowers will provide some much-needed color in your garden after a long winter. © Courtesy of flowerbulbs.com These varieties are some of the first food sources for bees, beetles, and other important insects in spring when little else is blooming. Plus, these flowers will provide some much-needed color in your garden after a long winter.

Bulbs That Bloom in Early Spring

Provide pollinators with flowers as soon as possible by planting these bulbs that are some of the first to flower in spring.

Snowdrops

Usually one of the first signs of spring, snowdrops produce white flowers with tear drop-shape petals. In some regions, they can even start to appear before the snow completely melts. Deer will usually avoid these early bloomers, but bees and other pollinators will gladly visit them.

Growing Conditions: Full sun, part sun, or shade and well-drained soil

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Size: Up to 10 inches tall

Zones: 3-9

Buy It: Snowdrop Bulbs, ($10, Michigan Bulb Co.)

a close up of a flower: Galanthus snowdrops growing in test garden © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens Galanthus snowdrops growing in test garden

Winter Aconite

Another early spring bloomer, winter aconite has bright yellow flowers that will chase away the last of the winter chill. Its blooms look like small buttercups, and because this plant stays small and blooms early, it can be a good choice for planting around maple and oak trees.

Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

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Size: Up to 6 inches tall

Zones: 3-7

Buy It: Winter Aconite Bulbs, ($10, Dutch Grown)

a close up of a flower: yellow blooming winter aconite © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens yellow blooming winter aconite

Crocus

Bright purple crocuses are also known for bringing early color to your spring garden. The bulbs will slowly multiply and spread over the years (a process called naturalizing), and usually aren’t bothered by pests such as deer and rabbits. You might have to plant a few more bulbs every year if your goal is a lush carpet of crocuses, but you won’t need to completely replant all of them.

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Growing Conditions: Full sun or part sun and well-drained soil

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Size: Up to 6 inches tall

Zones: 3-8

Buy It: Tricolor Crocus, ($9, Breck's)

a purple flower on a plant: blooming crocus flower with bee © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens blooming crocus flower with bee

Siberian Squill

This early bloomer is a favorite for bees, so make sure you plant a few Siberian squill bulbs this fall to enhance your pollinator garden. Like crocuses, Siberian squill will naturalize and spread over time, so you'll end up with more light blue or white flowers as the years go by.

Growing Conditions: Full sun or part sun and well-drained soil

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Size: Up to 6 inches tall

Zones: 2-8

Buy It: 'Spring Beauty' Siberian Squill Bulbs, ($15, White Flower Farm)

a close up of a flower: blue blooming siberian squill flowers © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens blue blooming siberian squill flowers

Glory-of-the-Snow

Another plant that can bloom before the snow is completely melted, glory-of-the-snow has small star-shape flowers that can be shades of blue, pink, or white. This plant is native to rocky mountainsides, so it’ll fit right in to your rock garden while helping to attract and support local pollinators.

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Growing Conditions: Full sun or part sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 6 inches tall

Zones: 3-8

Buy It: Glory-of-the-Snow Bulbs, ($5, Michigan Bulb Co.)

a close up of a flower: blooming glory of the snow flowers © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens blooming glory of the snow flowers

Wood Anemone

Producing single white or light pink flowers, wood anemone tends to grow in dense mats, covering the ground with foliage and spreading through rhizomes. It’s native to the East Coast and parts of the Midwest, and usually blooms between March and May. Similar to winter aconite, it’s a good choice for planting under trees because the flowers will be starting to fade anyway as new leaves grow in above.

Growing Conditions: Part shade or full shade and moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 10 inches tall

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: Wood Anemone Bulbs, ($10, Dutch Bulbs)

a close up of a flower: white wood anemeone flowers blooming © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens white wood anemeone flowers blooming

Reticulated Iris

Many early spring flowers have pale or muted colors, but these little irises will burst into bloom with rich purplish-blue flowers. These plants stay relatively small, so if you want them to have an impact in your landscape, it’s best to plant them in large clumps. You can also force the bulbs in pots if you want to enjoy them in containers.

