A Guide to Planting Tulips

instagram icon20 MIN Read

08 Jun 2022

By Michael Jacobson

Tulips are beautiful, colorful flowers that brighten up gardens, meadows, and parks every spring. They come in a variety of colors, from fiery red to muted pastel shades, and complement many other plants as they flower between March and May.

Tulips are low-maintenance flowers and are perfect for experienced gardeners and novices alike. Planting tulips don’t require any specific skills or knowledge, and they can be planted in the ground or in pots - that means everyone can enjoy these beautiful flowers.

When is the best time to plant tulips?

The best time to plant tulips in the ground or in a pot is during the fall, between September and December, before the first frost of the year. This is when the bulbs are dormant, and the ground is still soft and workable. However, when the cold weather comes it helps to kill fungal and viral diseases that are found in the soil and so protects the bulbs. It also allows the bulbs to store nutrients ready for growth during spring.

Some tulips can flower at different times, so you may want to stagger the planting of your bulbs. That way, you’ll have a longer display throughout the spring and possibly into the early parts of summer.

If you plant your bulbs too early or too late you risk them not flowering or reaching their full potential.

How do you plant tulips?

Tulips love living outside, and look great when they flower in the spring. Planting tulips is simple and can be done by anyone, regardless of experience. Once planted, tulips don’t require any special maintenance. New bulbs should be planted every year as last year's bulbs may struggle to flower again.

Step 1: Choose the right spot for your tulips

Tulips love the sun during the spring but appreciate shade as the summer arrives, so try to pick a spot that receives sun for half the day. The soil should be well-drained and fertile - too much moisture can harm the chances of your tulips flowering.

Step 2: Prepare the soil

Tulip bulbs slightly resemble onions, with a rounded side and a pointed side. They should be planted at about twice the depth of the height of the bulb, which is around three inches. However, if you plant them a little deeper it can encourage them to flower in subsequent years as they’re less likely to reproduce.

If you’re planting tulips in a border, then digging a trench may be easier. If you’re grouping them, then dig one single larger hole depending on the number of bulbs. Allow space so you can plant each bulb two to three inches apart.

Step 3: Plant the bulbs

Plant the bulbs in the soil with the pointed side facing up. Remember to leave a space of at least two to three inches between each bulb. Cover with soil, and to encourage growth you can add a thin layer of peat-free compost. Adding bone meal to the bottom of the hole before planting can also help with formation.

You can even consider layering your tulip bulbs, with a layer of compost in between each layer. This creates a dense and flowery display and doesn’t damage the tulips.

Step 4: Water the tulips

Ensure your tulips are watered at least once per week. Be careful not to overwater them - tulips need less than an inch of water a week. If you added compost during planting you shouldn’t need to add any additional plant food or fertilizer throughout the winter or spring.

How do you plant tulips in a pot?

While tulips prefer the ground, they do also thrive when grown in pots. Below are the steps you need to take to ensure beautiful tulips flower every spring.

Step 1: Choose the right pot

Tulips look great in tight groups, and your pot should be at least 18 inches wide and 15 inches deep. This is especially important if you want to layer your tulips. Your pot should also allow for good drainage, as too much water will affect growth.

Step 2: Plant the bulbs

Use good quality peat-free compost. If planting a single layer of tulips, fill the pot with compost to around five inches from the top. Plant the bulbs around an inch apart, pointed side facing up, then cover with two to three inches of compost.

If layering, first fill the pot to around nine or ten inches from the top with compost. Space your bulbs slightly further apart, at one to two inches, then cover with two inches of compost. You can then plant the second layer of bulbs in the same way as the first. Finally, cover with another two inches of compost.

Step 3: Sunlight and water

Make sure your tulips get half the day in sunlight, and the rest in shade. Water your tulips once a week, making sure not to overwater them. If you experienced prolonged periods of rain, try moving your pot to a covered location.

Where is the best location to plant tulips?

The where to plant tulips is just as important as the when to plant tulips. Tulips prefer a mix of sun and shade, and it’s important that they’re planted in nutrient-rich soil that allows for good drainage. They thrive outside when planted in the garden, but can also look stunning when layered in a pot.

What are the best flowers or plants to go with tulips?

Tulips can be lovely flowers to plant in pots or borders. They can work alone, but can also complement other plants and flowers as part of a mixed display.

Tulips come in many different colors, and depending on the color of your tulips you may want a plant to contrast the boldness, or work alongside flowers of a similar color.

You will want to ensure that the plants you choose to accompany your tulips also thrive in similar conditions: sun, shade, and well-draining soil.

Flowers and plants that complement tulips include:

  • Wallflowers, for a burst of green and yellow or white
  • Forget-me-nots, for a blanket of green and blue
  • Honesty, for a luscious purple to compliment tulips of any color
  • Bronze fennel, which is delicate and attracts plenty of insects
  • Tiarella, for boldness to contrast the shape of your tulips
  • Red hebe, for a purple shrub to make your tulips pop
  • Bluebells, which are small and delicate and bring a wild quality

Planting tulips in different seasons

Planting tulips is possible during other parts of the year, but in order to give them the best chance of flowering, you’ll want to stick as close to the fall as possible. However, if you miss this window, there are still a few things you can do. However, because tulips flower in late spring and then become dormant during summer, planting them during the summer months would be counterproductive. 

Planting tulips in spring

Tulip bulbs need around 14 weeks of cold temperatures to kill diseases and store the relevant nutrients in order to flower. One way to chill your bulbs is by storing them in the refrigerator in a shallow layer of compost, the pointed side facing up, in a plastic container. You’ll then need to wrap the container in an air-tight bag to prevent contamination. Store in the fridge for around ten weeks before planting.

Planting tulips in winter

If you live in a climate with warmer winters, you may be able to plant your tulips up until February. If winters are particularly warm, using the ‘refrigerator trick’ may also benefit them here. If the ground isn’t frozen, you should still be able to successfully plant tulips during the winter, so long as it isn’t too close to the spring.

Buy beautiful tulips online with French Florist for same-day local delivery

If you don’t have the space to grow tulips but would love a beautiful arrangement to brighten up your home, French Florist has a wide range of bouquets available.

Buy beautiful tulips online with French Florist for same-day local delivery.

Our local team of floral experts designs every arrangement with care and attention, ensuring they pass strict quality control every time. Our couriers use specially refrigerated trucks to ensure they arrive as fresh as the moment they left. We deliver nationwide and offer same-day delivery.


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