If you’re new to Wilmington, NC, or new to planting spring bulbs, there are a few things you need to know in order to ensure their successful growth. Most spring blooming bulbs are planted in the fall, because the bulbs need a certain amount of time in the cooler weather of autumn and winter to trigger the growth of new roots. Wilmington is located in zone 8a, so planting can happen sometime between October and the end of December.
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How Do I Know When to Plant?
October thru December is a simple guideline for when you can expect to start planting. Weather in Wilmington can vary from year-to-year, and it’s not uncommon some years to see people wearing shorts while Christmas shopping. When that happens, you need to pay close attention to the environment.
Ideally, the soil should be a consistent 55 degrees Fahrenheit (F) to be cold enough to stimulate root growth before winter. If you don’t have a soil thermometer, you can also gauge the best planting date according to how cold it gets at night. When the temperatures start dipping down between 40 and 50 degrees F and stay there consistently, the soil is likely ready for bulbs.
How Long Do Fall Bulbs Need to Chill?
Warm weather bulb varieties don’t need a lot of time to chill (around 6 weeks). Cold weather varieties need much longer (12 to 16 weeks). Some varieties require such long periods, they cannot grow in zone 8a. So, make sure you purchase bulbs that have already been vetted for our area.
Which Fall Bulbs Grow Best in Wilmington?
If you want some guaranteed blooms come spring, stick to the proven winners when choosing your bulbs. Here are 5 fall bulbs that do well in Wilmington, in order of blooming time:
- Daffodil: These are some of the first bulbs to bloom in the spring and they are incredibly good at naturalizing; so you don’t need to make a huge upfront investment. They reproduce efficiently and look so happy against the dullness of your winter-touched yard.
- Crocus: Just like in the north, where you see their little heads peeking out from under the snow, these are also early bloomers in zone 8a. Mine have popped up in February in past years. I suggest planting a bunch, because they’re some of the smallest spring-blooming bulbs.
- Hyacinths: Giant Hyacinths produce large heads of tiny flowers on a short a stem with thick leaves while Grape Hyacinths produce smaller heads of flowers and grass-like leaves. They’re fragrant, come in a variety of colors, and bloom sometime between Crocuses and Tulips. If you’re planting in low-nutrient soil, you may want to add some bulb fertilizer, because they can be finicky.
- Tulips: These come in a variety of colors and bloom in March and April. Like other bulbs, make sure you purchase tulips for zone 8a. Tulips typically do better in areas with cold winters (zones 7 and lower). However, there are varieties that do well in the warmer climates. Just take a look at Airlie Gardens in the spring. They’ve planted over 60,000 spring bulbs and many are tulips.
- Alliums: These fun bulbs will add interest to your garden. They grow a long stem with a head of flowers on top that looks like a ball. They come primarily in shades of lavender, but you may be able to find an outlier that is more blue or pink. They bloom in late spring to early summer. Just make sure you plant them at the recommended depth or they may flop over when they bloom.
These are just a few of the spring-flowering bulbs that grow in zone 8a. If you’re also open to planting rhizomes, I also recommend adding Dutch Irises for spring color. These usually bloom around April and multiply well. I just divided mine for the first time this year and there were over 90 rhizomes packed into the little flower bed. They are now happily spread out in an all-new flower bed around a birdhouse, and I can’t wait to see their purple flowers brightening up the area of my yard where the birds lay their spring eggs.
If you like this post, you may also like Yes, There are Yellow Azaleas – Grow Them in Wilmington and Lilacs That Will Grow in Zone 8A.