Zone 5 Flower Bulbs: Choosing Bulbs For Zone 5 Gardens

By: Liz Baessler

Planting flower bulbs is a fantastic way to get the jump on spring gardening. If you plant bulbs in the fall, you’re guaranteeing color and life in your garden early in the spring, probably long before you’re able to go out and plant anything with your hands. So what are some good cold-hardy bulbs? Keep reading to learn more about growing bulbs in zone 5 and some of the best zone 5 flower bulbs.

Zone 5 Flower Bulbs

When it comes to cold-hardy bulbs, there are actually a number to choose from. Here are some of the most commonly planted bulbs for zone 5 gardens:

Daffodil – These bulbs are a popular standard in most gardens. A wide variety of daffodils are available in shades of white, yellow, and orange and in all kinds of sizes. Plant your bulbs in the fall, pointy end up, twice as deep as the height of the bulb.

Iris – This genus of flowers includes over 300 species, many of which will grow with no problem in zone 5. Plant the bulbs in mid to late summer.

Tulip – Tulips are very diverse and come in just about any color you could want. Plant tulip bulbs in late autumn for flowers the following spring.

Lily – Lilies come in just about every color and variety you could want, and many are suitable to zone 5 gardening. When you plant your bulbs in the fall, thoroughly loosen the soil and work in plenty of organic material to ensure good drainage.

Snowdrop – Snowdrops are some of the first flowers to emerge in the spring, often while there is still snow on the ground. The bulbs are usually sold green, or undried, so plant them in the fall immediately after you buy them for the best results.

Hyacinth – These flowers are known mostly for their heavenly scent that’s associated so strongly with spring. Plant your bulbs in early autumn to give the roots time to establish before the first frost.

Crocus – The crocus is one of the earliest spring flowers to pop up in the garden. It’s also one of the hardiest, so zone 5 gardens are no problem for this bulb.

This is just a short list to choose from. For more information about the best flower bulbs in your region, check with your local extension office.

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How to Grow Hyacinth

One of the loveliest scents of spring comes from hyacinths in blooms. Even at a distance, you'll notice these flowers' intense fragrance and spikes of bright colors. Introduced to Europe during the 16th century, hyacinth's popularity sparked Dutch bulb growers to breed more than 2,000 cultivars by the 18th century, and today there are about 60 to choose from in commercial cultivation.

Modern hyacinths are some of the easiest-to-grow spring bulbs—they can be planted in the ground or pots, or grown in water in a bulb vase, no soil required. Hyacinths are best planted in early fall and will grow slowly, emerging as shoots in the spring.

Botanical Name Hyacinthus orientalis
Common Name Hyacinth, common hyacinth, Dutch hyacinth, garden hyacinth
Plant Type Bulb
Mature Size 6–12 in. tall, and 3–6 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White, blue, purple, pink, red
Hardiness Zones 4–8 (USDA)
Native Area Europe
Toxicity Toxic to dogs and cats


Bulbs can be separated into two main types: spring and summer.

Spring bulbs: Also called hardy bulbs, these bulbs are planted in fall, spend winter in the ground, and flower in spring. Some of the more common spring bulbs are tulips, irises, daffodils, hyacinth, allium and crocus. These bulbs need several weeks of cold temperatures to break their dormancy and flower to their full potential.

Summer bulbs: Also called tender bulbs, these bulbs are planted in spring and flower or leaf out in summer. Gladiolus, lilies, caladiums, and elephant ears are common examples of summer bulbs. Some will bloom later in summer or for a longer time, like dahlias that bloom into fall.

Summer bulbs aren't tolerant of cold temperatures and should only be planted after the ground warms up and there's no longer a threat of frost. If purchased before planting time, store them in a cool, dry spot until planting.

Tender bulbs

Tender bulbs, including dahlias, begonias (Begonia tuberosa) and gladiolus, are planted in the spring for summer bloom. Plants with tender bulbs are popular for use in perennial borders, cutting gardens or as bedding plants.

  • Tender bulbs have fleshy bulbs, corms, tubers or roots.
  • They cannot survive cold winter temperatures and must be dug up each fall.
  • Store them for the winter indoors in a cool, dry place.
  • Tender bulbs are planted in the spring after the soil has warmed.

How to plant bulbs, tubers and rhizomes

  • Check for any signs of disease or damage, such as cuts or bruises.
  • The bulb should be firm and have a protective papery skin.
  • Do not purchase bulbs that are soft or moldy.

Purchase hardy bulbs in August-September and plant the bulbs as soon as possible.

  • In places with cold climates, like Minnesota, planting time is usually from mid-September to mid-October.
  • Planting at this time helps the bulb to grow roots before the ground freezes.
  • Tulips are one exception you can plant these as late as you can get them into the soil.
  • Store bulbs in a dry place away from direct sunlight until you are ready to plant them.

Purchase tender bulbs in late winter or early spring.

  • They may be started indoors in early spring.
  • You can plant them outdoors in spring, once the danger of frost has passed.

Ideal warmth

Both hardy and tender bulbs need warmth and bright light to trigger proper growth.

  • Choose locations that are sheltered from damaging winds.
  • Avoid planting in low lying areas where frost usually collects. Tender plants may be damaged early when they are just poking through the soil.
  • Plants are usually not affected by light to moderate frosts later in the flowering process.

Note that soil near building foundations, especially with a southern or western exposure, may warm up earlier than other areas of your yard causing bulbs planted there to flower earlier.

Early bloomers like these may suffer cold damage. Mulch soil in these areas to help soil warm up more gradually. This will help bulbs to bloom at the right time, when cold damage to flowers and foliage is less likely.


Bulbs need ample light for spring growth and even after the flowering process is completed. After flowering, the leaves generate energy through photosynthesis that is stored in the bulb structure for next year.

