Spring bulbs like tulips are properly planted in fall because they need a period of cold before blooming. Sometimes, however, tulips plants are received as a gift or a mislaid bag of bulbs is found after the ground freezes in winter. Spring-planted tulips can survive; they may just need a year to gather nutrients and readjust their internal clocks.
The official Netherlands Tourism website concedes that tulips are natives of Central Asia, and didn't originate in Holland. They were brought to Europe by a Viennese biologist in the late 16th century and by the early 1600s, the flowers, called "tulips" after the Turkish name for turbans, had become widespread. The enterprising Dutch saw an opportunity in raising the bulbs, because their seaside country had such mild winter and summers.
Tulips grow from true bulbs. Bulbs are specialized roots that grow in ways that collect food after each season’s bloom to provide nutrients for the next season. This ability is especially important for plants that bloom in early spring as they are emerging from dormancy. Planting tulip bulbs in the spring rushes a bulb’s reproductive phase and may throw off its bloom and nutrient cycle for a year, according to North Carolina State University Extension.
The Royal Tulip Society of the Netherlands has established several categories for the thousands of varieties of tulips. Early tulips grow on stout stems and bloom with the last cold weather of winter, late single tulips are the tall tulips that bloom after most other types and 'Kaufmania' tulips are very small tulips used in rock gardens and borders. The 'Emperor' tulip is the largest tulip and 'Rembrandt' tulips are descendants of remarkable colorations caused by a mosaic virus. Hybrid types include 'Darwins,' 'Triumph,' 'Vindiflora,' fringed, parrots, doubles and lily-flowered. Late-flowering varieties are more likely to take spring planting in stride.
Before planting any tulip, make sure that it is hardy in your area. Early types are generally cold-hardy but if summers are hot, the bulbs may die. Spring-planting these bulbs will produce no plants that spring; planting tulips that are not cold-hardy in your area will produce the same result. Allow gift tulips received over the winter or early spring to die and dry out then examine the bulbs to make sure they are healthy before attempting to re-plant them.
Plant tulips as early as possible or store bulbs in moist peat moss in the refrigerator; hardy tulips should be planted whenever the ground becomes workable. Although tulips tolerate some shade, spring-plant bulbs in full sun to give tulip plants more light to catch up to their growth cycle, according to plant retailers American Meadows. Plant bulbs as you would in the fall but add a handful of bone meal or bulb fertilizer to the soil below the bulb to encourage root development before hot weather begins. Store late spring gift tulip bulbs in the refrigerator for fall planting.