Which Way Up Should You Plant Bulbs?

Some bulbs are shaped in such a way that they practically hold up a neon sign telling you which direction to plant them in. “This way up!” they seem to scream.

Others are far less clear, leaving you scratching your head about how to stick them in the ground.

A close up vertical image of a hand planting out a spring flowering bulb in the garden pictured on a soft focus background. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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You want your plants to succeed, but how on earth can you do that if you can’t tell which way is up?

In this guide, we’ll make the situation more clear – and we’ll also explain why you can plant upside down without worrying. Get ready to discover the following:

To make things easier, it helps to know a bit of anatomy, so get out your notebook or gardening journal and let’s start anatomy class!

Bulb Anatomy

Let’s begin with the inside. This is where the developing bud is, surrounded by the developing leaves. This is the embryo that is just waiting for the right conditions to start growing.

A close up vertical image of a bulb split in half and set on a wooden surface.
Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

On the outside are the scales and the papery covering, which is also called a tunic. The scales are the part that stores the food to feed the developing bud and leaves. At the base is the basal plate and the roots.

Some plants referred to as flower bulbs are actually different structures, such as corms, tubers, or rhizomes. These are slightly different in their form, but the basics of planting are the same.

Which Way Should They Be Planted?

It’s easy, right!? The pointy bit goes up! Most bulbs have a pointed end, which is where the new growth emerges. If the bulbs you are adding to the garden have that, things are pretty straightforward.

But not so fast – what about those that don’t have a pointy end? Gladiolus, alliums, dahlias, and hyacinths can all be a bit more challenging.

A close up horizontal image of a gardener holding out two palms filled with a selection of different bulbs, rhizomes, and tubers for planting.

Look for evidence of roots and a firm base. Almost all of them will have some roots or evidence of where roots have formed or will form, along with a firmer plate.

The top will either have green bits beginning to emerge or will lack the plate and evidence of roots.

Okay, great. But what if you can’t find any roots or a basal plate? Then what?

What Happens if You Plant Upside Down?

The world ends. Nah, just kidding!

Plants are more adaptive than we sometimes give them credit for, and they’ll send new growth out of the bottom – the part that should be upright – no matter what direction they’re facing.

The new growth will curve around and grow up toward the sun and air.

A vertical image of flowering tubers set on the surface of soil with a spade in soft focus in the background.

That doesn’t mean you can go tossing them in any which way.

It takes misplanted ones a little longer to emerge and it’s always better to try to start things out on the right foot. But the bottom line is that it’s no big deal if you accidentally plant upside down.

Head in the Right Direction

There are so many mistakes that we can make when gardening that can spell total disaster, so it’s nice when there’s something that leaves a little room for messing up.

It’s not the end of the world if you can’t figure out which way is up when you are planting. Just do your best and your plants will take care of figuring out which way to grow.

A close up horizontal image of flower bulbs being planted in the garden with a black and wooden trowel stuck in the rich earth.

What kind of plants are you putting in the ground? Are you filling your garden with flowers galore? Or getting next year’s garlic in the ground? Fill us in with a quick message in the comment section below.

For more help on making your flower bulbs into the big, beautiful plants that you desire, check out the following guides next:

Photo of author
Kristine Lofgren is a writer, photographer, reader, and gardening lover from outside Portland, Oregon. She was raised in the Utah desert, and made her way to the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two dogs in 2018. Her passion is focused these days on growing ornamental edibles, and foraging for food in the urban and suburban landscape.

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