Tulips (Tulipa)

No garden should be without the brightly coloured spring flowers of tulips. They come in a wide range of colours – both bright and pastel – and flower forms and shapes. Many have contrasting splashes or streaks of contrasting or complementary colours. There are singles as well as double-flowered forms.

How to grow tulips


Tulips prefer positions in full sun. They need a humus-rich soil, so improve the soil with lots of bulky organic matter, such as compost, which is well drained, doesn’t become waterlogged in winter or is regularly watered and kept moist in summer.

Tulip varieties

The range of varieties and species available is extremely wide, making tulips indispensable for spring displays. They are an invaluable addition to beds, borders and containers for their bold, colourful displays, and there are types suitable rock gardens, in informal groups in beds and borders or in formal bedding schemes, as well as for growing in containers.

Tulips growing

Planting tulips

Tulip bulbs are planted in autumn. The old advice was always to plant tulip bulbs in November to help prevent them getting tulip fire disease, but there’s no proof that this has any effect and most experts now recommend planting with all your other spring-flowering bulbs.

Dig planting holes deep enough so that the bulb is covered with twice its height of soil or compost; so a bulb 5cm (2in) tall is planted in a hole 15cm (6in) deep. In light, sandy soils, it pays to plant more deeply – up to 20cm (8in). In heavy, clay soils you can either plant a little more shallowly, or plant on a 2.5cm (1in) thick layer of sharp sand to improve drainage.

For the most colourful displays, don’t plant bulbs individually, but plant in bold clumps with bulbs 10-20cm (4-8in) apart depending on their growing height.

If you miss out on planting bulbs in autumn, most garden centres sell a selection of potted bulbs in winter and spring. These are useful for filling gaps in beds and borders or for instant colour in containers.

Suggested planting locations and garden types

Flower borders and beds, patios, containers, city and courtyard gardens, cottage and informal gardens.

How to care for tulips

Tulips are generally pretty easy to look after. The bulbs can be left in the ground from year to year to develop into large, bold clumps. Or, they can be lifted if the ground is needed for other plants or if summer bedding plants will be grown there; the regular watering bedding plants need isn’t conducive to the tulips’ summer dormant period.

When they finish flowering, the bulbs start to build up their strength and produce their flower buds for the following year. This is the most important time of year and when the plants need some care and attention.

Start by deadheading as soon as the flowers have faded. You can either carefully pull or cut off the faded flower, plus the developing seed pod behind the flower, but leave the flower stems and leaves to die down naturally. Don’t be tempted to remove the foliage before it has turned yellow or brown, or tie it into neat knots, as the bulbs need the leaves to feed them.

You can build up their strength further by giving them a liquid feed every 10 to 14 days while they’re still in leaf.

Lifting tulips

Because the dormant bulbs need warm, dry conditions in summer, they can be lifted once the foliage has died down, and stored in trays in a dry place out of direct sunlight to ripen until re-planting in autumn. Those used in formal bedding schemes are usually lifted to make room for summer displays.

When grown in more informal displays in mixed borders, the bulbs can be left in the ground and will usually perform well for several years, providing the site is warm and dry, and the dormant bulbs are not overshadowed by too much foliage. Even these will benefit from lifting and replanting every 4 to 5 years.


Tulips may be susceptible to the following disease: Tulip fire disease.

Flowering season(s) Spring, Summer
Foliage season(s) Spring, Summer
Sunlight Full sun
Soil type Chalky, Clay, Loamy, Sandy
Soil pH Neutral
Soil moisture Moist but well-drained
Ultimate height Up to 50cm (20in)
Ultimate spread Up to 20cm (8in)
Time to ultimate height 6 months

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