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Gardener’s Guide to Planting Tulips

Tulips are often termed as being the jewels of the garden. Tulips come in a seemingly endless variety of rich colors, from solids to variegated. Their petals grow into a lovely cup-like shape with decorative stamens. They create a bold statement in the garden, and they look particularly stunning when paired with cultivars of daffodils and hyacinths.

If tulips have caught your eye and you’d like to add them to your garden landscape, our gardener’s guide to planting tulips is a great place to begin. Tulips are a delightful and cheerful treat to look forward to as winter closes its doors. They are hardy perennial plants that grow well when planted in the right conditions.

Tulips will grow in planting zones 4 – 10, but special care should be taken in warmer zones 8 – 10. Check out our tips on planting tulips so that your tulips will grow beautifully in your garden year after year.

Pile of flower bulbs in the garden waiting to be planted.

Selecting Tulip Bulbs to Plant

Tulip bulbs can be purchased from garden centers and bulb-farm catalogs. Take the time to peruse the many varieties that adorn the pages. Doing so will reveal diversity in textures and colors from bold to muted and everything in between. Planting an array of tulip varieties with different bloom times and color variations will allow your garden to shine throughout spring.

Bulbs should be planted soon after you acquire them. Nature never meant for them to be exposed to direct sunlight. Pay close attention to your bulbs before planting them in the ground. Look for tulip bulbs that are dry, firm, and rounded. Discard any bulbs that are squishy, moldy, or that are missing their papery outer layer.

Ideal Soil Composition and pH for Planting Tulips

Tulips thrive in fertile, well-draining soil with an optimal pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Safeguarding that soil drains well is paramount to bulb success. If soil is too soggy, bulbs have a strong likelihood of rotting.

Spacing Tulip Bulbs

Tulip bulbs should be planted 4 to 6 inches from each other, depending on how dense a flower display you seek.

Pink, purple, and multicolored tulips growing in a field.
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When to Plant Tulip Bulbs

Plant tulip bulbs in full sun during the autumn months, well before any hard freezes set in. This gives bulbs the times that they need to establish themselves in the ground before winter’s sleep. As a general rule, aim to plant tulip bulbs when overnight temperatures hover between a cool 40 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Planting time can vary a bit by USDA Grow Zone. Lower numbered zones should plan on planting bulbs early in September through the month of October, while those in warmer climates can do their planting in late November or December.

Tulips require a chilling time-period of at least 10-16 weeks before they pop through the soil in early spring. These cool temperatures are what sparks the process inside the bulb so that growth can begin.

The fall season is the only optimal time to plant these spring-blooming bulbs. Planting at this time, ensures that bulbs establish themselves and then enter the cooling phase in time for spring bloom. Healthy tulip bulbs are also most readily available for purchase at this time, as they are reaped during the summer months.

Planting Tulips

When planting flower bulbs this fall, the flattened root sides of bulbs should face down, and the pointed end should face upward toward the soil surface. If you cannot determine which side is which, use your best judgment. Planting tulip bulbs that are small enough will rectify their positions once the sun’s warmth and watering wake them up.

  1. Select the best location, by planting your bulbs in an area free from root competition that can steal needed moisture and nutrients from the tulip bulbs.  Check soil conditions and amend if needed, poor or failed flowering may occur when soil conditions are lacking.
  2. Tulips thrive in the sun but can suffer from heat stress. In warmer zones, 8 through 10, try to protect your tulips from the hot afternoon sun. To do this, plant tulips near shrubs or trees on the southeast side of your property to shade them in the afternoon.
  3. Loosen the soil approximately 12 inches deep and mix in well-decomposed compost in the planting bed.
    Dig holes that are 8 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. Plant very large bulbs slightly deeper.
  4. Place one bulb in each hole, with the pointed side up.
  5. Gently backfill the holes and cover the bulbs. Pack the soil down gently and firm in.
  6. Cover with a layer of mulch. Adding mulch will regulate moisture levels and insulate bulbs and protect the soil from heaving and eroding over the winter.
Large group of flower pots filled up with tulips and snowdrop plants.

When to Water Tulips

Water bulbs immediately after planting. This action will trigger the bulb to start the growing process. Water bulbs regularly when rain is not in the forecast and never allow water to pool up in the area where you have your tulip bulbs planted.

Tulip Pests and Diseases

Be on the lookout for some telltale signs of disease that can afflict tulips. Planting tulips in fertile, well-draining soil is the first line of defense against disease. But keep a keen eye on your bulbs and plants for the following problems and act quickly to dispose of the plant so it won’t spread.

  • Pythium Root Rot: New shoots may not emerge when root rot sets in. The bulbs will also develop soft gray or brown spots. Adequate drainage can lessen the chances of this disease.
  • Botrytis Blight: This is a fungus also identified as tulip fire. This fungal infection affects all aspects of the tulip plant, causing spots on stems, flower petals, and bulbs.
  • Stem & Bulb Nematodes: Bulbs develop gray to brown patches that feel spongy. Bulbs might feel lighter than expected at planting time, and the bulb’s interior is mealy in texture.

Deer and squirrels love to munch on tulip flowers, and moles and voles have been known to engorge on bulbs after they have been planted. To deter wildlife such as deer from decimating your garden bed of flower bulbs, try sprinkling chili powder on bulbs and around plants.

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close up of yellow tulips in garden.
close up of an orange tulip in garden.

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