Tulips are hardy plants that require a chilling period in order to grow roots and become established to grow springtime flowers. They're planted during the fall and left in the ground all year in cooler climates. If you stumble upon unplanted bulbs or pick up some on clearance at your local nursery in February, plant them right away. Though there's no guarantee your tulips will grow, it’s worth a try, especially if the bulbs appear healthy and warm weather isn’t expected for at least six weeks.
Examine your tulip bulbs. They should be firm and free from soft spots. Bulbs should be full and plump. Discard shriveled and soft bulbs or, if desired, plant them in the back of the garden or another inconspicuous spot.
Choose an area of your garden that's sunny, even after trees sprout leaves. Because tulips planted in the fall start growing before tree leaves appear, bulbs can be planted in a shady area of your yard. However, because your February-planted tulips are off to a late start, they'll need springtime sun.
Work the soil with a tiller or hoe to a depth that is four times deeper than your tulip bulbs. For example, if your tulip bulbs are 2 inches tall, work the soil to a depth of 8 inches. If your soil is frozen, refrigerate the bulbs and wait for the soil to thaw. If desired, refrigerate them for six weeks and force them to grow indoors.
Incorporate about 3 to 4 inches of organic matter into the soil. Compost or peat moss works well.
Plant your tulip bulbs with the tips facing up. They should be planted twice as deep as their height. For example, if your tulips are 2 inches tall, the tips of the bulbs should be 4 inches beneath of the soil. Space smaller bulbs (about an inch tall) about 2 to 3 inches apart. Plant larger bulbs about 5 to 6 inches apart.
Backfill the soil and lightly pack it down. Water the bulbs slowly with about an inch of water so it has a change to seep into the ground before nighttime when it might freeze on top.