How to Grow Tulips

how to grow tulips simple stepshow to grow tulips simple steps

Tulips, treasured bulbs from Turkey, welcome spring around the world. These members of the Lily family are more varied, versatile and vigorous than gardeners realize and can be early, late, fragrant, fringed, ruffled, striped, double, lily-form, multicolored, festive, formal, and from 4” to 30” tall.

When & Where to Plant Tulips

Tulip bulbs are planted in fall in USDA hardiness zones 7 and below. In Zone 8 and higher plant bulbs in late December or January for spring bloom providing bulbs have been chilled at 40-45°F (a refrigerator works well) for 10 weeks prior to planting.

Light: Tulips grow best in full sun in the North and partial shade in the South.

Soil: Plant tulip bulbs, pointed end up, in well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 7. Add compost to improve sandy soils and poorly draining clay soils.

Spacing: Plant bulbs 4-6” apart.

Planting: The general rule of thumb is to plant bulbs three times as deep as the bulb’s length. Traditionally, tulips are planted 6-8” deep. Those who favor deep planting at 12”, claim there is less chance of sprouting in fall, damage by cold air and soil, being heaved up by freezing and thawing, or being eaten by animals. Southern gardeners may prefer to plant their bulbs at a more shallow depth, to take advantage of the exposure to cool air that occurs closer to the soil's surface.

Planting Steps:

tulip spacingtulip spacing
Tulip spacing differs by variety, so check packaging before planting your bulbs pointy ends up.
covering tulip bulbscovering tulip bulbs
Cover your Tulips with 6-8" of loose soil, amended with compost or bulb fertilizer.
pressing down the soilpressing down the soil
Press down firmly to pack the soil in around your Tulip bulbs and to remove air pockets.

Be sure to water in thoroughly if planting in dry soil; enough to wet the planting hole and bulb. This will send a clear message to the bulb that it's time to grow.

How to Grow Tulips Throughout the Season

Growth Habit: Tulips grow upright and erect with each bulb producing a single flower on a leafless, node-less stem.

Staking: Most tulip stems are sturdy and do not need staking. However, hybrids with giant flowers can be top-heavy and require support in spring winds and heavy rain.

Watering: To trigger root system growth before winter dormancy, always water bulbs after planting. Since bulbs are susceptible to rot diseases from excess water, normal rainfall should suffice through spring. In a hot, dry spring additional water may be needed to prolong flowering. Irrigation systems are death on tulips. To keep bulbs dry during summer dormancy turn off irrigation systems on bulb beds or lift bulbs out of beds, clean, and store in mesh bag in a cool dry location out of sunlight.

Fertilizing: Fertilize bulbs at planting time in fall and again in early spring when sprouts emerge. Broadcast a 4-10-6 organic bulb fertilizer at a rate of one teaspoon per bulb.

Mulching: Cover the bulb bed with 2-3” of mulch after planting to insulate the soil, maintain even soil moisture, and stop soil from splashing on the flowers.

Trimming & Pruning: Remove spent blooms to prevent seed formation. Allow stems and leaves to die back naturally to yellow or brown before removing them. If leaves are removed while still green, the bulb won’t store enough food to bloom next year.

  1. Red Hunter Tulip or Wisley Tulip, Tulipa linifolia (Batalinii Group) 'Red Hunter'

    Red Hunter Tulip, also called Wisley Tulip, features brilliant red flowers around a black center. Starting Tulip season with a pop of color and blooming longer than most species tuli...

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    Red Hunter Tulip Red Hunter Tulip or Wisley Tulip Tulipa linifolia (Batalinii Group) 'Red Hunter'
    As low as $13.99 Sale $10.49
    Per Bag of 15
    Red Hunter Tulip, also called Wisley Tulip, features brilliant red flowers around a black center. Starting Tulip season with a pop of color and blooming longer than most species tulips, its mid-to-late spring flowers are surrounded by narrow, upright, silver-green leaves. Plant at the front of the garden or in containers, where the scarlet flowers and attractive foliage will catch your eye. Winner of the RHS Award of Garden of Merit. (Tulipa linifolia Batalinii Group)
  2. Wild Woodland Tulip, Wild Tulip, or Florentine Tulip, Tulipa sylvestris

    Wild Woodland Tulip is an heirloom Wildflower Tulip, or Botanical Tulip, that has been cultivated for hundreds of years. With luminous yellow flowers atop burgundy stems, this tulip ...

