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How to Plant Tulip Bulbs That Will Thrive

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I love to share my years of experience working in my garden to help others better enjoy tending their own.

Learn how to successfully grow tulips on your own!

Learn how to successfully grow tulips on your own!

Tulips are perennial bulbs that grow best in USDA zones 3 to 8. If planted in warmer climates, it is best to dig the bulb up when warmer weather arrives and store the bulb for six to eight weeks in a cool, dry place. Then, before the fall freeze, one should replant the bulbs. If you plant tulip bulbs right, you will enjoy them each spring for many years to come. Planting tulip bulbs is easy, just follow the directions below.

Tulips in bloom.

Tulips in bloom.

Select the Right Variety

Select tulip bulbs by varieties and types by flower, color, form, local adaptation, and bloom time. Buy high-quality tulip bulbs that are free of bruises or soft spots. Good sources to buy tulip bulbs include local nurseries, websites, and mail-order catalogs that have a good reference.

Arrange Bulb Delivery and Storage

If you're making arrangements to have your tulip bulbs delivered, do so in a manner so that you have them about six weeks prior to planting season. Plant the tulip bulbs in late summer to early fall in cold-winter climates. Plant in late fall to early winter in mild-winter climates.

Keep the tulip bulbs chilled after they arrive, though some come pre-chilled. This can be done by placing them in a paper bag and keeping them in the refrigerator for six to eight weeks. This coolness will help ensure that the bulbs will trigger and give top performance.

Choose the Planting Bed and Prepare the Soil

When planting your tulip bulbs, select a sunny location. If necessary, prepare the soil by incorporating ample organic matter. Soil preparation is not always necessary if drainage is good.

Tulips can grow in most types of soil, although they prefer sandy soil rich in organic materials. Tulips do poorly in clay soil. If your soil is clay, add some organic materials, as well as a bit of sand. This will improve the texture of the soil.

Tulips strive in fast-draining soil that dries quickly. They do poorly in wet soil, as it can cause the bulb to rot.

Dig the Hole to Plant the Tulip

Dig holes 2 1/2 to 3 times as deep as the bulb is wide, usually about 4 to 6 inches deep. In mild-winter climates, plant deeper—up to 8 to 12 inches deep. Leave 4 to 6 inches between each tulip bulb.

Add tulip bulb fertilizer to the bottom of the hole (about 1 inch) and thoroughly mix it into the soil.

Plant the Tulip Bulbs

Place the tulip bulbs in the hole. Make sure they are pointed root-side down. The bottom of the bulb should rest firmly on the bottom of the hole. Cover with soil and pat it down lightly.

Soil temperatures in the winter can fall below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This works to keeps the tulip bulbs in a hibernation state for the winter months.

It is good practice to add mulch to the bulb bed with good organic material. This works to protect the soil from extremely cold temperatures. I recommend mulch to be two to three inches thick to effectively keep the soil the proper temperature.

Water the tulip bulbs thoroughly.

Where Did the Tulip Get Its Name?

How did the tulip get its name? The story is that the tulip bore a great resemblance to the turban headgear worn by many people in the Middle East, which was also pronounced and spelled as "toliban." Changed into Latin, this word becomes "tulipa."

In history, the Dutch will be remembered for their passion and production of tulips. After 400-plus years, the Dutch people still cultivate a love affair with the tulip. First introduced to Holland in 1593, the tulip has become a lasting symbol for the country. Ask anyone, anywhere, to name things that remind one of the Dutch or Holland, and they are likely to respond with the answer: "windmills, wooden shoes, and tulips."

Is Holland Really the Country That Tulips Originated From?

It's a widely spread misconception that tulips and other bulb flowers are native to Holland. The fact is that almost no bulbous plants are native to the country. To find the true origin origins of the tulip, we must look to central Asia, which is the prime site of their genetic center.

The tulip originated from Tien-Shan and the Pamir Alai Mountain Ranges near modern-day Islamabad, close to the border of Russia and China. From these prime growing areas, tulips spread to other regions, including China and Mongolia to the east and to other regions to the west and northwest.

Furthermore, tulips love mountainous regions. They are found growing at very high elevations in the mountains, which means that they are often covered with a thick layer of snow during the winter period. This protects them from the severe cold. Given this natural proclivity for high places, it's all the more remarkable that the Dutch should become known for growing tulips when their country is largely situated below sea-level and "enjoys" winters that are more wet than they are cold. As a rule, these are conditions that make for poor tulip growth. Holland tulip growers invented systems that provide winter soil ample drainage. Through draining the surplus water quickly from the fields into the ditches into the canals, the Dutch system provided great conditions for growing tulips.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2007 Sharlee

Reader Feedback

Santiago on January 14, 2015:

I bhguot 16 CFC bulbs in 2007. I also bhguot about 100 of the incandescent Halco long lasting bulbs. A 4 pack of CFC bulbs cost $11.99 and a 4 pack of the Halco long lasting bulbs cost $6.99. I have 32 light fixtures in my house. I put 16 CFC bulbs and the Halco bulbs side by side so they would burn at the same hours. I noticed very little decrease in my electric bill.. Both made claims they would last 10,000 hours. Now, over five years later 15 of the 16 Halco bulbs are still burning and only 6 of the 16 CFC bulbs are still burning. I am replacing all the burned out bulbs with the Halco bulbs because any savings on electricity are more than eaten up by the cost of the CFC bulbs and the fact that they burn out faster than the Halco bulbs. The CFC bulbs also contain mercury which could not be a good thing and they emit an awful odor sometimes when they burn out. I saw 2 of them smoke right before burning out.

Keaka77 on August 21, 2008:

I just started a garden in my back yard a few weeks ago. Me and my wife love flowers. Hopefully it turns out beautiful.

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anonymous on June 28, 2007:

Nice lens! I'm a bit spoiled here tho, in a town 25 miles away they have a tulip festival every year, the sides of all of the streets are planted in tulips. The dutch dress in their native clothes, scrub the streets, bake their goodies, party, and you can tour the windmill.