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How to Care for Tulips

Botanical Name Tulipa
Plant Type Flower bulb
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Well-drained clay, loamy or sandy soils
Soil pH Neutral to slightly acidic
Bloom Time Early to late spring
Flower Color Red, Pink, Orange, Yellow, Green, Purple, Bicolor, White
Hardiness Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Special Features Most tulips make outstanding cut flowers.

Tulip bulbs are among the best-loved spring flower bulbs. Nothing says spring like a bright display of these classic, cup-shaped blooms. By planting a large swath of tulips, you can attain a natural-looking, Dutch-field appearance. K. van Bourgondien has a wide selection to choose from and years of experience cultivating quality tulip bulbs. Learn more about growing them and maintaining their care with this how-to guide.

Tulip Bulbs

Tulip Bulb Planting Tips

Tulip bulbs should be planted in well-drained soil. You can improve the soil's drainage by working compost into the soil. The bulbs should be planted about 6" deep. A good rule of thumb is to plant them at a depth that's three times the bulb size. Space the bulbs about 6" apart. The bulbs should be planted pointy side up.

If you want to create a more naturalized look, scatter the tulip bulbs in a bed. Tulips are also stunning as border flowers.

While a shovel or trowel is great for digging, an auger and drill can make tulip bulb planting a lot easier. Both the Improved Bulb Auger and KneeSaver Planting Tool are time savers. Using an all-natural, slow-release fertilizer, like Van Bourgondien 100% Natural Bulb Food, at planting time can also give your tulips a boost.

When to Plant Tulips

Tulips are planted in the fall when the nighttime temperatures dip to 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit and several weeks before the first hard freeze. For northern gardeners, this is usually sometime in September or October. For southern gardeners, this is usually in November or December. The best time to order your tulip bulbs is late summer to early fall. Unique tulip varieties often sell out quickly, so ordering early is better.

Best Zones to Plant Tulips

Most tulips grow in hardiness zones 3-8. They're winter hardy in most temperate climates and suitable for many parts of the United States. You can find more information on growing zones at our zone finder page.

Tulips can be grown in full sun to partial shade. In northern climates they prefer full sun, while in hotter areas, they benefit from a bit of afternoon shade. When planting tulips, keep in mind that they bloom before many deciduous trees leaf out in the spring, so they can often be planted under trees.

How to Care for Tulips

Tulips, like other spring-flowering bulbs, are fairly easy to grow if you follow these tips on tulip care.

  • A light layer of mulch will suppress weeds and conserve moisture in the soil.
  • Tulips like warm, dry summers. Avoid planting them where you will water frequently in the summer months.
  • After flowering season, allow the foliage to fade naturally. The leaves are making food for next year's flowers.
  • Deadhead the plants as the flowers die off, but do not cut the leaves for at least six weeks after they stop growing.
  • If relocating tulips, dig them up after the leaves have turned brown. When the bulbs are dry, remove the roots and clean off the dirt. Store in a dry, well-ventilated place until fall planting time.
  • Common Problems with Tulips

    While tulips are easy-care bulbs, they may have some problems caused by the environment, disease or pests. Here are some common problems with tulips and some tulip plant care tips.

  • Flop over: Some of the taller varieties with large blooms may flop over. When planting taller varieties, plant in full sun and in an area that receives some protection from wind. You can also consider staking taller varieties.
  • Collapse: If the stems fall over near ground level, it could be caused by too much moisture and rot.
  • Distorted growth: If the foliage looks twisted, it's often the result of a fungal disease. The best thing to do is dig up the bulbs and destroy the bulbs and foliage (do not compost).
  • Mice and voles eating bulbs: Try placing a thin layer of gravel over the bulbs. You can also plant tulip bulbs in wire cages or baskets.
  • Potting Tulips

    Tulip flowers look stunning in pots--and it's easy to do if you follow a few tips.

  • Make sure the pot that you use has drainage holes. Tulip bulbs don't like to be waterlogged.
  • Use a good quality potting mix with vermiculite or perlite.
  • Plant bulbs about 4-6 inches deep. They can be spaced as closely as 1 inch apart.
  • Make sure the bulbs are chilled for 12-14 weeks. To do this, you can plant the bulbs in the pots, moisten the soil, and then store the pots in a dry place between 40-55 degrees.
  • After the chill period, place the pots in a sunny location with temperatures of 60-65 degrees. The tulip plants usually flower about 3-5 weeks later.
  • Propagating Tulips

    Tulips are most often propagated by dividing bulbs rather than from seed. Because most tulips are hybrids, propagating from seed often doesn't reproduce true. To propagate from bulbs, dig up the bulbs in the fall and break off the bulblets from the mother bulb. The bulblets can be replanted at a depth that is three times the diameter of the bulb. It may take a few years for the tulips to produce flowers.

    Tulip FAQs

    What are Common Tulip Pests?

    Tulips may be bothered by aphids, mites, slugs, snails, mice and voles. Squirrels may dig up the bulbs.

    What are Common Tulip Diseases?

    Common tulip diseases are bulb rot, root rot, gray mold and mosaic virus.

    How to Cut Tulips

    To cut tulip flowers, use a sharp knife to cut the stems at an angle. Place the tulips in water immediately after cutting.

    What to do With Tulips After They Bloom

    After tulips bloom, deadhead the flowers but leave the foliage for at least six weeks.

    How to Care For Tulips in a Pot

    Tulips grown in pots are usually treated as annuals. If you want to try growing tulip bulbs in pots year after year, then fertilize the tulips after they finish flowering. When the foliage fades, remove the bulbs from the soil. After they dry, store in a cool place.

    How to Take Care of Tulips Indoors

    Tulips grown indoors need about six hours of sunlight daily and should be watered 1 or 2 times a week.

    What do Tulips Represent?

    Tulip flowers symbolize perfect love.

    Types of Tulip Flowers

    When it comes to tulips you have many choices. The major factors to consider when selecting tulips are their bloom time (early spring, mid spring or late spring), flower color and form, and height. Below are some of the most popular tulip varieties.

    Darwin Hybrid Tulips

    Darwin Hybrid Tulips—Feature traditional egg-shaped blooms, bold colors and long, sturdy stems. Blooming in mid to late spring, they're reliably perennial.

    Double Flowering Tulips

    Double Flowering Tulips—Large, luxuriant blooms resemble peonies. Available in rich colors, they give gardens a unique look.

    Lily Flowering Tulips

    Lily Flowering Tulips—Give gardens a sophisticated, chic look. Available in bright hues, they look exceptional in borders and will draw the eye to the property.

    Parrot Tulips

    Parrot Tulips—Flamboyant blooms feature vibrant splashes of color and fringed petals. These sought-after tulips are ideal for mass plantings where their flowers are appreciated even from a distance.

    Species Tulips

    Species Tulips—Low-growing tulips with exotically shaped blooms bring flair to rock gardens and front borders. Early blooming variety looks best planted in groups and naturalizes well.

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