Planting tulips

I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the tulip, has to be one of the most beautiful flowers around. There are so many varieties, and when planted and cared for, are very much indicative of a healthy, colourful garden.

Not a native plant to the U.K, or even Northern Europe for that matter. The flowers were thought to be first found as far west as Spain and Portugal, across the Mediterranean and Northern Africa to Iran, and as far north as Southern Russia.

With this, it is important that you create an environment in which your tulips will thrive. For instance, your tulips will enjoy fertile, well-drained soil with full sun, sheltered from strong winds.

Tulips make for ideal bedding or container plants when mixed with annual and biennial planting, and can also be naturalised to be planted into the grass.

By planting a selection of varieties of this perennial, we can enjoy their beauty from early spring through early summer.

We have put together a guide to help you get started on growing beautiful, radiant tulips in your garden!


As mentioned briefly, it is important that you have optimal conditions for your tulips. This means that you will have to check, adjust and add certain nutrients to the area of soil you are looking to make a home for your tulips.

Another key thing to note here is that tulips do not like excessively wet conditions. You will need to remember this when there is a severe deluge of rain forecast, or when watering your plants.

Ensure that one of the first steps that you take is to check the ph. level of your soil. Tulips desire a ph. level of between 5-7, meaning that a neutral to alkaline soil is preferred. If the soil falls into an acidic reading, then you may need to apply lime to adjust the level. Use a good quality fibre enriched compost such as Miracle-Gro Bulb Fibre Enriched Compost.

Also, look to add chicken manure or organic matter to nutrient-poor soils to aid your tulips environment. This will help balance the soil and enable your bunch to thrive.

Plant your tulips in a spot which has full coverage from the sun, or alternatively, afternoon sun, with a little morning shade.

How and when to plant

Planting tulips

Tulips don’t need to be planted until October/November. They only start putting roots down then and the cold temperatures help to wipe out viral and fungal diseases that lurk in the soil and which may infect the bulbs.

Planting late is a traditional means of protecting against plant disease. If you can time the planting of your tulips for around 4 weeks before the first frost and ensure that the soil temperature is below 15.5 Celsius.

Look to use only healthy bulbs, discarding any that are damaged or show signs of mould.

Try to space your bulbs out with a gap of between 4 to 6 inches. Look to plan the number of bulbs by the size of your plot.

Plant bulbs deep - at a depth of at least three times their height. And that means digging even deeper, to loosen the soil and allow for drainage, or creating raised beds. Remember, the bigger the bulb, the deeper the hole it needs.

When planting, ensure that the pointy bit of the bulb is facing up. Cover with soil and press down firmly. Then water gently to help trigger growth.

If you’re planning to raise perennial tulips, feed them when you plant them in the autumn. Bulbs are their own complete storage system and contain all of the nutrients they need for one year.

How to encourage re-flowering

Most bedding types of tulips are best replaced after a year. If they are left after a year they are very unlikely to grow after that period of time.

What you can do after the tulips have flowered, is lift and then dry the bulbs, before replanting. When lifting bulbs it is best to dry them for 24hrs first. Good quality bulbs should be stored in a paper / hessian bags, plastic is not recommended.

Make sure that you do this around 6 weeks after flowering when the foliage has turned yellow. If you need to lift before, then place in trays until discolouration.

Then, discard any bulbs that have become discoloured or damaged.

The certainty of flowering is less than that of new bulbs, so you may want to choose the area of planting differently, as there is still a slight chance that this batch could go awry.

Replant the largest bulbs; smaller bulbs may be grown in containers in a bulb frame, in a mix of equal parts loam, leaf mould, and sharp sand. When in growth, water moderately, applying a balanced liquid fertiliser weekly for 3 or 4 weeks after flowering; keep dry in summer, and report annually.

Tips for care

To get the longest vase life, cut tulip stems, diagonally and place in a clean vase with no more than 2cm of water (taking care that the water does not dry up completely). This ensures that tulips have to work hard to stay strong and will not droop.

Adding a couple of drops of household bleach to the water in the vase helps to prevent bacteria build-up and prolongs the vase life of your tulips. Be sure to re-cut the stems and change the water every couple of days to keep your cut tulips as fresh as possible.

It is important to leave the browning foliage on your tulips until every leaf has died right down, usually by early summer. This allows the bulb to store more food and produce flowers the following year. This rule applies across the board with bulbs.

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