The more light bulbs receive, the more energy they generate and the more likely they are to bloom year after year.

Hardy bulbs can be planted underneath or near deciduous trees and shrubs. The hardy bulbs are done blooming by the time the leaves on deciduous trees become dense enough to produce shade.

Bulbs grow best in rich, well-drained soil. A soil test is helpful in determining what additions or "amendments" are needed to improve your soil before planting. Submit a soil sample to the University of Minnesota Soil Test Laboratory every 3-5 years.

  • Avoid planting in areas with standing water.
  • Prepare planting sites by removing debris such as rocks, sticks, matted roots, etc.
  • Use a garden fork or a tiller to work organic matter such as peat moss, fine compost or shredded leaf mulch into the planting area.

The organic material helps to amend soil, creating a good growing environment for bulbs.

Most Minnesota soils are rich in phosphorous, an important macronutrient for blooming. Unless your soil test shows a deficiency in phosphorous or potassium, skip the fertilizer and add in compost when planting bulbs.

Planting depth and spacing

Bulbs are much more attractive if planted in odd numbered groups or mass plantings.

The planting depth and spacing depends on the individual bulb. Follow the instructions provided on the bulb package.

Generally, plant bulbs two to three times deeper than their diameter. This will vary with the type of soil.

  • With light, sandy soils, plant 1 or 2 inches deeper and on heavier clay soils, set the bulbs an inch or two more shallow.
  • With the pointed end facing up, set the bulb in the prepared soil, so that the base is resting at the appropriate depth.
  • Once the bulbs are all placed, cover with half of the soil and thoroughly soak the area with water.
  • Add the remaining soil and rake smooth to level the surface of the bed.
  • Water and cover the soil surface with 2-3" of leaf mulch, wood mulch or clean (seedless) straw to help hold in moisture and help soil temperatures to drop/raise more gradually as the seasons change.

Additional tips for hardy bulbs:

  • If fall and/or spring are dry with less than normal rainfall, and soil becomes dry, water bulbs till soil is saturated (wet throughout).
  • Animals like squirrels and chipmunks, may dig up and eat bulbs after being planted, especially tulips (narcissus bulbs are poisonous). To protect bulb plantings after planting, lay a piece of chicken wire flat over the planted areas and anchor with U-shaped staples normally used with landscape fabric. Cover the wire with mulch. The wire will make digging up the bulbs difficult and the bulbs will easily grow through the wire holes.
  • Be sure to label what you planted and where, to prevent digging up bulbs by accident during your spring garden work.

Hardy bulbs and their care

List of hardy bulbs for Zones 3 and 4

Hardy Bulbs for U.S.D.A. Cold Hardiness Zones 3 & 4

Scientific name

Common name

Trout lily, dogtooth violet

Fritillaria, checkered lily

Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica

Spring care for hardy bulbs

Move mulch aside as soil and air temperatures begin to warm. If a hard frost is forecasted, just push the mulch back over spring bulbs to lessen the change of frost damage.

  • If rainfall is below normal in spring, and the top few inches of soil become dry, water thoroughly during and after flowering to ensure that enough moisture is reaching the roots.
  • Be careful not to overwater. Soggy, wet conditions will promote bulb rot.
  • Fertilize lightly as the flowers begin to die. Select a fertilizer labeled for bulbs and follow the product instructions for how much to apply. Make sure this is watered in well.
  • Cut off the faded flowers after blooming. This will prevent the plant's energy going towards seed production.
  • Keep the leaves green and healthy as long as possible and do not remove leaves until they have yellowed and withered. The longer foliage lasts, the better the bulbs will grow the following year.

Hardy bulbs are treated as perennials, left in the ground year after year. Every three to four years they may need to be replaced or divided if they start to crowd each other and are not blooming well.

If you have to move the bulbs because they are crowding or for some other reason, the best time is just after the foliage has yellowed and withered.

  • Carefully dig up the bulbs, shake off any loose soil and roots, discard any small ones and store the remainder in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place until fall planting time.
  • Keep the bulbs out of direct sunlight and check them periodically for any disease.
  • Old onion sacks or shallow seed trays work well for storing the bulbs over summer.

Bulbs generally have few insect or disease problems. Some reasons for poor flowering the first year could be:

  • Bulbs were planted too shallow, too late in the season or were not hardy for your region.
  • Bulbs were dug up by animals such as squirrels, chipmunks or mice.
  • Bulbs rotted. Bulb rots are usually caused by:
    • Using fertilizers excessively high in nitrogen.
    • Fresh manure.
    • Wet soil conditions, usually caused by poor drainage or heavy clay soils.
    • Poor quality, bruised or cut bulbs.

If bulbs flowered the first year but not the second:

  • The area may be too shady.
  • Leaves may have been removed before they yellowed and withered naturally.
    • When cutting flowers, leave as much foliage behind as possible.

Site Preparation

Ideal tulip soil conditions require a slightly acidic pH of 6 to 7 and ample access to organic material, like compost, in all preferred growing zones. You must keep your bulbs free from compacted and soggy soil -- excessively wet bulbs succumb to rot and fail to flower. Because the bulbs use the surrounding soil for nutrients, use a bulb fertilizer with high potassium and phosphorus ratios compared to nitrogen. With proper soil conditions, your bulbs should flower successfully each year. However, it is good practice to move the bulbs to a different location after approximately three years. The new location provides increased nutrient levels and rejuvenates the bulb.

Writing professionally since 2010, Amy Rodriguez cultivates successful cacti, succulents, bulbs, carnivorous plants and orchids at home. With an electronics degree and more than 10 years of experience, she applies her love of gadgets to the gardening world as she continues her education through college classes and gardening activities.

Watch the video: Tips for Planting Bulbs. Garden Answer

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