My tiny Mississippi cottage garden is overstuffed with plants of all descriptions. (I’m just one of those kinds of garden nuts.) But no matter how packed my garden gets, there’s always room for more bulbs!

Blooming blubs

Fall-planted bulbs can bring color and cheer to any early spring garden.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Chilling tulip bulbs

You can get one season out of tulips, but you need to chill them in the ’fridge for least six week first.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Painted Arum

In the South, ‘Pictum’ painted arum has fantastic winter foliage and interesting spring flowers.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Wire basket protecting bulbs

Deter moles and voles by planting bulbs in wire baskets sunk partly into the ground.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

It’s not that bulbs are afterthoughts. It’s just that most are fairly small, and usually highly seasonal, so it’s easier to tuck them here and there. And I always include them when I work up my potted plant combinations – spring bloomers in fall containers, summer bloomers in… well, you get it.

Now that fall’s arrived, it’s the perfect time of year for planting winter- and spring-flowering bulbs, from one-shot tulips and long-lived fragrant daffodils to the “painted arum” (a fantastic Southern winter foliage bulb that’s a summer plant up North).

But no matter how alluring bulb descriptions are, the fact is that not all bulbs do well in the Southeast. Some, including tulips, do much better in colder climates and fail to set flower buds in our mild winters. But you can get around nature at least for one year by pre-chilling tulip bulbs in the refrigerator (six weeks is what most tulips require). You also have to keep an eye on borderline-hardy tropical bulbs, such as amaryllis. These beauties can get caught by sudden freezes in our roller-coaster winter weather, so it’s a good idea to grow them in pots that can be brought in during extreme weather.

Rather than experimenting with what works best (and doesn’t), try sticking with the tried-and-true for starters. Here’s just a few of them to get your spring-blooming garden going:

Once you’ve picked out your spring or winter bloomers, keep things simple. It doesn’t really matter whether they’re bulbs, corms, tubers or rhizomes. Forget quibbling over botanical plant types - fact is, they’re all grown pretty much alike. The main thing you have to figure out is whether they prefer sun or shade, if they tolerate heavy or wet soils, or if they like to be on the dry side.

Beyond that, you need to know that bulb gardening is just plain different in the South. For one thing, we typically have wet winters, and the soil doesn’t freeze solid. To avoid bulb rot, drainage is important. This means not planting your bulbs in areas where water stands more than an hour or so after a rain. But you don’t have to give up on planting in those areas entirely – simply add raised flower beds or use pots. In most cases, the bulbs should get all the moisture they need from normal rainfall.

If you’re planting your bulbs into your soil and you amend it with bark, compost or even sharp sand, just remember not to overdo it – or you may just create a wet mess (think “bowl of soggy corn flakes”). Instead, plant your bulbs a little less deeply than the directions call for. The rule of thumb is “twice as deep as the bulb is around.” I’ll leave it to you to decide if that means measuring from the top or the bottom of the bulb. The main thing is, don’t plant it too deep.

Of course, there are a few more things to consider with bulb gardening, like which end of a bulb is up? In the end, this really isn’t that big of a deal – those that are not obvious (pointed on one end, or with little root nodes showing on the bottom end) can be planted sideways or even upside down. Even if it’s “wrong,” your bulbs will still grow and flower just fine. Really.

A truly important factor to consider is the amount of sunshine your bulbs will get. Spring bulbs need sunshine on their winter foliage, so planting them on the north side of buildings, fences, hedges or tree trunks isn’t a good idea. That’s because the winter sun is so very low in the Southern sky that the growing plants won’t get the sunshine they need to produce good foliage and flowers. It’s just plain better to plant them on the south, west or east sides of structures.

Don’t forget that if you’ve got squirrels, voles or other bulb-eating critters, you should consider planting your bulbs in wire cages made of half-inch “hardware cloth,” with a chicken wire covering that allows foliage to come through but frustrates would-be diggers. Sure, it’s a lot of trouble, but it has to be done only once.

Last but not least, keep in mind that most bulbs need to be fed early in their growing season, when roots and shoots are most active. Then they should be allowed to slow down during and after flowering. This means you need to work a little all-purpose fertilizer or bulb food into the dirt at planting time, and from then on simply broadcast the fertilizer over the soil surface when you start seeing leaves coming up. For spring bloomers, this is usually sometime in late fall or early winter.

So be sure to take advantage of this amazing time of year. With a little planning, a little digging and lots of bulbs, corms, tubers or rhizomes, you’re sure to be tiptoeing through the tulips (if you pre-chilled them) in no time.