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How to Plant Tulips

By Willi Galloway ; Updated September 21, 2017

Among the most reliable and colorful spring-flowering bulbs, Tulips are recognized all over the world as a classic spring bulb. But if you want to ensure that they pop up by Spring, you need to plant them in the fall.

Among the most reliable and colorful spring-flowering bulbs, Tulips are recognized all over the world as a classic spring bulb. But if you want to ensure that they pop up by Spring, you need to plant them in the fall.

Select tulip varieties and types by flower color and form, local adaptation and bloom time. Keep in mind that hybrid tulips look beautiful for the first year, but in the second season the bulbs produce smaller flowers, and after about three years, no flowers at all. Species tulips, including Tulipa greigii and T. kaufmanniana, flower for years, multiply, and sometimes produce more than one flower per bulb.

Purchase high-quality bulbs, free of bruises or soft spots. Good sources are local nurseries, as well as websites and mail-order catalogs.

Arrange for delivery, or make your purchase, so you have the bulbs about six weeks prior to planting. Plant in early fall in cold-winter climates and in late fall to early winter in mild-winter climates.

If you garden in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10, you will need to chill the bulbs for eight to ten weeks prior to planting by placing them in a paper bag and keeping them in the refrigerator. This provides the bulbs with the amount of cold necessary to trigger top performance. You can also purchase pre-chilled bulbs. Keep in mind that tulips should be treated as annuals in this climate, because they will not rebloom unless you dig them up and chill the bulbs the following fall.

Select a sunny planting location with good drainage. Dig in 1 to 2 inches of compost prior to planting.

Dig holes 3 to 4 times as deep as the bulb is wide, usually about 6 to 8 inches deep. Leave 4 to 6 inches between bulbs. The bulbs look best clustered together rather than planted in a line. Save time by digging one large hole or trench rather than several individual holes. Special bulb planters are available, but if you don't want to clutter your tool shed with tools that have only one purpose, a trowel or shovel works just fine.

Add rock phosphate to the bottom of the hole and roughly mix it into the soil. Avoid bulb fertilizers that contain bone or fish bone meal as this can attract squirrels and other critters. Then, place the tulip bulb in the hole, pointed side up, root side down. The base of the bulb should rest firmly on the bottom of the hole.

If squirrels and other critters have snacked on your bulbs in the past consider planting bulbs that repel pests, such as narcissus among the tulips. You can also place chicken wire around the bulb prior to backfilling the hole with soil.

Water the bulbs thoroughly.

 

Things You Will Need

  • Flower bulbs
  • Shovel
  • Garden hose
  • Bulb fertilizer (rock phosphate)such as Lilly Miller or Alaska Brand
  • Compost
  • Garden trowels
  • Chicken wire
  • Tulip bulbs

Tips

  • There are literally hundreds of types and species of tulips to choose from, varying in color (there are even striped tulips), flower form and time of bloom. Consult a good bulb book for details.
  • In mild-winter areas, most tulips won't repeat bloom year after year without being dug up and chilled the following fall. In such areas, however, most gardeners simply treat tulips as annuals, buying new bulbs and replanting each year.

Warnings

  • When chilling tulips in the refrigerator, keep them away from apples and other fruit. Fruit may cause the bulbs to rot prematurely.
  • Without proper chilling (12 to 15 weeks below 45°F), most tulips will not bloom the following year.

Resources

About the Author

 

Willi Evans Galloway loves to read, write, talk about, and teach people how to garden organically and grow their own food. For the past five years, she has worked as the West Coast Editor of Organic Gardening magazine. Willi also recently created www.digginfood.com, a site that serves up gardening and cooking inspiration. Willi lives in Seattle with her husband, four pet chickens, a lawn-destroying labrador, and way too many tomato plants.