How to Plant and Grow Tulips

Tulips come in a vast range of colour, shapes and flowering periods.  October and November is the time to plant Tulips for a spring display. If you are planting tulips to flower together to create a certain colour scheme, or look,  such as a pale pink bulbs with dark purple, or pink with forget me nots,   it is important to check is flowering time. We think of Tulips as spring flowering, and they are, but it is a long spring period from early March until May. If you are combining colours you need to pick varieties which flower at the same time.

In addition to colour range, there are also a lot of different types of Tulips. There are single flowering, doubles, dwarf and parrot. Tulips also vary in height from 15-30cms. Tulips are versatile and can be grown in containers, beds or in large drifts.  Generally Tulips are not fussy about soil conditions with the exception that they do not grow well in wet soils.Tulip are also divided into early, mid season and late flowering Tulips.

A drawback of Tulips is that most types usually need to be treated as annuals and planted every year. If you garden on a dry, light alkaline soil you have much better prospects that the Tulips will re appear in following years. In addition, if you plant those varieties known as 'Darwin hybrids' are more likely to return  each year. The bulbs may be not as large and the stems of the plants shorter. 

Unfortunately, if you garden on a wet acid soil you are best to consider Tulips as annuals. In addition, with wet and acid soils it is better to adopt a later planting of Tulips, definitely November, even December. It is also prudent to wait for a spell when it is at least reasonably dry so the Tulips do not start off in soggy conditions.

Tulips make a great show as the images illustrate but they do require, in many areas,  the time, trouble and expense of replanting each year. It is possible to try and get them to reflower but it's not always successful.  With good soil conditions,  fine and alkaline, Tulips may reappear. In other conditions to get Tulips to reflower  it is necessary to lift and dry the bulbs about 6 weeks when they have finished flowering. Clean off and dry thoroughly and store in dark until ready for planting in the Autumn. Often it is simply easier to replant each year and to enjoy different colour combinations.

There are a lot of different types of tulips, up to 15 varieties and then dozens of shapes and colours within each varieties. For a good display look for varieties that flower together and plant on mass so there is a really good showing.  The Pinterest pages have some really good ideas and colours.

When and How to plant Tulips

Long handled bulb planter

Tulips are planted later than other spring bulbs and the best time is October and November. Tulips need to be planted deep rather than shallow, and at least three times the depth of the bulb. Planting bulbs too shallow is the main cause of lack of flowering in the spring.

Tulips and all bulbs are easiest to plant using a long handled bulb planted, see left. If the ground  is hard you can stand on it to dig in, and  it's much easier than using a trowel or a short handled type. When the soil is wet and heavy, especially in the winter, its hard to get the soil out of the bulb planter. Don't try, dig the next hole and it will push the soil plug out the top and pick that up to fill in the previous hole.

Dig hole 3 times size of bulb, planted pointed end up and refill with soil plug

When to plant Tulips into Containers

tulips in large containers

Gardening guides suggest that some bulbs such as daffodils are planted in September and other bulbs such as Tulips are planted in October, November even as late as December. So what to do if you are planting up containers of mixed bulbs?

Unlike planting in the soil, you can plant mixed tubs of spring bulbs all together in September and early October and all will be well.  Curiously, the Tulips are happy in containers even if planted earlier in the year, but only in containers. If they are going in the ground it is definitely later in the year.

What is a Tulip lasagne? This term has gained garden vogue and refers to a container which has layers and layers of Tulips.  The dense arrangements makes for more flowers in the spring. Surprisingly if Tulips are on top of each other under the soil they navigate a way through. It is best to make a sort of pyramid, with the latest flowering at the bottom and the earlier, smaller bulbs at the top. The same principle would apply to a mixed container. Tulips will be  happy planted quite deeply. Whilst 3 times the bulb size is the rule of thumb, if you are planting into a large container necessity means the bottom layer will be quite deep, could be up to 25cms, and if so it is best that layer is Tulips. 

How to plant spring bulbs

Planting spring bulb

planting spring bulbs make a hole with planter

Make a hole with the bulb planter

Which way up?

planting spring bulbs pointed end up

Always plant spring bulbs pointy end up

How deep ?

planting spring bulbs make a hole 3x bulb depth

The rule is always plant spring bulbs 3 x the depth of the bulb.

Finish off

planting spring bulbs replace soil plug

Finish off by covering up the bulb replacing the soil plug.

There are lots of images of Tulips and other spring bulbs on the Pinterest page. 

If you like spring bulbs, and enjoy combining a holiday with some gardening interest,  a good trip is to Keukenhof, near Amsterdam. The bulb fields are fantastic to see and you can walk or cycle around them. The Keukenhof gardens  are in the bulb field area, and can be reached by an easy bus ride from Amsterdam. You can stay in Amsterdam and enjoy all the sights of the city, and also have a day out in the countryside seeing the wonderful spring bulbs. 

When to plant Tulips into containers