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    Wild Woodland Tulip Woodland Tulip, Wild Tulip, or Florentine Tulip Tulipa sylvestris
    As low as $11.99 Sale $8.99
    Per Bag of 15
    Wild Woodland Tulip is an heirloom Wildflower Tulip, or Botanical Tulip, that has been cultivated for hundreds of years. With luminous yellow flowers atop burgundy stems, this tulip will light up the mid to late spring garden and delight with a sweet lemony fragrance. Vigorous, long-lived, and relatively tall for a Species Tulip, Wild Woodland Tulips are a great choice for naturalizing in grassy areas. (Tulipa sylvestris)
  3. Red and White Triumph Tulip Bulbs Candy Cane Mix, Tulipa, Triumph Tulips

    An all time favorite mix of candy cane colors, brilliant reds and whites come into bloom in mid spring. Triumph Tulips Candy Cane Mix lights up any tulip garden with firecracker colo...

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    Candy Cane Triumph Tulip Mix Triumph Tulip Cand Cane Mix Tulipa Candy Cane Mix
    $11.99 Sale $8.99
    Per Bag of 10
    An all time favorite mix of candy cane colors, brilliant reds and whites come into bloom in mid spring. Triumph Tulips Candy Cane Mix lights up any tulip garden with firecracker colors.
  4. Snow White Single Late Tulip, Tulipa Snow White

    There are few flowers as simple and sophisticated as a single white tulip, and ‚Snow White‚ Single Late Tulip, with tall stems and deep green sword-like foliage, is quite...

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    Snow White Single Late Tulip Snow White Single Late Tulip Tulipa Snow White
    $10.65 Sale $7.98
    Per Bag of 10
    There are few flowers as simple and sophisticated as a single white tulip, and 'Snow White' Single Late Tulip, with tall stems and deep green sword-like foliage, is quite possibly the queen of all. This late cultivar extends the tulip season in the garden and adds a touch of elegance and effortless contrast to your most creative spring color experiments. An excellent choice for spring bouquets. (Tulipa)
  5. Warm Glow Tulip Bulb Collection

    Featuring 30 high-quality bulbs, the Warm Glow Tulip Collection brings radiant red, golden orange and blushing yellow blooms to the mid spring garden. Including 10 each of ‚Par...

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    Warm Glow Tulip Bulb Collection Tulip Tulipa
    $29.98 Sale $22.49
    Per Collection of 30
    Featuring 30 high-quality bulbs, the Warm Glow Tulip Collection brings radiant red, golden orange and blushing yellow blooms to the mid spring garden. Including 10 each of 'Parade' Darwin Tulips, 'Jimmy' Triumph Tulips, and 'Akebono' Darwin Tulips, this colorful group features easy growers that tolerate both full-sun and part-shade areas. (Tulipa)
  6. Purple Flag Triumph Tulip, Tulipa Purple Flag

    With clear purple tones, a delicate silky texture, and a versatile height, ‚Purple Flag‚ Triumph Tulip proves that simplicity can be the most powerful tool in the gardene...

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    Purple Flag Triumph Tulip Purple Flag Triumph Tulip Tulipa Purple Flag
    $11.99 Sale $8.99
    Per Bag of 10
    With clear purple tones, a delicate silky texture, and a versatile height, 'Purple Flag' Triumph Tulip proves that simplicity can be the most powerful tool in the gardener’s handbook. This mid-spring tulip with deep green foliage is your answer for easy, vibrant color pairings. Underplant with low-growing annuals, or simply provide a rich backdrop for other patterned tulips. A stunning cut flower. (Tulipa)
  7. Pink Single Early Tulip Bulbs Apricot Beauty, Tulipa, Single Early Tulip

    One of America‚s most popular tulips with luscious, soft salmon rose flowers tinged with light-apricot edges. Apricot Beauty‚s understated elegance is enhanced by its del...

