How to Plant Tulip Bulbs in the Spring

Overview

A spring-flowering bulb, tulips are usually planted outdoors to the garden in fall so they have time to establish roots. Potted tulips are also readily available in late winter, sold as Easter gifts or to bring some color indoors while it is still cold outdoors. These potted tulips can be transplanted out to the garden in spring, though they will not bloom again until the following year. Potted tulips have usually been forced into bloom, so proper care prior to planting out to the garden is necessary if they are to survive to bloom the following year.

Preparing for Transplanting

Step 1

Cut off the flower stalk at the base once the tulip flower begins to wilt. This stops seed production, allowing the plant to focus its energy on restoring its bulb for next year.

Step 2

Place the tulip in a windowsill where it receives at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. This allows the foliage to produce nutrients for bulb development.

Step 3

Water as needed to keep the soil moist but not soggy until the foliage dies back on its own. Water with a soluble, balanced plant food once every two weeks, following the application rate recommended on the package.

Step 4

Cut the foliage off at the soil line once it yellows and dies back on its own. This usually occurs about six weeks after blooming stops.

Step 5

Allow the soil in the pot to dry once the foliage has died. Dig the bulb out off the dry soil and inspect it for soft spots that indicate rot or disease. Only plant healthy bulbs out to the garden.

Planting Outdoors

Step 1

Lay a 2-inch layer of compost over the garden bed, and till it into the top 6 inches of soil. This aids drainage and adds nutrients to the soil.

Step 2

Plant the tulip bulb at a depth 3 times its width, which is approximately 8 inches deep for most tulip varieties. If planting multiple bulbs, space the bulbs 4 to 6 inches apart.

Step 3

Water the soil thoroughly after planting, soaking it until it feels moist at a 6-inch depth if you stick your finger into it. Lay a 2-inch layer of mulch over the planting to help retain the soil moisture over summer.

Step 4

Fertilize the tulip bulbs in fall, about six weeks before the first expected frost. Apply 5 tbsp. of 10-10-10 soluble fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per every 10 square feet of bulb bed. The tulip produces its new roots at this time, so fertilization helps encourage healthy root development.

Step 5

Lay a 3-inch layer of straw mulch over the tulip bulbs after fall fertilization to help insulate them over winter. Tulips that survived the transplanting process will bloom in spring.

Tips and Warnings

  • Forced bulbs may not survive to bloom again. It depends on the tulip variety and how much stress the plant suffered during forcing. Plants that produced large, healthy flowers and had healthy foliage prior to transplanting are most likely to survive.

Things You'll Need

  • Shears
  • Fertilizer
  • Compost
  • Mulch
  • Bonemeal

References

  • North Dakota State University: Questions on Tulips
  • University of Illinois Extension: Bulbs and More- Planting and Care
Keywords: spring tulip planting, growing tulip bulbs, spring flowering bulbs

About this Author

Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications, including the "Dollar Stretcher." Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.