Holland may enjoy the international glory as being the cradle of modern tulip production and tourism, but tulips (Tulipa spp.) are native to other parts of Europe, central Asia and the Middle East. Growing from underground bulbs, tulips must endure a prolonged chilly dormancy in winter in order to produce the attractive flowers in spring. Today's many varieties of hybrid tulips of complex lineage allow gardeners to enjoy a wide array of flower colors, shapes and precise timing of bloom in springtime. Outdoors, tulips are best grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 through 8.
Planting the Tulip Bulb
Prepare a garden location where the fertile soil is crumbly and moist, but well draining. It must receive at least six hours of direct sunlight in spring when the tulip bulb's foliage emerges and grows.
Follow any directions supplied in the tulip bulb packaging regarding specific planting tips for the variety of tulips. In general, you need to plant the bulb four times as deep as the bulb is tall. For example, if the tulip bulb is 2 inches tall, it should be planted 8 inches deep.
Dig a hole with the hand-held garden trowel (small shovel) to the appropriate depth, using a ruler as a guide. Make the hole wide enough for you to be able to reach your hand in it to the bottom so you can plant the bulb well. Keep some loose soil in the bottom of the hole so it provides a flat, not rounded or uneven, base to rest the bulb.
Place one tulip bulb in the bottom of the hole, making sure you plant the bulb with the wider side down and the tapering, pointed side up.
Replace the soil into the hole, burying the tulip bulb. Fill the hole until it is level with the surrounding soil level in the garden, and gently tamp the soil to remove any air pockets. Add a little soil, if needed after the tamping, to match the soil level in and out of the planting hole.
Continue planting the balance of the tulip bulbs, spacing the planting holes anywhere from 6 to 10 inches apart.
Allow natural rainfall or the usual garden irrigation to maintain the area where the tulip bulbs are over the winter months. There is no need for fertilizing as the bulb contains all the energy needed to grow and display one tulip flower next spring.
Watch for the emergence of the tulip bulbs in early to mid-spring. Do not walk over the planting area to prevent any damage to the emerging shoots. Also keep pets from rummaging or digging in the garden bed.
Water the soil if the spring weather is unusually dry when natural rainfall is lacking the the soil feels bone dry to the touch. There is no need to over-water.
Allow the foliage to remain and produce food for the underground bulbs that are developing after the tulip is finished flowering. Do not cut it off.
Consider pulling up the tulip foliage with attached bulb after the flowering ends if you live in a region where summers are hot, as it is not likely the tulip bulbs will successfully survive and return the following spring. In regions like the American South, tulips are considered annuals as the warm springs and too warm soil temperatures in summer often degrade the bulbs and few return the following spring to produce flowers.