Planting Tulips: When and How to Plant the Bulbs?

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:23 pm

If you look back to Holland in the 16th century, you will see that tulips were highly sought-after objects of love, which for a time even triggered the wildest speculation. Today, it is impossible to imagine our flower beds without these colourful lilies, and the variety of cultivars is enormous. Our article explains how to plant tulips so that they bloom profusely in spring.

Planting Tulips: When and How to Plant the Bulbs?

The right time to plant tulip bulbs

When should tulips be planted? Autumn is the ideal time of year for this. But you need to know this: Tulips should be planted quite late – later than many other bulbous plants. The best time for planting is October and November. Even December is usually a good time, as long as it is not freezing cold.

Planting Tulips: When and How to Plant the Bulbs?

There are two good reasons for planting late:

Firstly, cool temperatures suppress fungal growth in the soil, so the tulip bulbs are less susceptible to disease.
On the contrary, early planting can cause the bulbs to sprout prematurely and the foliage to freeze.

When there are no night frosts in sight and temperatures are between 0 and 10 degrees Celsius, the time for planting has come. Ideally, the soil should be moderately moist.

Tulip bulbs after purchase: plant tulips freshly

If you pay attention to quality when buying tulip bulbs, you lay the foundation for a successful tulip planting. The ideal tulip bulb is firm, dry, smooth-skinned and shows no conspicuous dark or mouldy spots. In addition, no sprouting should be visible.

Storing tulips: What you need to bear in mind

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If you have already bought your tulip bulbs in early autumn, you can store them for a short time. A dark, cold room that offers dry conditions is ideal. It is best to lay out the bulbs in a large area (in a box or on paper).

But what about when the ideal planting time has already passed – can you plant tulip bulbs in spring?

Missed autumn planting? Planting tulips in spring

In spring you can buy pre-sprouted tulips in pots and plant them out directly. However, it is best to leave the correct storage of the bulbs in winter and the pre-sprouting to the professionals. The bulbs definitely need a cold stimulus at the right time so that they will flower the next year.

Site requirements of tulips

A well-drained, sandy soil with a pH value between 6 and 7 is essential for healthy tulips. The bulb flowers are true sun worshippers – a full sun location promotes a lush flowering phase. If your garden soil is rather heavy and loamy, you should add some sand to the planting hole when planting and mix it well.

Tulips originate from steppe areas and therefore like a place in the garden that is rather dry. Unfortunately, the bulbs rot quite quickly if you water other plants in the bed extensively in summer. Overall, the flowering ability of garden tulips often decreases in the second spring. Therefore, they are often planted for only one season. Wild tulips, on the other hand, can form beautiful, dense cushions over time, provided they are left to grow undisturbed.

Planting tulips – also possible in pots

You can also cultivate your favourite varieties in pots or boxes. Varieties with a relatively low growth height (up to 30 centimetres) look particularly good in pots. Make sure there is a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot to prevent waterlogging. In addition to using a permeable substrate, a drainage layer of old clay shards or expanded clay is also recommended.

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Small tulip species for planters

Tulipa tarda: has multi-coloured, star-shaped flowers.
Tulipa praestans: is perennial and has bright red flowers.
Tulipa humilis: needs sandy, well-drained substrate
Tulipa polychroma: flowers from March and prefers drier soil

Planting tulips in autumn: explained step by step

The first step is to prepare the soil. First loosen your garden soil well and remove weeds and all large stones as a precaution. The soil can also be enriched with organic slow-release fertiliser or compost to give the tulips ideal starting conditions.
Do not forget: If your soil is too loamy, you should mix in some sand.
The next thing to do is to determine the planting distances. If you only want to plant tulip bulbs sporadically, this is of course less relevant. If large areas are to be planted, sufficient distance between the bulbs is important. Larger tulip bulbs need a distance of 15 to 20 centimetres, for smaller varieties even 10 centimetres will suffice.
Once you have positioned all the tulip bulbs on the area to be planted, it is time to plant them. If the soil is soft, the bulbs can easily be pressed into the ground. If the soil is harder, planting holes need to be pre-punched. When planting the tulip bulbs, make sure to place them in the soil twice as deep as they are tall. For very large tulip varieties, it may also be three times as deep. It is important that the tip of the bulb always points upwards.
Finally, cover the bulbs with soil. If the soil is rather dry, you can water thoroughly, otherwise rather moderately.
A small marker in the bed, for example a small sign, helps not to forget the bulbs. This way they cannot be accidentally dug up during other gardening work.

Tip: voles love tasty tulip bulbs. It is worth lining the tulips with wire planting baskets when planting them so that they are protected.

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After planting tulips: Further care after planting

Especially at the end of winter there is a risk that some bulbs will sprout too early. It is then a good idea to cover the sensitive shoot tips with some brushwood or bark mulch.

If there is no rain for a long time, tulips should be watered moderately. During the growing season and especially during the flowering period, regular fertilising is also beneficial – especially for tulips in pots. Do not cut back the foliage after flowering. This is because the bulbs then need to collect enough reserve material for the next year.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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