A Guide to Tulip Care
08 Jun 2022
By Michael Jacobson
Tulips are keen spring flowers, flowering between March and May to fill gardens and parks with a variety of eye-catching colors. Tulips are low-maintenance flowers but do require the right conditions in order to achieve their full potential.
In our guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to care for tulips, including all the wheres, hows, whens, and whys.
While tulip care is relatively simple, they can’t be left to fend for themselves entirely if you want to give them the best chance at flowering. So long as you follow our guide, you should have beautiful tulips every spring for many years to come.
Tulips love the sun, but also appreciate a little shade. The more sun they can get during the spring the better. Consider planting your bulbs beneath a tree, which will provide more shade as the summer approaches.
Your tulips must be planted in soil that drains well, as too much water can be harmful. Soil with a pH level that is neutral to slightly acidic is preferred, and a couple of inches of peat-free compost will give them all the nutrients they need.
Tulips only need around an inch of water per week, so don’t often require additional watering, except during long periods of dry weather. During particularly wet periods, you may want to consider moving your tulips into a covered spot if they’re planted in pots.
Temperature and humidity
Tulips need a variety of temperatures, so do well in regions with cold winters and hot summers. The cold during the winter helps the bulbs store nutrients and kill diseases, while the warmer weather encourages growth. While tulips can grow nicely in humid climates, they do prefer to grow where it’s drier.
If you do live in a humid region and are keen on growing tulips, consider growing them in a pot inside where you can control the temperature and water.
When planting your bulbs, consider adding a thin layer of bone meal to the bottom of the hole. Once planted, a couple of inches of peat-free compost will also provide your tulips with plenty of nutrients.
Tulips don’t need to be pruned and should be left to grow until they have turned brown. This means the plant has died, which usually doesn’t happen until the summer, around June or July. Attempting to prune the foliage around your tulips could damage or kill them.
Caring for tulips in different environments
Tulips look great in any garden or home, whether they’re in the ground, a pot, or a vase. Below, we’ll take a look at the best ways to care for tulips in a variety of environments.
How to care for tulips in the ground
Tulips are relatively hardy, but the key is planting your bulbs at the right time of year. Planting the bulbs in the fall, before the first frost of the year, will give them the best chance of flowering beautifully during the spring. So long as they receive the right amount of sun and water - as well as a couple of inches of fertilizer after planting - you can leave your tulips to do their own thing.
During the summer, after your tulips have died, you can add a new layer of compost or liquid fertilizer to the ground to encourage growth for next year - however, this doesn’t guarantee they will flower again. To do this, you may want to consider removing the old bulbs and planting new ones during the fall to start the process over again.
How to care for tulips in a pot
Tulip care for potted tulips is similar to those planted in the ground. They still require the same level of water and sunlight, as well as nutrient-rich soil. However, it’s also important to consider the following:
- The pot must be the right size - at least 18 inches wide and 15 inches deep - and be able to drain excess water
- You can still layer your tulips in a pot to make them look full and dense - for more information on planting tulips check out our guide
- Make sure you don’t overwater your tulips - they only need one inch per week
- Your tulips will need plenty of sun, so if kept indoors they will thrive when placed close to a window
How to care for tulips in a vase
Because of their big, bold colors, tulips make for a beautiful flower to be kept in a vase, either as the focus or as part of a larger arrangement. Here’s what you can do to make sure your tulips keep fresh for as long as possible:
- Make sure you have the right vase - flared vases are perfect for displaying tulips thanks to the wide neck
- Keep your tulips out of direct sunlight, which means avoid putting your vase on a windowsill if possible
- Change the water in the vase daily to help stop the spread of bacteria
- Add flower food every time you change the water - if you don’t have flower food, half a teaspoon of cane sugar should do the trick
- Cut the stems at an angle when you change the water to encourage the tulips to drink
- While tulips complement a variety of other flowers, avoid pairing them in a vase with other flowers that can make them wilt faster, such as daffodils
How to care for tulips after they have bloomed
Tulips are perennials when growing in the wild, which means they will flower every year. However, this is generally in conditions very different from those in our gardens, which means they struggle to flower the following year.
Because of this, to ensure you have tulips brightening up your garden every year, you will want to remove the bulbs after the flowers have died in the summer, and plant new ones in the fall.
Common problems with tulips
Like all plants and flowers, tulips can face a number of problems that affect their growth. To give your tulips the best chance, check them before planting to ensure they’re firm and healthy with no signs of disease or mold.
Dealing with pests and diseases
Tulips are susceptible to various diseases, which can be prevented with care. These include:
- Tulip fire - a fungal disease that discolors the flower. Remove any plants, including the bulb, if you spot the signs.
- Viruses - a common virus is TBV (tulip breaking virus) which produces striped or mottled flowers. These tulips should also be removed as soon as possible. TBV is spread by aphids, which can be controlled with insecticides.
- Rot - this can develop in wet conditions, starting with spots on the stems or leaves. Prevent by making sure the tulips aren’t overwatered.
Other pests that can damage your tulips include mites and slugs, which you can help control with insecticides.
Your tulips may also attract small animals including rabbits and squirrels looking for a meal, as well as larger animals such as deer. You may want to cover your tulips with a bird net or screen, or treat your plants with non-toxic repellent.
Tulips love the cold, but they don’t love ice. To ensure your bulbs don’t freeze over winter, make sure they’re planted in well-draining soil. If your bulbs are planted in a pot, store them in a shed or garage so they’re protected from the harsh cold.
You can also remove them from the ground, allow them to dry, and store them in a well-ventilated container in a thin layer of soil, sand, or similar.
Propagating tulips can be a slow process, which involves removing the small bulblets that grow as the tulip grows. It is these bulblets that will mature into tulip bulbs, however, this will take several years. Once the bulb has matured, it can be planted to grow the same type of tulip as the parent bulb.
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