    Learn More
    Apricot Beauty Single Early Tulip Single Early Tulip Apricot Beauty Tulipa Apricot Beauty
    $9.99 Sale $7.49
    Per Bag of 8
    One of America's most popular tulips with luscious, soft salmon rose flowers tinged with light-apricot edges. Apricot Beauty's understated elegance is enhanced by its delicate, pale-green base. Beautiful in the vase and ideal for forcing, this tulip carries a sweet scent.
  8. Single Late Tulip Bulb Mix, Tulipa, Single Late Tulips

    Look at the colors! Single Late Tulips have some of the biggest blooms and brightest colors available. Their blooms come to life after other tulips have begun to fade. What a beaut...

    Learn More
    Single Late Tulip Bulb Mix Single Late Tulip Mix Tulipa Single Late Mix
    $11.99 Sale $8.99
    Per Bag of 10
    Look at the colors! Single Late Tulips have some of the biggest blooms and brightest colors available. Their blooms come to life after other tulips have begun to fade. What a beautiful way to extend your bloom season!

Tulips: End of Season Care

Dividing & Transplanting: Tulips can be divided every 3-5 years when dormant in fall, taking care not to damage bulbs. When tulips stop producing flowers or leaves emerge smaller than normal, bulbs are hinting that they need more room to grow. Dividing tulip offsets from the mother bulb is one solution. Offsets take several years to reach maturity. Offsets produce exact copies of the parent plant.

After tulips blossom, their energy budget goes to seed production. If you want the tulips to flower next year, removing the developing seed capsules allows the sun to feed the foliage. In turn, the foliage feeds the bulb. Do not cut back foliage until it is completely yellow.

jimmy tulipsjimmy tulips
Jimmy Tulips still going strong. After the blooms fade, the gardener will allow the foliage to turn yellow and die back naturally, before cutting and removing it for a cleaner look.

If your goal is to grow tulips from seed, plant a separate plot of tulips just for seed collection. You can propagate many more plants from seed than from bulb offsets and most tulips readily produce seed. Seeds produce surprises.

Pests/Disease: Tulips pests include aphids, bulb mites, thrips, rodents and deer. Control measures are:

  • Aphids - squash between fingers or wash off with a water spray
  • Bulb mites – inspect bulbs when purchasing for signs of decay, heat treat bulbs in 120°F water for 2 minutes to kill mites
  • Thrips – enlist ladybugs and green lacewings to eradicate these sapsuckers, place bright yellow and blue wooden paint stirrers coated with petroleum jelly to trap thrips
  • Rodents – cover bulb zone with chicken wire embedded beneath surface; plant bulbs 12” deep; spray bulb or area with deterrents like cayenne pepper, human urine, animal hair; interplant tulips with bulbs rodents won’t eat such as allium, crocus, daffodil, fritillaria, and hyacinth
  • Deer – 8” fencing works best

Two serious fungal diseases affecting tulips are tulip fire and grey bulb.

Symptoms include:

  • twisted, withered, distorted foliage soon after emergence
  • brown spots on foliage
  • rot spots on flowers
  • fuzzy grey mold on dead foliage
  • black seed-like fungal spores on dead zones

Control fungal diseases by inspecting bulb surfaces for signs of decay when purchasing and removing and destroying infected specimens. Do not replant tulips in contaminated site for at least three years. Good air circulation around plants reduces the risk of fungal diseases.

Tulip virus manifests itself in streaked, flamed, or feathered flower petals and distorted growth. Affected bulbs must be destroyed. Control of aphids and thrips reduces disease risk.


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