What Happens If You Plant Bulbs Upside Down?


Are you curious about what happens if you plant bulbs upside down? 

The good news is that bulbs planted upside down will grow, just not as well as those you plant correctly.

Bulb tops and bottoms can be hard to distinguish, so I put together this short guide to clarify how to plant bulbs correctly. 

Inside, I explain if it matters how you plant a bulb and detail how to identify the tops and bottoms of popular flower bulbs. By the end, you’ll be a bulb planting pro with a garden of gorgeous flowers to show for it!

Does It Matter Which Way You Plant A Bulb?

Yes, it does matter how you position your bulbs in the ground. 

To give a bulb the least stressful path to growth, placing the sprouting side up is critical. Doing so allows the shoot to push directly to the surface, allowing the bulb to reach the sunlight it needs to flourish quickly.

The good news is that even planting bulbs upside down will result in a viable plant. 

The issue is that the shoot now has to find its way to the surface in a roundabout way. This extra effort takes up precious energy and can result in a plant with less vigor and a fleeting bloom.

To avoid stressing your plants, read the tips below on how to know which end is up when planting bulbs.

When Planting Bulbs Which End Is Up?

Many popular flowers and plants are grown from bulbs. Knowing which bulb end is up will make planting much faster and give the plant the best chance for optimal growth.

Utilize this handy list of 10 garden favorites to help end bulb top and bottom confusion.

1. Calla Lily Bulbs

The calla lily bulb is known as a rhizome, which is more challenging to determine the top and bottom.

IDENTIFICATION: Calla lily bulbs are typically wide and flat. They can have several bulbs stuck together. They will have a smooth side and another section with loads of “eyes” or bumpy points. 

TO PLANT: Plant the bulb with the bumpy points facing up.

2. Liatris Bulbs

Liatris grows from a single bulbous bulb.

IDENTIFICATION: Liatris bulbs lacking any root or sprout growth are very round. The trick is to look for a flat circular area near the center of the bulb that is darker than the surrounding flesh.

TO PLANT: Plant the bulb with this circular spot downward, as this is where the roots emerge. 

3. Gladioli Bulbs

Gladioli grow from a single oval or round and flat bulb. 

IDENTIFICATION: Gladioli bulbs will come to a point. The opposite side should have a round, slightly indented spot where the roots have fallen off.

TO PLANT: Plant the bulb with the point facing up. 

4. Elephant Ear Bulbs

Elephant ears have a very large single bulb.

IDENTIFICATION: Elephant ear bulbs are typically tubular or potato-like. They will have and smooth end and another end that has a flat, round spot often with clinging tiny dried filaments.

TO PLANT: Plant the bulb with the flat spot down. 

5. Tulip Bulbs

Tulips have a single bulb that looks much like a small onion.

IDENTIFICATION: Tulip bulbs are fairly obvious which side is up and down. They have a pointy end on one side and the other side with a circle featuring remnants of roots. 

TO PLANT: Plant the bulb with the point facing up or the roots facing down. 

6. Amaryllis Bulbs

Amaryllis flowers are unique, but their bulbs are easy to figure out.

IDENTIFICATION: Amaryllis bulbs are large and round. One end will have a slight green color and several layers of cut flesh in a compact oval shape. The other end is flat, often with tendrils of old roots. 

TO PLANT: Plant the bulb with the greenish, cut section facing up. 

7. Dutch Iris Bulbs

Dutch iris flowers come from a single small bulb.

IDENTIFICATION: Dutch iris bulbs are typically small and oblong with a papery skin. They will have a definite pointy end, with the opposite side featuring a small flat spot where roots develop. 

TO PLANT: Plant the bulb with the point facing up. 

8. Caladium Bulbs

Caladium grows from a tuber that forms an odd shape.

IDENTIFICATION: Caladium bulbs vary in size and shape. The tuber can hold several hairy nodes together, making it hard to determine the correct orientation. Inspect the bulb closely, looking for a more smooth side and a side that may have tiny “nodes” or pointy sprouts pushing from the surface.

TO PLANT: Plant the bulb with the nodes facing up. 

9. Dahlia Bulbs

Dahlias grow a network of tubers from each plant that are split into individual bulbs.

IDENTIFICATION: Dahlia bulbs can be round or long and chunky. Most have a bit of dried root growth along at the bottom and pink “eyes” or points pushing up from the top.

TO PLANT: Plant the bulb with the roots down, which is easier to determine when eyes are hard to locate.

10. Cyclamen Bulbs

Cyclamen plants produce one of the most confusing bulbs for gardeners to figure out orientation. 

IDENTIFICATION: Cyclamen bulbs are round, wide, and flat. They often have a smooth convex side and a side with lots of spiky tendrils coming from the center. Roots can form around the outer perimeter of the bulb or from the bottom, depending on the variety.

TO PLANT: Plant the bulb with the spiky tendrils upward, as this is where new growth emerges. The smooth side goes down if root development isn’t evident.

In Summary

Now that you know what happens if you plant bulbs upside down, you can relax since it rarely results in a plant that won’t grow.

But, there’s no reason to plant bulbs the wrong way now that you know the helpful tricks to set them upright every time. 

When you give your plants the best care right from the start, the results will be an extra rewarding and stunning garden!

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