When to Plant Tulips

When To Plant Tulips

October 08, 2021

It’s time to think about spring flowers. It may not seem top of mind amid fall, but if you get them planted now, you’ll be pretty proud of your garden come spring! 

Photography By Kelly Savoca-West


When to Plant Tulips

Knowing when to plant tulips (and other bulbs) can make or break your spring garden. The most important step is considering your USDA hardiness zone. You can find that out here.

There is a simple way to think about this. Zones 7 or lower should plant in the fall before the first frost date. Zones 8 or higher should plant in late fall or early winter. Think December and January. In this scenario, you’ll also want to consider keeping bulbs in a cool (40-45°F) environment for up to 10 weeks before planting. 

Where to Plant Tulips

In northern regions, full sun is the most optimal location. In southern regions, consider areas that receive partial sun as well. This will help with overheating. Well-drained soil is best. If your soil is a bit sandy or clay-based then adding compost will aid in creating nice, full blooms. If you have tested the pH of your soil, then a pH between 6-7 is ideal.  

tulip bulbs     pink tulips

How to Plant Tulips
Once you’ve sorted out time and location, planting is the fun and easy part. Spend time thinking through how you’d like your garden to look. By this, I mean what colors work well together and whether you would like to create a design as you are planting. Is symmetry important to you? Also, consider mixing early, mid, and late bloomers to extend the season. 
From here, lay out the bulbs where you’d like to plant them. It’s as simple as setting them on top of the ground to get a feel for the layout. This will help ensure you are spacing evenly and so on. 
Now it’s time to get them in the dirt! Similar to an onion, they have a root bottom, a papery shell, and a pointed tip. The root side goes down and this ensures the plant grows upright. Placing them 6 inches deep and 3-6 inches apart is pretty standard. I’ve worked at places like Cheekwood, where the bulbs were placed even closer than this and they did just fine! In areas of severe frost, go deeper to eight inches. Adding a nice layer of insulating mulch over the bed goes a long way too. Like many plants, be sure to water them directly after planting. Continue to water if your area does not see regular rainfall. 
You can also consider adding fertilizer in the fall and spring. In my case, I’ve fertilized primarily in the spring, right before sprouting and have seen success with (daffodil) bulbs returning year after year.
Long-Term Tulip Care
Many hybrid tulips sold in stores will have to be replaced the next year for the best effect. Species tulips, on the other hand, can come back every year and require less care. 
Hybrid tulips can simply be pulled up and composted. Species tulips you’ll want to wait until the foliage dies naturally by turning yellow or brown. Avoid doing so while the leaves are still green as there won’t be enough stored nutrients for them to bloom again next year. To tidy up my beds I’ve also had success with gently wrapping leaves in small, loose bundles until they were fully yellow or brown and ready to be clipped. 
In areas where deer or other rodents are prevalent, you may need to consider some type of fencing or chicken wire to keep them from eating the bulbs. 
Planting tulips this season? Tag your photos with @cottonandmoss on IG. We’d love to see what you are up to!

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