What Is The Best Time Of Year To Plant Tulips?

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What Is The Best Time Of Year To Plant Tulips?

What Is The Best Time Of Year To Plant Tulips?

Natallia Ustsinava/Shutterstock

What flowers are the best communicators? Tulips. (Tulips…two lips. Get it?) Ok, jokes aside, tulips are some of the earliest harbingers of spring, and their gorgeous flowers help us remember that brighter days are ahead. Britannica says there are thousands of varieties of tulips (Tulipa) in just about any color, from bright white to almost black. Although ones with a classic cup shape are most common, some are truly unique, like the flaming parrot (Tulipa flaming parrot) that features ruffled petals, and the urn-shaped Maytime tulip (Tulipa ‘Maytime’).

Part of classifying tulip varieties is determining when they will bloom: in early, mid, or late spring. Thus, by selecting the right combination of tulips, you can enjoy vibrant blooms from the earliest spring days until we reach summer’s doorstep. Although tulips produce seeds, you’re unlikely to find them in stores because it takes several years to get a single tulip bloom from a seed. The seeds they produce must first grow into a bulb, which you will find when shopping for tulips. Bulbs will produce a flower the following spring — and no one wants to wait years for one flower.

When to plant tulips

Red and yellow parrot tulips

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To get spring blooms from tulip bulbs, fall is the best time to plant them. Like some other varieties of spring-blooming bulbs, including hyacinths and daffodils, tulip bulbs actually need about three months of cold weather to trigger them to bloom at the right time. While fall is widely considered the ideal time, you can plant tulip bulbs throughout winter as long as the ground is not frozen because the cold will not harm these hardy bulbs.

In the northern regions of the US that experience winter, tulips are considered perennials. The bulbs work underground after the bloom has faded to divide, giving you even more blooms the following spring. There are tricks to growing tulips if you live in a warm region, although it will take a little more work. Since tulip bulbs require a period of cold temperatures, you can buy pre-chilled tulips and plant them around Christmas. Remember, if you grow tulips in the south, you will need to buy new bulbs each year.

How to plant tulips

Line of tulip bulbs

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Tulips are easy to grow but have a few requirements if you want those striking blooms. First, select a location in full sun with soil that drains well. Do not plant bulbs in an area that gathers a lot of water and stays soggy; this will cause the bulbs to rot. 

Dig a hole six inches deep and place one bulb in, pointy side up. Cover the bulb with soil and water well. Plant bulbs about 4 inches apart, so they have room to reproduce for a few years. Once the bulbs become root-bound in the soil, they will stop blooming. If this happens, you can dig them up and share your extras or plant them, ideally in the fall.

If you need to divide your tulips, it can be challenging to remember where they are after the greens have died back, so mark them with something during the spring to remember where to dig in the fall. After the blooms have faded, you can remove the flower stem but let the greens die back naturally. This is how the bulbs store energy to reproduce and bloom the following year. However, just because fall is the ideal time to plant does not mean it’s the only time. If you find a bag of bulbs you forgot to plant, get them in the ground as soon as possible for the best chance of getting flowers next spring.

✿ Read More About Flowers.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.