When to Plant Tulip Bulbs: Everything You Need to Know About Growing the Classic Flowers

Check the firmness and for signs of mold when picking tulip bulbs.

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How to pick the right tulip bulb

To pick out the right bulb to plant, it’s important to recognize signs of health. “When you’re buying your tulip bulbs, make sure they are firm,” Ivanov says. “When you touch them, there should be no signs of mold on them.” Finally, try to buy the bulbs early at your garden center because the best quality bulbs will sell first, and anything remaining might not be good quality, he advises.

How to plant tulip bulbs

Step 1: Prepare the soil

“Before planting, prepare the planting area. Do this by loosening it to a depth of 12 inches,” says Trautz Awot. Next, remove any weeds or debris in the soil that could affect the tulip bulbs’ growth. “Then, add several inches of organic matter like compost.” Bone meal is another option.

In terms of soil pH levels, tulips prefer neutral to slightly acidic soil. Also be sure to check the soil quality, as tulips don’t like clay soil. According to Ivanov, “If you’re working with clay or sandy soil, you can improve it by adding a lot of organic matter before planting the bulbs.” Or, if you’re planting your tulip bulbs in pots instead, use a peat-free multipurpose compost, he says.

Most importantly, you want the soil to be damp—not too wet or dry. “When you’re planting tulip bulbs, you’ll need to provide them with damp and well-draining soil and a sunny but sheltered spot,” says Ivanov. Tulips favor fast-draining soil that doesn’t stay wet for too long. Too wet and the tulip bulbs can rot. On the other hand, if the soil is too warm and dry in the fall or winter seasons, the tulip bulbs can develop fungal disease.

Step 2: Plant in damp soil during autumn

In the fall, ideally around October or November, plant your tulip bulbs about six to eight inches deep. “A good rule of thumb is to plant the bulbs at a depth that is roughly three times their diameter,” says Trautz Awot. Put the bulb inside your freshly dug hole with the pointed side up and top-press the area with compost. “Make sure to plant each bulb in an individual planting hole with enough spacing around each one.”

Step 3: Water

After planting, there’s no need to soak the bulb with water. “Instead, water them well only once after planting and moderately in the spring,” says Ivanov. In spring, you can water once a week to help the flowers establish an elaborate root system. Ideally, the soil should stay damp but not soggy. Too soggy and the bulbs will rot; however, if the soil is too dry, the bulbs may fail to absorb enough nutrients to thrive.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do tulips grow better in sun or shade?

The colorful flowers can make stunning additions to a garden.

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Tulips grow best as perennials in environments with moist, cold winters—conditions found through most USDA zones three through eight. They prefer full sun but will tolerate part shade. Soil temperature doesn’t matter. “Generally, I’d recommend choosing a spot in your garden that will get full sun early in spring and has good drainage,” says Ivanov.

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