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How Do I Plant Tulip Bulbs?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tulip bulbs are easy to grow in the ground or containers, with fall or winter being the best time to plant, depending on the climate. In cool climates, gardeners should plan on planting tulips around mid-fall, while in warmer climates, it is a good idea to wait until the winter months. Tulips rely on a period of chilling to allow the bulbs to develop so they will come up in the spring. Gardeners can use this tactic to force tulips in pots if they want to grow them indoors.

First, gardeners should select bulbs appropriate for planting. Size is not important, as many varieties come in an assortment of sizes, but the tulip bulbs should be plump and firm to the touch, without spongy or wet spots. If the climate is very warm and the ground never chills in the winter, the bulbs should be stored in a refrigerator or cold closet for several weeks before planting to prepare them for the winter.

Keizerskroon tulips are a hearty variety that were planted as early as 1750.
Keizerskroon tulips are a hearty variety that were planted as early as 1750.

Tulips prefer loose, well-drained soil in sunny to partly shady spots. Gardeners can prepare the soil by digging a trench about twice as deep as the tulips are high, and they should loosen the soil at the bottom of the trench to facilitate rooting. It is also a good idea to add some bulb fertilizer to the soil to promote healthy growth. Once the trench is ready, the gardener can place the tulip bulbs, stem up, in the desired pattern. The bulbs can move around slightly as the ground settles, and it is important to leave space between bulbs.

After all the tulip bulbs are in place, the gardener can use a trowel to gently sift soil over them. It is important to avoid compacting the soil, as this can make it difficult for the bulbs to take root. Once the soil is in place, it is advisable to water the tulip bulbs with a gentle sprinkling from the hose. In cold climates, gardeners can add mulch after planting, or leave the soil exposed. The tulips should start to emerge in early spring.

Cutting tulip flowers back as they die off will help the bulbs store more energy for the following winter, and gardeners should also cut back the leaves after they start to wither, and plan on adding fertilizer in the fall to help the bulbs grow. As tulips mature, they will divide and produce new bulbs, making it necessary to dig them out and redistribute them every two to three years.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

OeKc05

I like using pine straw and dead leaves as mulch on top of the ground after planting fall bulbs. Since I live in the South, I plant them in late November, so there are plenty of brown leaves already on the ground, as well as piles of pine straw underneath the trees. Why pay for mulch when you have it in your own back yard?

I dig a hole seven inches deep for each tulip bulb. I use a metal bulb planter that has markings on the side for inches.

I twist it into the ground until I reach the seven inch mark, and then I pull up to scoop up the dirt. I push in the side of the handle to release the dirt off to the side.

Once I have covered them back up with soil, I put a layer of leaves and pine straw about three inches thick on top of the flower bed. I leave it there even after the stalks emerge in the spring, because it helps keep the weeds down, and the stalks have no problem pushing their way up through it.

kylee07drg

@cloudel – Have you noticed that some colors of bulbs tend to last longer than others? I bought some tulip and hyacinth bulbs four years ago and planted them, but only certain shades performed year after year.

The first year, I had beautiful yellow, peach, pink, and purple tulips and pink and purple hyacinths. All the bulbs were very healthy when I planted them, and the flowers turned out to be glorious.

The next year, only the peach and purple tulips returned, though. The purple hyacinths were also the only ones to come back.

I thought they were all the same variety, but I'm not sure. It could just be that certain colors have a stronger genetic makeup. Has anyone else had this experience with bulb flowers?

cloudel

@Perdido – Tulips and daffodil bulbs are always a part of my flower garden. I planted both years ago, and I have seen them return every spring.

Some people told me that my tulips might stop blooming after a year or two. They said that I would get three years maximum out of them.

With my first attempt at planting, they were right. I had bought some super cheap bulbs, though, and they only bloomed for the first year.

The next fall, I bought some really nice bulbs from a garden store. They have returned every spring for the past five years. I would advise anyone in the market for tulip bulbs to buy them from a garden center, even if you have to spend a few more dollars, because the return will be awesome.

Perdido

I have planted several types of flower bulbs in my life, but tulips are my favorite. I can remember looking at a catalog full of tulip photos when I was a kid, and I dreamed of having some of my own one day.

They are really easy to care for. Seriously, once you get them in the ground and have them all covered up, all that's left to do is wait for them to spring up and bloom. I never have to water my bulbs, because they really don't need more than an occasional rainfall will give them.

The one thing that I do is cut the stalks back once the petals have fallen off so that they don't go to seed. I don't ever trim the leaves back, though. They need to turn brown and die on their own so that they can give the bulb energy for the following spring.

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    • Keizerskroon tulips are a hearty variety that were planted as early as 1750.
      By: zimmytws
      Keizerskroon tulips are a hearty variety that were planted as early as 1750.