Though Mother’s Day is traditionally when tomatoes and other warm weather plants go in the ground for many zones across the U.S., email promotions from all the gardening companies are already talking about fall. Bulb catalogs have started landing in my mailbox, and it’s perfect timing—because, believe it or not, right now, amidst the craziness of getting your summer garden in, is when you need to plan for fall garden tasks.

The blooms you see now were planted in fall

Gardening, I find, is about backtracking. If you want sunflowers in July and they need six weeks to grow, you need to start them in early May. If you want tulips and color next spring, you need to get those bulbs into the ground this fall, and to have the widest selection available to you, you need to shop now. By the time fall rolls around, you’re incredibly unlikely to remember what bulbs you need or what areas to fill in, because they bloomed so long ago. Now, while bulbs are still blooming or have just finished, is the perfect time to take note of what you’ll need, marry it to what’s available for fall planting, and place orders. 

Start record keeping all spring and summer

I’ve advocated for garden journaling multiple ways. I have a well-worn notebook where I jot down observations, plans and garden sketches, but I also keep a visual diary of my garden every week or so. No matter what kind of learner you are, there’s a method out there that will fit you—whether it’s voice notes or making a list. The idea is to take a record of the garden as it changes, so you have notes to refer back to long after the season has changed. Your garden is an always-evolving landscape.

For instance, though there are hundreds of tulips in the ground at my house, we had an unusually hard winter this year and many did not come back. The ice also caused many colored tulips to revert, a process in which tulips that were bred from red or yellow to be wilder colors will go back to standard red and yellow. I’ll be adding and replacing some bulbs this year, but since they’ll have died back by September, having overhead photos of the areas I want to replant, with the bulbs in bloom, is essential. Otherwise, I’ll be flying blind in the fall. Even if I can find the bulbs in the ground, I won’t have any idea what color flowers each one produces without these photos. This process of taking photos to help you plant in fall is really important for blank spaces you want to fill in. While they seem obvious now, they won’t be in fall as they fill in with summer blooms. 

Build in earlier blooms

Spring is when bulbs start to pop up—the irises, tulips, and daffodils. To extend the season longer, begin planting bulbs that bloom earlier, all the way into late winter. There is a dazzling array of crocuses to be planted, across a color spectrum of purple, blue, orange and yellow. Snowdrops may seem pedestrian, but in late winter any sign of life is welcome. Anemone follow shortly thereafter, with flowers that look like low poppies, and then come the parade of daffodils. If daffodils seem too generic, you have to see the new varieties where shades vary from pale pinks to orange, and double-blooming faces have all sorts of distinctive characteristics. Use a bulb blooming calendar to start blooms as early as possible. 

Define a color band for your garden

For a long time I wasn’t deliberate about my color choices and indiscriminately threw flowers in the ground. If you do this, you’ll come to notice that your garden is mostly white, pink and purple flowers. Over the last few years, I’ve developed a rule that white flowers are no longer allowed. But more specifically, I only plant bold colors: orange, red, yellow, purple, blue and magenta. When I choose bulbs, I ensure that they’re within my palette, and I try to ensure they’re distributed in a way that works: an ombre across the front yard, or a solid line of purple and red up the driveway. This can only be achieved by keeping notes year to year as everything blooms. For instance, as much as I love my yard flooding with irises right now, they’re universally purple blooms. I’ll be pulling out about two thirds of them this fall and replacing them with blue, red and yellow irises for more variety. I have made arrangements to trade a few of my pink peonies for yellow and red versions that gardeners nearby have. 

Add planters to help move color across the yard

Bulbs like tulips and peonies tend to come up when the rest of your yard is still sleeping from winter and looks bare. This color helps make the yard look alive, but only where you have bulbs planted. Planters can help fill spaces with color where a planting bed doesn’t exist. Pay attention to the yard now, looking around where a pop of color would help your yard look more alive. Grab a colorful ceramic planter while on sale this summer, and then come this fall, use a lasagna method to plant it with bulbs. 

Bulbs will still be available in the late summer and fall, even if some varieties are sold out. You don’t have to rush right now to place orders. What you do need to do is stop and take a look around every week or two—literally stop and smell the roses. Take pictures and notes, enough reference material for you to go back to in fall, when you are ready to make a plan and place orders. The payoff in spring is worth it.