Growing Conditions: Full sun or part sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 6 inches tall

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: Reticulated Iris Bulbs, ($7, Bluestone Perennials)

a close up of a flower: purple blooming reticulated iris © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens purple blooming reticulated iris

Bulbs That Bloom in Mid-Spring

Once early bloomers start to fade, these mid-spring plants will take over with flowers that attract and support pollinators.

Grape Hyacinth

Though purplish-blue flowers are most recognizable on grape hyacinths, you can also find varieties of this plant that bloom in white and yellow. Flowering in mid-spring, it’s not a true hyacinth (but does look like a smaller version of the other spring-flowering bulb). Grape hyacinth doesn’t grow very tall, so plant it at the front of flower beds and borders.

Growing Conditions: Full sun or part sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 8 inches tall

Zones: 4-8

Buy It: Grape Hyacinth Bulbs, ($10, Michigan Bulb Co.)

a close up of a flower garden: blooming grape hyacinth plants © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens blooming grape hyacinth plants

Hyacinth

True hyacinths come in a range of shades, including blue, purple, red, orange, yellow, pink, and white. Their clusters of bright flowers will attract pollinators and also look beautiful planted next to daffodils and tulips. Plus, deer usually don’t bother hyacinths and squirrels won’t munch on your bulbs in the ground.

Growing Conditions: Full sun or part sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 12 inches tall

Zones: 4-9

Buy It: Mixed Hyacinth Bulbs, ($12, Holland Bulb Farms)

a close up of a purple flower on a plant: purple hyacinth flowers © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens purple hyacinth flowers

Crown Imperial

Unlike any other spring bulb, crown imperial will give your garden a tropical look in mid-spring. The clusters of flowers look a little bit like upside-down tulips, but have strong, spiky leaves growing from the top. You can find varieties that bloom in shades of red, orange, and yellow.

Growing Conditions: Full sun or part shade and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 4 feet tall

Zones: 5-8

Buy It: Crown Imperial Bulbs, ($20, Dutch Bulbs)

a close up of a flower: red crown imperial flower blooming © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens red crown imperial flower blooming

Bulbs That Bloom in Late Spring

Finish out the season and transition into summer with these bulbs that will blossom at the end of spring.

Spanish Bluebells

A late spring bulb that tolerates shade, Spanish bluebells will thrive under trees and even in the shade of shrubs. Spanish bluebells are a good partner for daffodils, because both tend to bloom around the same time, and the bright yellow daffodil blooms create a striking contrast to Spanish bluebells’ light blue or purple flowers.

Growing Conditions: Full sun or part sun and moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 16 inches tall

Zones: 3-8

Buy It: Spanish Bluebell Bulbs, ($12, Breck's)

a purple flower on a plant: light purple spanish bluebell flowers © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens light purple spanish bluebell flowers

Ornamental Onions

When planted in clusters, ornamental onions look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. They have long, thin green stems with spherical clusters of dozens (and even up to a hundred) tiny flowers on top. Ornamental onions are deer-resistant, and can have blue, purple, red, white, pink, or yellow flowers.

Growing Conditions: Full sun or part sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

Buy It: Giant Allium Bulbs, ($8, Holland Bulb Farms)

a pink flower on a plant: pink Alliums © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens pink Alliums

Quamash

Also known as camassia, quamash will take over after your tulips fade and daffodils start to droop. This native spring bulb is popular with pollinators, and it’s also a favorite for cut flower bouquets. It produces clusters of purple or white star-shape flowers, and pairs well with other pollinator favorites such as phlox and spiderwort.

Growing Conditions: Full sun or part sun and moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 2 feet tall

Zones: 4-8

Buy It: Quamash Bulbs, ($9, High Country Gardens)

a close up of a flower: Quamash Camassia leichtlinii Caerulea © Provided by Better Homes and Gardens Quamash Camassia leichtlinii Caerulea

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