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. Perennial Darwin Tulip Bulbs Grand Mix, Tulipa, Darwin Hybrid Tulip

    Grand Darwin Tulip Mix is bursting with color. Beautiful combinations of red, orange, pink and yellow make this a must have for a sunny garden. Planted in large quantities creates ...

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    Grand Darwin Tulip Mix Darwin Hybrid Tulip Mix Tulipa Grand Mix
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    Grand Darwin Tulip Mix is bursting with color. Beautiful combinations of red, orange, pink and yellow make this a must have for a sunny garden. Planted in large quantities creates a stunning vision, or place in containers on your patio for an added infusion of color. With all the different variations in this mix it makes excellent cut flowers for bouquets. Easy to Grow. (Tulipa)
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  2. Pink Wild Tulip Bulbs Lilac Wonder, Tulipa bakeri, Wild Tulip

    Luscious, light pink flowers with a stunning butter yellow center make these the little treasures of your spring garden. Allow Lilac Wonder to naturalize and you'll have a front row ...

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    Lilac Wonder Wild Tulip Lilac Wonder Wild Tulip Tulipa bakeri Lilac Wonder
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    Luscious, light pink flowers with a stunning butter yellow center make these the little treasures of your spring garden. Allow Lilac Wonder to naturalize and you'll have a front row seat to a cheerful spring show every year. Dependably perennial and deer resistant. (Tulipa bakeri)
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  3. 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 'Parade' D...

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    $29.99 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)
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  4. Apricot Parrot Tulip, Tulipa Apricot Impression

    Strong textural elements combine with masterful color blends in 'Apricot' Parrot Tulip, creating a silky, scalloped blossom with striations of soft salmon, light rose, creamy white, ...

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    Apricot Parrot Tulip Apricot Parrot Tulip Tulipa Apricot Parrot
    $11.99 Sale $8.99
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    Strong textural elements combine with masterful color blends in 'Apricot' Parrot Tulip, creating a silky, scalloped blossom with striations of soft salmon, light rose, creamy white, and green. This RHS Award of Merit winner also features a delicate fragrance that perfumes the late spring garden. At 20 inches tall, it’s a perfect container accent or cut flower. (Tulipa)
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  5. Sweet Treats Tulip Bulb Collection

    Indulge in the Sweet Treats Tulip Bulb Collection for splashes of color all spring thanks to this delightful trio of tulips. Lemon yellow petals provide a complement of fragrant lave...

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    Sweet Treats Tulip Bulb Collection Sweet Treats Tulip Bulb Collection Tulipa
    $35.99 Sale $26.99
    Per Collection of 60
    Indulge in the Sweet Treats Tulip Bulb Collection for splashes of color all spring thanks to this delightful trio of tulips. Lemon yellow petals provide a complement of fragrant lavender-pink and sun-kissed peachy blooms. These graceful beauties stand on strong stems perfect for cut flowers. Plant in masses for drifts of color in the garden or use to brighten spring containers. Collection of 60 bulbs.
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  6. Triumph Tulip Bulbs Jimmy, Tulipa, Close Up, Employee photo

    Jimmy is one of the brightest and most beautiful tulips around, with fluorescent-pink blooms that take on a shimmering gold-orange edge. The colorful show is even more spectacular wh...

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    Jimmy Triumph Tulip Triumph Tulip Jimmy Tulipa Jimmy
    $9.32 Sale $6.99
    Per Bag of 10
    Jimmy is one of the brightest and most beautiful tulips around, with fluorescent-pink blooms that take on a shimmering gold-orange edge. The colorful show is even more spectacular when this Triumph tulip opens up and reveals its gorgeous yellow eye and contrasting black anthers.
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  7. Peppermint Stick Tulip, Tulipa clusiana Peppermint Stick

    Treasured for its dual-toned blooms and a tendency to return year after year, 'Peppermint Stick' Tulip is a low-growing species tulip with plenty of punch in a petite frame. In mid-s...

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    Peppermint Stick Tulip Peppermint Stick Tulip Tulipa clusiana Peppermint Stick
    As low as $13.32 Sale $9.99
    Per Bag of 15
    Treasured for its dual-toned blooms and a tendency to return year after year, 'Peppermint Stick' Tulip is a low-growing species tulip with plenty of punch in a petite frame. In mid-spring, the delicately pointed blooms reveal pure white centers flanked by outer petals with a red-pink reverse. 'Peppermint Stick' is an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner and naturalizes in a well-drained, sunny spot. (Tulipa clusiana)
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  8. Red Emperor Tulip Bulbs, Tulipa fosteriana, Emperor Tulip, Close Up

    An all-time world favorite, Red Emperor boasts huge, bright red blooms that open wide to show off brilliant yellow and black blotches in the center. Great for naturalizing and cuttin...

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    Red Emperor Tulip Emperor Tulip Tulipa fosteriana
    As low as $9.32 Sale $6.99
    Per Bag of 10
    An all-time world favorite, Red Emperor boasts huge, bright red blooms that open wide to show off brilliant yellow and black blotches in the center. Great for naturalizing and cutting. (Tulipa fosteriana)
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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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