How To Grow Tulips

Tulips in a front garden bed are a welcome sight in spring and add a splash of color to your yard after the brown and grays of winter. Prepare for bright tulips in the spring by planting in the fall.

beautiful tulips on wooden background. Top view
How To Grow Tulips (Image: nambitomo/iStock/GettyImages)

Sun, Soil and Water

Choose where you plant your bulbs with care. In warmer climates, tulips will thrive with morning sun and shade in the afternoon and during the heat of the day. Northern climates grow tulips with full or direct afternoon sunlight. The soil must be well drained since tulip bulbs planted in frequently wet soil without drainage will rot before they can grow. The soil should be very dry when planting. When it comes time to dig your garden, aim for a foot deep and line the hole with fertilizer. This will prepare the soil for your bulbs. Tulips are picky about watering and don't require any when in the bulb stage. You won't need to water your tulips at all if it rains weekly and only once a week if it doesn’t.

Planting Bulbs

Tulip bulbs should be planted in the fall and spend the winter preparing to grow. Bulbs should be planted before frosts hit but late enough that the soil is cool and at least 60 degrees. No hot summer soil for this plant. When preparing a tulip bed, make sure the soil is dry. Each hole for your bulb should be around three times the size of the bulb itself and at least 6 to 8 inches deep. Use a fork to make sure the soil is loose and drained underneath the bulb. Plant bulbs with the pointed end facing up. The ground should be fertilized, and a mix of soil and fertilizer with a top layer of mulch should cover and feed your bulb. Water after covering, but don't over water. Water once a week for five weeks, but don't water in winter.

Blooming Season

At the first hint of spring, your tulips will try to sprout green buds. Start watering your plants as soon as you see the green tips emerge. Bulbs don't need water in the winter months, but their young green stalks do need water or rain. If it's excessively rainy, test the soil for dampness before watering. (Remember that your tulips aren’t swimmers and don't need much water.) Fertilize and feed your tulips the same fertilizer or food used when planting your bulbs. To discourage weeds, add mulch, sand or shredded bark to the topsoil. If mice or moles are a problem, sprinkle kitty litter around your plants to discourage pests.

Care After Bloom

After a spring season of fresh flowers and bright tulips, make sure to care for your plants so they'll return next year. Pinching off the dying flower head or “deadheading” the older blooms will encourage growth. Don't remove the leaves when removing the old blooms. Leaves should be yellow for six weeks after the last flower bloomed before weeding out and removing the plant. This will give the growth underneath the soil time to split into a new bulb and prepare to grow next year.

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