How to Plant and Grow Tulips

Tulips come in an impressive range of colours, shapes and flowering periods.  October and November is the time to plant Tulips bulbs 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 Tulips with Blue 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 and mix varieties which flower at the same time.

Besides 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.  Tulips are not fussy about soil conditions with the exception that they do not grow well in wet soils. Tulip are also classified into early, mid-season and late flowering Tulips.

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. More information about different species of Tulip

Do Tulips come back each year?

A drawback of Tulips is that most types should be treated as annuals and planted fresh 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, but they may not be so impressive.  If you want a Tulip which may return a second, or possible third year the best varieties are those known as 'Darwin hybrids'  which are more likely to return. To give them the best chance of flowering for a second year plant in a sunny spot on well-drained soil. Crocus have a good range of Darwin Hybrids.

Unfortunately, if you garden on a wet acid soil the chances of even Darwin Hybrids returning is not that good and in many gardens Tulips are best treated as annuals. This means if your Tulips do not return to flower each year do not blame yourself, many tulips are designed as bedding plants.  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 require, in many areas,  the time, trouble and expense of replanting each year.   If you want to try to re plant for another year, you can lift Tulips 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.

Holland is synonymous with Tulips and I took the image below at the great bulb garden of Keukenhof. There are 7 million bulbs planted at Keukenhof, and each year they are replanted by a team of 30 gardeners. Keukenhof is just outside Amsterdam and an impressive garden to visit, although the window to do so is small as it is only open for 8 weeks each year.

Tulips at keukenhof

When and How to plant Tulips

Long handled bulb planter

Tulips are planted later than other spring bulbs and the best time is October,  November and even early December. Plant Tulip 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.

I find, if planting a lot of bulbs, they are easier to plant using a long-handled bulb planted, see right. 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, it's hard to get the soil out of the bulb planter, it can clog. A tip is not to try:  dig the next hole and the act of digging the next hole will push the soil plug out the top. You can then use that plug to fill up the previous hole.

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.

How late can I plant Tulips

Tulips can be planted much later than other spring-flowering bulbs, right up to late December in the right conditions. It is easy to get carried away with enthusiasm and buy lots of bulbs,  and then run out of planting time.

Tulips are very likely to flower even if planted in late December providing you plant in frost-free conditions, i.e. a mild spell, and to the correct x3 depth. 

What is a Bulb Lasagne?

This term has gained garden vogue and refers to a container which has layers and layers of bulbs.  The dense arrangements makes for more flowers in the spring. Even though the bulbs are planted on top of each other and under each other they navigate through.

It is best to make a pyramid shape, 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 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. 

Updated 08.01.2020