How and When to Plant Tulip Bulbs

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how and when to plant tulip bulbs

HiddenFromTOCHow and When to Plant Tulip Bulbs

  1. Tulips should be planted in the late autumn or early winter, as the cold temperatures will protect the bulbs from diseases
  2. During the winter, you shouldn’t need to water them too often. Ensure the soil is moist but never soggy. 
  3. Feed your tulips weekly from early spring onwards. Use a potassium-rich fertiliser

Producing stunning flowers in vibrant colours, tulips can be grown in borders, beds, rock gardens and containers for a show stopping display in the springtime. 

Tulips are spring-flowering bulbs, starting to emerge in the late winter. Although technically a perennial, the ability of a tulip to come back year after year has slightly weakened. Now, many gardeners plant new bulbs in the autumn in order to guarantee a beautiful spring garden.

How to Plant Tulip Bulbs

There’s two main categories of tulips that are planted in domestic gardens; border tulips and specialist tulips. Border tulips flower in the spring and produce temporary displays of colour. They don’t mind if the soil isn’t perfect, so long as there is adequate drainage. Once border tulips have finished flowering, the bulbs are dug up. 

Specialist tulips, on the other hand, require fairly specific conditions. They need full sun and well-drained soil, or they’ll need to be potted. 

Both types are planted using the same technique, either in the ground or in containers. 

Improve your Soil

Before you begin bulb planting, you should ensure that your garden soil is good quality. Organic material such as leaf mould or compost can be dug into the soil to improve its quality. 

Create Potting Compost for Containers

If you’re planting your tulip bulbs in containers, you should mix three parts multipurpose compost with one part grit. Fill your container with the compost, leaving a gap of around three bulbs’ length at the top.

Plant your Bulbs

Place the flower bulbs on top of the compost or soil, with around a finger’s width between each. Cover each bulb with remaining compost mix, then water thoroughly. If you’re planting in containers, place them in a sheltered spot to start growing. 

Water Thoroughly

Tulips in containers should be well watered. A shortage of water can stunt their development. However, if the compost becomes sodden during rainy weather, you should move the containers under cover until the compost has dried.

Tulips planted in borders shouldn’t need watering unless there’s a very dry spring. Aim for the soil to be kept moist but not wet. 

Feed Once a Week

From March onwards, you should feed your flowers weekly with a potassium-rich fertiliser. When the leaves turn yellow and die back, stop feeding. 

Encourage Reflowering by Storing Bulbs in Summer 

Most tulips are now planted every year, as they often fail to flower when left in the ground. 

Lifting, drying and storing the bulbs in a dry place in the summer will help them to reflower once replanted in the autumn.

Once the foliage turns yellow, lift the bubs and remove any soil. Discard bulbs that have signs of mould or disease. 

Dry the bulbs thoroughly, then store them in a warm and well-lit area. Replant them in the autumn.

This isn’t a guaranteed way to get the bulbs to reflower, so for more prominent areas it may be advisable to purchase bulbs instead of using those that have been stored. 

When to Plant Tulip Bulbs

You should plant your tulip bulbs in late autumn or early winter. During cold weather, the plant is dormant and the risk of disease is lower. Once you’ve purchased the bulbs, it’s best to get them planted as soon as you can. 

Common Problems 

Tulips can be susceptible to pests and disease, so you should keep an eye out for the signs. Here’s a few common problems.

Failing to Flower

If your tulips are failing to flower, it may be that they need more nutrients. Feed them with a romantic fertiliser while in growth, and they should flower the next year. 

Another cause is that you have planted too shallowly. You should aim to plant bulbs at least three times their depth. 

If you have grown tulips in pots, they are unlikely to flower more than once. This is due to the stress of being grown in a pot. To ensure your tulips flower year after year, you should plant them in the ground.

Grey Squirrels

Pesky squirrels love digging up bulbs. If your tulips are in containers, try covering the bulbs with chicken wire. In the ground, plant bulbs in baskets and cover with chicken wire. Also, see here for a detailed guide on how to stop quirrels from digging up your garden!


In the early spring you may find that slugs can damage foliage and flowers. They can cause problems throughout your garden, and can be controlled with traps or barriers, such as sharp-textured mulches. 

Applying a biological control to the soil can kill slugs and won’t have an affect on other animals. 

Tulip Fire

Fungal diseases can also affect your tulips. Tulip fire can cause tulips to produce brown spots and twisted leaves. 

To control tulip fire, you should remove and destroy any infected plants as well as the soil surrounding the roots. Don’t replant tulips in this area for at least 3 years. Planting too early can also lead to tulip fire. Ensure you don’t plant the bulbs until the soil temperature has lowered in the Autumn. 

There are no chemical controls to use against tulip fire. 

Tulip FAQs

When should tulip bulbs be planted? 

Tulip bulbs should be planted when the temperature of the soil has dropped after the summer.

They are usually planted later than other spring bulbs, primarily because the cooler temperature helps to reduce the chance of tulip fire. 

You should aim to plant your tulips any time from late September to November. If you’re not able to plant straight away, store your bulbs in a cool and dry place. 

Can you leave tulip bulbs in the ground all year? 

There are a few varieties of perennial tulips that will reflower even if left in the ground. These include Tulipa kaufmanniana, Tulipa fosteriana and Tulipa greigii.

Many gardeners prefer to leave their bulbs in the ground where they were originally planted, but this may lead to a less impressive display the following year. For best results, you should store the bulbs in a cool, dark place before replanting in the autumn.

Do tulips like sun or shade? 

It’s best to plant your tulip bulbs in full sun in order to help them reach their maximum height. However, they can also do well in partial shade, as too much sun can damage their leaves. As a good rule of thumb, they need a minimum of six hours of sunlight exposure each day. 

Too much sunlight exposure can lead to wilting and yellowing leaves or curled petals. 

If you’re growing tulips indoors, you should still ensure they have at least six hours of sunlight. Artificial sunlight can be used if you’ve not got enough lighting inside.

How long do tulips last each year? 

This depends on the weather and growing conditions. 

In areas with very mild temperatures in the spring, your tulips could bloom for up to 4 weeks. If the weather is warmer than 15°C, they may not last as long. 

To ensure you can experience the joy of tulips for longer, it’s best to plant a variety of bulbs. Choose a mix of early, mid-season and late blooming varieties so you can enjoy the display for longer. As the early varieties fade, new ones will open. 

Preparing the soil before planting can also help your tulips to last longer. Add organic matter like compost before planting the bulbs. 

You should also fertilise your tulips. This is best done once a week from early spring onwards, although many people fertilise when they are planted in the autumn too. 

Tulips planted in containers will bloom for longer, up to 30 days provided they are in a sunny spot and are generously watered. 

Do tulips need a lot of water? 

Tulip bulbs in the ground should be watered immediately after planting, but after that you should be able to leave your tulips until the spring. The soil should be moist, but not sodden.

During extended periods of drought (two to three weeks or more), you will need to water your tulips more regularly. 

If you have planted your bulbs in containers, you’ll need to water more frequently. Don’t allow the potting soil to dry out, but you should also ensure the water is draining properly. In the spring, you may need to water up to twice a day. 

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