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Is soil too wet to plant bulbs?

Is soil too wet to plant bulbs?


Question: A bag of tulip bulbs is sitting on a shelf in my garage waiting to be planted. With all the rain lately, I’m not sure when I can plant them. How long can I wait to plant them? — C.H.

Answer: Due to the long stretch of rainy days we’ve had recently, many of our area soils are wet and soggy.

It is best for the overall health of the soil to avoid working in it until it dries out a bit. Using certain tools as well as just walking on wet soils may cause compaction and adversely impact the soil structure.

Compacted soils are difficult to dig in, not favorable for root growth, and have a tendency to drain slowly, since the soil particles have been compressed together, leaving less area for water and air movement. It is best to stay out of a garden that has wet soil, if possible.

Bulbs grow best in well-drained soils and may rot if planted in soils that are too wet for an extended length of time. Hopefully the rainy weather will soon end and allow soils to dry a bit to permit planting.

Plant bulbs in a location that is free of standing water and will receive six to eight hours of sun per day. Avoid planting near downspouts or in low spots in the landscape where water may accumulate after heavy rains.

Select early blooming bulbs for planting in shady sites, since they will have finished flowering by the time tree leaves emerge and fully expand in spring.

Spring flowering bulbs, like tulips, can be planted in fall until the soil begins to freeze. Weather will determine when this occurs, yet, in most years, planting should be possible at least through the end of October. Some gardeners take advantage of late season bulb sales and plant well into December with limited success.

It is advantageous to give newly planted bulbs some time to develop roots before going into winter. Bulbs with a good root system will have the ability to send out new top growth as soon as favorable weather conditions arrive in spring.

Consider covering the newly planted bulb garden with chicken wire or fencing material laid horizontally on top of the area to discourage digging by squirrels and chipmunks.

There are several articles related to bulbs on the UW-Extension Master Gardener Program website:

Jeanne Hilinske-Christensen is the UW-Extension Interim Horticulture Educator for Kenosha and Racine counties. Submit plant care questions to the Master Gardeners Plant Health Advisers. Phone 262-857-1942 or email


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