Order or purchase bulbs well in advance of bloom time. In most growing zones (generally 3 through 9), spring-blooming bulbs need to spend late fall and winter in the ground in order to bloom. In the absence of eight to 10 weeks of cold weather, they will fail to form roots needed for complete growth. Summer bulbs, on the other hand, most often require spring planting and late-summer removal, to avoid the cold. In the warmest Southern states, spring bulbs may need to be treated like summer ones.
Provide hospitable soil for your bulbs. Soil amendments, such as sand, gravel, peat moss or other organic matter, provide necessary drainage. In very rocky, chronically wet or heavy clay soil, bulbs are prone to rot. Put bulbs in planters or pots lightening your soil is particularly difficult. Whether bulbs are planted in the ground or in pots, add bone meal or other bulb food to insure good nutrition. Side-dress established year-round tulip or daffodil plantings every spring with bulb food, to sustain good growth.
Start your bulbs right side up. Most bulbs resemble an onion in shape. The narrow pointy end (daffodils may have more than one) is the source of upward leaves and flowers. The flatter end usually shows a circular mark or collection of shreddy wisps; these are the remnants of last season's roots, and this end goes down into the soil. Corms, the word used for several kinds of summer bulbs, may be a little harder to interpret; ask your local nursery if you cannot be certain of bottom and top. Remember, also, that bulbs are programmed to grow. Even those planted upside down by new gardeners usually remedy the problem and grow as they should. They may come up a bit later than your neighbors', but they will grow.
Plant bulbs at the depths required by your climate. Most small fall-planted spring bulbs, like crocus, snowdrops or scilla, are planted between 3 and 4 inches deep. Plant large bulbs, like daffodils, tulips, crown imperials and other spring bloomers, at depths of 6 to 8 inches, unless your local county extension recommends deeper planting to prevent freezing.
Provide post-bloom care as required to maintain your bulbs. In the case of most spring bulbs, this will mean letting at least part of the foliage die off naturally after the bulb has accumulated nutrition it will need to bloom next year. "Lift"---remove and store---warm-climate spring bulbs and nearly all summer bulbs and corms (gladiolus, canna, begonia), as needed in your area. Store lifted bulbs in a dry cool area until they can be replanted to bloom again.
Protect bulbs planted in pots to ensure next season's blooms. Sink pots into the ground or a trench of wood chips at the first sign of frost, to "winter over." This provides the cold needed for next spring's growth, while preventing the soil in small pots from freezing solid, bulbs and all.