To grow tulips successfully: plant in well drained loose soil, less than one inch apart, eight inches deep, in an area that gets full sun. Harvest tulips in the morning when the bloom just begins to exhibit color but is still closed.
To grow stunning tulips from bloom to bulbs, you’ll want to get acquainted with the fundamentals: soil, depth, spacing, sun, water, cutting and maintenance.
Tulips have long been adored for their elegance. There was even a moment in history called “Tulip Mania.” Tulip Mania was a period of time during the Dutch Golden age when the price of tulips became insanely inflated. The price of tulips skyrocketed in a short period of time during the 17th century, eventually crashing back down. Some historians believe tulip mania to have been the first “speculative bubble” in recorded history. While the price of tulips remains relatively stable in today’s world – the allure and elegance of a tulip has not subsided. Tulips are still revered in all parts of the world. Tulips are my favorite flower because they are understated but truly intriguing in color and shape. Tulips are also a signal of the Spring season. Once the tulips begin to the bloom, the rest of the garden seems to give way to an outpouring of color.
This is my third season growing tulips. Each year I am yet again surprised and amazed with the beauty of tulips. Although grown typically as a cut flower, I can’t help but keep these beauties in the ground. I love the rhythm of tucking the tulip bulbs in for a long Winter slumber and to be awakened by the Spring sunshine. In past seasons I have labored over my tulip selection, meticulously researching different varieties and bloom patterns, seeking affirmation on my selections from loved ones. This season I decided to go for a tulip mix from Eden Brothers. I did this because the surprise of the tulips first emerging in early Spring is what I love most. So why not extend that surprise even further with a mix? I selected one hundred tulip bulbs to border my young lemon, avocado, and plum trees. I can imagine this planter giving way to perhaps dahlias? We shall see..
Where to Buy Tulip Bulbs
- Your local nursery
- Eden Brothers – This is my first season ordering from Eden Brothers. I found no issues with online ordering and I will keep you posted on their quality.
- White Flower Farm – Since they are an East Coast supplier, they are out of stock. I have purchased dahlias from them and were very impressed with the quality.
- Breck’s – Breck’s is the largest importer of Dutch bulbs to the United States. While I typically prefer to support smaller, local businesses, Breck’s pays a respectable homage to the Netherlands, which brought the tulip to center stage.
- Floret – Unfortunately, Floret has discontinued their line of tulips that I have grown the past two seasons. But, I’m on the lookout for them to bring them back perhaps in 2021?
Preparing the Soil
Tulips thrive in loose, well drained soil. Tulips do really well in sandy soil. If your soil is too compact or muddy, it can cause your bulbs to rot. To prepare the soil for planting, you will want to work the soil at least a foot deep. While you work the soil, ensure that the soil is nice and loose.
Depending on the size of your tulip bulb, you will plant the bulb about eight inches deep. A useful rule of thumb is to plant your tulips three times their height deep.
When it comes to tulip spacing, you have a range. If you wish to keep your tulips in ground as a perennial, then space them four inches apart. If you are growing your tulips as an annual, then you can space them as close as one inch apart. While most bulb suppliers won’t tell you to plant them this close, in the past two seasons I have deeply regretted not planting them closer together. Planting your tulips close together not only maximizes your yield, but it also it promotes longer stem length. Since tulips are fairly cost effectives (with store bought bouquets costing upwards of $12), I grow my tulips as an annual. This year I placed them about a half inch apart from one another. You will want to have the pointed side facing up, root side facing down.
Tulips will grow best if planted in an area that gets full sun. The definition of “full sun” is the area gets at bare minimum six hours per day but preferably eight hours or more.
Tulips require very little water beyond the first initial watering. Water them once very well after planting and then never again. Unless your growing area experiences an unexpected drought, you only need to water your tulips after you first plant them. If your area is experiencing a drought, water your tulips weekly and briefly.
The planter I planted my tulips in is on drip irrigation only on the borders and directly around my trees. Try to keep your tulips away from any automated irrigation systems.
When to Cut Your Tulips
Harvest tulips when they first begin to show color but before they open in the early morning. Harvesting your tulips at this time will ensure the longest vase life. To harvest tulips as an annual, which I recommend, gently loosen the area around the tulips with a shovel or pitchfork. Gently pull the tulip completely with the bulb. After harvesting, tulips will typically last at least two weeks in a vase. To harvest tulips as a perennial, cut your tulip at the base of the stem, leaving the foliage on the plant. Do not prune the leaves until they turn yellow. To learn how to maintain your bulbs as a perennial, see the next section: “End of season.”
I don’t recommend adding fertilizer is you intend to intend to grow your tulips as an annual. You should only add compost when first planting. If you intent to grow as a perennial, fertilize at the beginning of Fall.
Aphids are a common, but not detrimental, pest for tulips. To remove aphids from your tulips, simply fill a clean spray bottle with water and wash them away.
If your stems become discolored, flaccid, or streaky, then dig up the individual bulb right away and dispose of it. Diseases can spread quickly, so be sure to uproot the problem before it destroys your crop of tulips.
End of season
If you choose to grow your tulips as a perennial, leave the leaves on the tulip until they turn yellow. Do not water the area at all until Fall. Summer is considered the dormancy period for tulips. In the Fall, fertilize the area with a fertilizer specifically suited for tulip bulbs. I don’t particularly recommend growing tulips as a perennial because tulips require a considerable amount of “chill hours” that most growing areas don’t actually get. Inadequate “chill hours” contribute to less impressive blooms. Since tulips are so cost effective, why not buy new bulbs each year?
If you found this guide helpful or have recommendations for future posts, drop me a comment! Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t ever miss a bit of Carmen in the Garden.