Can you plant spring bulbs in January?

The quick answer is yes (well, daffodils and tulips, at least). I always plant spring bulbs in my patio pots later than recommended, mostly because I can’t plant them until I’ve lifted my dahlias out. Last year, the dahlias were still flowering in early November, which pushed my timings even later than usual.

So here I am in the middle of January, with bags of bulbs in the shed still. In general, spring bulbs are incredibly resilient, but they need at least 6 weeks of wintry weather to put their roots down before flowering. Planting them now means that they should still grow but they will flower later than usual.

This is definitely the case for tulips and daffodils. I have planted them in January before and still got a decent display in mid to late spring. A few of the daffodils may come up ‘blind’ though (foliage but no flowers). Also, the daffodils and tulips may well bloom at the same time.

Spring bulbs starting to emerge
Daffodils and tulips may emerge at the same time…
Daffodils flowering at the same time as tulips
…and flower at the same time

The jury is out on irises. It may well be too late to plant them, as they often start flowering in February, but seeing as I’ve got them I might as well plant them and see what happens. They’re certainly not going to flower in the shed.

Iris reticulata
Iris reticulata: a gorgeously uplifting flower in February

Check your bulbs

Before planting, make sure your bulbs are firm. Discard any that have gone soft or mouldy. If there’s just a bit of mould on the outside, and it hasn’t affected the firmness of the bulb, scrub it off with a hard-bristled brush. If the bulbs have started to sprout, be careful not to damage the growing tips when you plant them.

Layering bulbs in pots

By layering spring bulbs in pots – see Bulb lasagne – you can get a display that lasts for several months. First, I work out which bulbs I am going to plant in each pot.

Selection of different spring bulbs to  layer in a pot
A selection of spring bulbs to layer in a pot

Tulips bulbs should be planted first, at about 8 inches (20 cm) deep. I use peat-free compost, with a little grit mixed in to improve the drainage. This year I’ve planted a mix of 3 varieties: Prinses Irene, Havran and Couleur Cardinal).

Tulip bulbs planted in a pot 8 inches deep
Layer 1: Tulip bulbs, planted about 8 inches (20 cm) deep

Cover the tulip bulbs with a 2-inch (5 cm) layer of compost, and then plant a layer of daffodil bulbs about 6 inches (15 cm) deep. I’ve got a mix of narcissi bulbs that I lifted and stored last year, but I lost the labels so it will be interesting to see what comes up.

Mixed daffodil bulbs planted in a pot about 6 inches deep
Layer 2: Mixed daffodil bulbs, planted about 6 inches (15 cm) deep

Cover the daffodil bulbs with another 2-inch (5 cm) layer of compost, and then plant iris reticulata 4 inches (10 cm) deep.

Bulb lasagne, layer 3, dwarf irises
Layer 3: dwarf irises, planted near the top of the pot

Finish off with a final layer of compost.

Late planting works for tulips

December/January is a particularly good time to plant tulip bulbs. If you plant them too early and they sit in warm, wet conditions they are susceptible to fungal diseases, particularly something called ‘tulip fire’. The leaves become withered and distorted and are covered in brown spots. In the past few years, I have never planted tulips before December and it seems to work well.

Pick up a bargain and get planting

By planting slightly later than the ‘the norm’, you may even be able to pick up a bargain load of bulbs, as online retailers and garden centres will be looking to clear their stocks. So, as soon as the ground defrosts (!), get those bulbs in. Don’t forget to share your results.

It's worth planting those spring bulbs, even in January: bloomin' lovely
It’s worth planting bulbs, even in January, for lovely displays of spring colour