Tulip Bulb Care

Overview

Tulips are perennial flowers grown from bulbs. They are native to the Hindu Kush mountains and the steppes of Kazakhstan, but they are famous for being the flower at the heart of the Dutch tulip mania and market crash of 1637. They are popular with home gardeners because of their colorful blooms and because they are not difficult to grow.

Soil and Sun

Plant tulip bulbs in soil that has a pH between 6 and 7 and that is well drained. Amend heavy clay soils with compost or peat moss before planting. Do not plant bulbs in soil that has been treated with a herbicide containing triazine. Tulips will grow in partial shade or perfect sun, but it is better if they don't receive full midday sun. The flowers will last longer and the bulbs will mature properly if the plant does not suffer water stress.

Planting

Plant the bulbs in October or November. Add 1 oz. of bone meal per square foot in loose soil under the area where you are going to plant your bulbs. Plant 1-inch bulbs 5 inches deep, 1 to 5 inches apart. Plant bulbs 2 inches or larger 8 inches deep, 4 to 8 inches apart. Put the bulbs upright in the hole with the pointed side up and cover them with half the soil that you removed. Water them thoroughly and add the remaining soil. Fertilize with 3 to 4 lbs. of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet. Alternatively, add 1 rounded tsp. per square foot of slow-release fertilizer with the bone meal. Top with 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch and water thoroughly.

Spring Care

When the tulips emerge in the spring, fertilize the area with 1 to 2 lbs. per 100 square feet of 10-10-10 fertilizer. If petals fall to the ground, remove them; they might be diseased. Remove blossoms when they finish blooming. The stems and leaves feed the bulb, so leave them alone. Remove bulbs for replanting when the leaves start turning yellow. If you want to lift the bulbs, remove them when the leaves are dead and store them in a dry place.

Storing

Put your tulip bulbs in dry sand or peat moss or wrap them in a paper towel. Put them in a paper bag or an egg carton. Store them in a cool, dark place. Check your stored bulbs carefully. Mice and slugs can feed on them. They can also develop molds. Get rid of any damaged bulbs.

Splitting

Small bulbs called offsets grow at the roots on the bottom of tulip bulbs. The growing offsets compete with the mother bulb for food and water. These may produce more plants but with fewer blooms because of the competition for nutrition. You can split or divide bulbs so you can move the growing offsets to a new location. To split tulip bulbs, dig them up about six weeks after the plant blooms and the leaves begin to wilt and turn brown. Brush away the dirt and gently separate the bulbs. Throw away offsets that are damaged or rotten.

Keywords: tulip bulb care, growing tulips, how to grow tulips

About this Author

Richard Hoyt, the author of 26 mysteries, thrillers and other novels, is a former reporter for Honolulu dailies and writer for "Newsweek" magazine. He taught nonfiction writing and journalism at the university level for 10 years. He holds a Ph.D. in American studies.