How to Care for Tulips

Updated on February 15, 2018
Diane Lockridge profile image

Lockridge is an avid reader who enjoys learning about beautiful things in the garden. Among other things, she has worked with a florist.

Tulips are one of the quintessential flowers of spring. When people see those brightly colored cup-shaped blooms in the yard, they know that the cold season is over and that warmer days are ahead. With over 150 different species and 3,000 different varieties of tulips, you are sure to find a tulip that catches your fancy and that will be the perfect addition to your garden.

History

Historically tulips were cultivated in the area now known at Turkey. Although tulips weren’t brought over to Holland until the 16th-century, we now almost exclusively associate the flower with the Dutch. Today, Holland holds an annual tulip festival from late April to early May. Should you choose to visit the Keukenhof to view flowers, you'll be greeted with over 7 million bulbs in all, according to Holland.com.

Tulips are more than just a beautiful thing to look at. Tulips are, and have been an economic boom. In the early 1600s, it was said that a single bulb was worth enough money to "feed, clothe and house a whole Dutch family for half a lifetime, or sufficient to purchase one of the grandest homes on the most fashionable canal in Amsterdam for cash" (BBC.com).

What Are Tulips?

Tulips are perennial bulbs that grow after a dormant period. Basically, this means that a tulip bulb planted in the fall will grow roots in the winter, and then later bloom in the spring. At the completion of the growing cycle, the tulip will die back. Once the tulip has withered away, the bulb may be carefully collected and stored in a cool, dark location until the fall, where it can be replanted.

Bulbs vary from seeds in that a seeds has a plant embryo inside of it, whereas a bulb already has a mature plant structure within it. HGTV.com, suggests that you think of bulbs as being similar to onions, a layered structure of leaves that cover a mature plant.

How To Select Tulip Bulbs

If you are looking for a spectacular showing of tulips in your yard, experts suggest that you avoid purchasing cheap packets of mixed bulbs, as the result will likely be lack-luster. Instead, look for larger bulbs, which will yield a more impressive bloom.

Store bulbs in a cool, dry and dark place, such as a chilly basement or refrigerator. Remove them from plastic packaging to prevent condensation.

How To Plant Tulips

  1. Plan to plant bulbs about 6-8 weeks before a hard-frost, suggests The Old Farmers Almanac.
  2. Select only good-looking bulbs for your planning project. Discard any bulbs that are moldy, or that have roots breaking through the bulb. Generally speaking, larger bulbs yield larger blooms.
  3. Till the soil and prepare with amendments—such as a complete fertilizer. Remove rocks, weeds or other unnatural debris so roots won’t have anything to prevent optimal growth. Check for a soil mixture with adequate drainage. Tulips won’t grow well in soggy soil, so add pine bark or straw to the area to promote good drainage.
  4. Plant bulbs about 6 inches apart- pointed side up- three to four times the diameter of the bulb deep. For example, if a bulb is 2 inches in diameter, you should plant at least 4 inches deep. Space larger bulbs deeper down in the soil, and farther apart than you would plant smaller bulbs. Generally speaking, tulips look good when grouped in odd numbers.
  5. Water-in the bulbs upon planting, and cover the area with 2 inches of mulch to help deter mulch.

Helpful Tips

Extend the life of your tulip bed by varying the depth of your tulip bulbs. Tulips planted farther down in the soil will take longer to bloom, and will add a burst of color and life later in the season. Consider using several different varieties of tulips—or even a different type of bulb, such as a daffodil-- for an even more impressive display.

Some gardeners go for a more natural look when planning their gardens, while others prefer a structured or formal feel. For a natural look, toss the bulbs across your lawn at random, and then plant each bulb individually. You could also plant bulbs in various places around the yard, such as large group in the middle of your lawn. Consider using different colors of bulbs for a natural aesthetic. Formal gardeners may prefer to add large dramatic accents with stripes of one color of tulips in flowerbeds. Add a focal point in your yard by creating a ring around a large tree, or by highlighting shrubs.

Tulip Planting with P. Allen Smith

Questions & Answers

  • Could I plant annuals this summer in the same planter I had tulips in this spring? I would rather not dig up and store the bulbs.

    The main concern would be where you plant the annuals in relation to the bulbs. Consider that the bulbs will be competing for space, water, and nutrients, with the annual plants' root system.

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