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How to Plant Tulip Bulbs in January

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How to Plant Tulip Bulbs in January

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Overview

Tulips are a magnificent spring-flowering bulb made famous by the Dutch and loved worldwide. Bulbs are best planted in autumn when the soil is workable and they are exposed to a prolonged chilling period, which is required to form the flower. January is very late in the tulip planting schedule, but it can be done if the soil is not frozen. Alternatively, forcing the bulbs in a container after ample cooling may lead to flowering success later in spring.

Outdoor Planting

Step 1

Test your soil with a shovel. Depending on your climate, January may find it impossible to dig a hole to plant the bulbs since the ground is frozen. If the soil is inpenetrable, you cannot plant, and your only option is to force the bulbs, described below. If your soil is workable and unfrozen, you can still plant the bulbs, but do so as early in January as possible.

Step 2

Note the width of the tulip bulb. Make the hole three to four times as deep as the bulb is wide. For example, if the bulb is 2 inches wide, plant it 6 to 8 inches below the soil surface. Read any planting recommendations on the product package that may be specific for this variety of tulip, and follow those instructions.

Step 3

Place the tulip bulb at the bottom of the hole, with the broad, rounded side down and the more pointed tip facing upwards. Replace the soil and fill the hole, tamping it down gently with your hand.

Step 4

Repeat steps 2 and 3 until all tulip bulbs are planted.

Step 5

Allow Mother Nature to water and chill the bulbs. If ample cold reached and primed the tulip bulbs, they will sprout and flower later in spring as the weather in your climatic region dictates.

Forcing Bulbs

Step 1

Purchase an all-purpose potting soil and container with bottom drainage holes that will house your tulip bulbs. Avoid shallow containers, those less than 6 to 8 inches in depth.

Step 2

Place 2 inches of potting mix into the container. Moisten the soil in the bag if needed to make it less dusty or easier to scoop out and handle.

Step 3

Place the tulip bulbs atop the layer of soil in the container with their rounded, wide side down and the pointed tip facing upwards. Space them side by side for maximum effect and efficiency. Keep at least a 1-inch gap around the edge of the container where no bulbs rest.

Step 4

Fill the container with potting mix, burying the bulbs with at least 4 inches of soil, but no more than 6 inches. Keeping the soil line 1/2- to 1-inch below the container's rim prevents runoff when you water the container.

Step 5

Water the container gently until water drips out of the bottom drainage holes. The soil must be evenly moist throughout the container when done.

Step 6

Chill the bulbs in their container for 6 to 10 weeks in an environment that is between 25 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be in a cellar, unheated basement or garage or in the refrigerator. Mark the date on your wall calendar when the chilling treatment begins.

Step 7

Check on the soil moisture of the container every 10 to 20 days. Add small amounts of water as needed to keep the soil slightly moist. On occasion , every 14 to 30 days, water the container heavily until it drains through the bottom holes. Replace the container into the chilling environment as soon as possible.

Step 8

Remove the container from the chilling treatment 6 to 10 weeks after it began. Place the container outdoors if spring weather is present, or in a warm, sunny window in the home. Wait for the bulbs to emerge foliage and eventual flowers in the ensuing weeks.

Step 9

Discard the bulbs and tulip plants into the compost pile once the flowering ends. They are not best kept to perennialize or to replant outdoors in most warm summer climates and soils in the United States.

Tips and Warnings

  • Tulip bulbs must not freeze, so if you are applying a cold treatment, do not place them in the freezer. Do not place apples and other fruits in the same refrigerating compartment as the tulip bulbs. The gases released by the fruits can wither the bulbs, even if planted in soil.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Garden trowel
  • Potting soil
  • Container with drainage holes
  • Unheated garage or refrigerator

References

  • Univ. of Minnesota Extension Service: Forcing Bulbs for Indoor Beauty in Winter
  • North Dakota State Univ: Questions on Tulips

Who Can Help

  • Univ. of Wisconsin Extension: Plant Spring Bulbs Now
Keywords: tulips, bulb forcing, when to plant tulips

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for Learn2Grow.com's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.