Tulip bulbs perform best when planted in soil that is less than 60 degrees F. The ground should be cool, not frozen. In regions with a harsh winter, plant in late fall rather than winter. In areas with a normal to mild winter, bulbs can be planted from October through January. The bulb thrives with a cold winter to flourish in the spring.
Select bulbs early in the season. Late-season bulbs will be of lesser quality and offer fewer blooms. Avoid bulbs with cuts, scrapes or mold.
Prepare the soil for planting by adding a compost or fertilizer to enrich the soil. Till the area with a hand tiller or roto-tiller to work this mixture into the soil.
Dig a hole with a small hand shovel 6 inches deep. In sandy areas or areas with a mild winter, dig 8-inch-deep holes to reach optimal soil and protect the bulbs.
Place the bulb pointed side up in the hole. This will allow for at least 4 inches of soil to cover the bulb. Add a bulb fertilizer to the top of the bulb and cover with soil. Plant five tulips per square foot for a full display of flowers. Maintain the same depth for each bulb planted. This will allow them to bloom at the same rate. Deeper plants offer later blooms.
Firm the soil around the bulb and water thoroughly. Cover the ground with straw in milder climates to preserve the cool temperatures of the soil. Do not water again until leaves sprout, then resume a normal watering pattern.