Learn How to Plant and Care for Tulips (2024)

Common NameTulip
Botanical NameTulipa spp.
Plant TypePerennial, bulb
Mature Size9–24 in. tall, 6–9 in. wide
Sun ExposureFull
Soil TypeRich, well-drained soil
Soil pHAcidic, neutral
Bloom TimeSpring
Flower ColorRed, Pink, Orange, Yellow, Green, Purple, Black, White
Hardiness Zones3–8 (USDA)
Native AreaEurope, Asia
ToxicityToxic to humans, toxic to pets

Learn How to Plant and Care for Tulips (1)

Learn How to Plant and Care for Tulips (2)

Learn How to Plant and Care for Tulips (3)

Learn How to Plant and Care for Tulips (4)

How to Plant Tulips

Tulips grow best as perennials in climates with moist, cool-to-cold winters and warm, dry summers. Because they sprout and bloom early in the spring, tulips can work well beneath trees and shrubs that will leaf out to create shady conditions later in the season.

Plant the bulbs 4 to 8 inches deep in the fall (a depth about three times the size of the bulbs) in a sunny location with well-drained soil. Space the bulbs 2 to 5 inches apart (depending on their size), with the pointy end facing up. Tulips tend to display best if planted in groups of about 10 bulbs.

Tulips are sometimes grown as annuals—especially the hybrid varieties. Unless labeled as "perennialized" or "naturalizing," hybrids rarely rebloom the following year. If it's not a reblooming type, dig them up and discard the bulbs after blooming is complete. Reblooming hybrid types must be divided every few years to keep them from declining.

How to Care for Tulips

Here are the main care requirements for growing tulips:

  • Plant tulip bulbs in the fall; they need the winter chill to spur emergence in the spring.
  • Select a full-sun location; under deciduous trees works well since they are leafless in winter and early spring.
  • Ensure they have well-draining soil that will not be waterlogged or get too much moisture or humidity; only water when dry and only give supplemental water if it hasn't rained in one to two weeks.
  • Feed the soil with compost, bone meal, or granular fertilizer when planting the bulbs.


All varieties of tulips prefer full sun. Remember, the areas under deciduous trees are shady in the summer and mostly sunny in the early spring when tulips are actively growing. Thus, these spaces are excellent spaces for growing tulips and other spring bulbs.


Tulips prefer rich, well-draining soil with a neutral pH to slightly acidic (6.0 to 7.0). Mixing in compost can improve drainage and provide nutrients to the bulbs. Ideally, do this before planting the bulbs. Otherwise, you can apply a few inches of compost over the soil to encourage earthworms to tunnel into the soil, improving circulation and tilth.


Water the bulbs thoroughly immediately after you plant them, but withhold watering after this except during extended dry spells. If your region gets rain every week or two, don't water your tulips. In arid regions, watering every two weeks is recommended.

Temperature and Humidity

Tulips thrive in regions with cool-to-cold winters and dry, warm summers—conditions found through much of USDA zones 3 to 8. They require 12 to 14 weeks of temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit to bloom, so in regions with warm winter temperatures, they must be planted as annuals from suppliers who prechill the bulbs.

Tulips tend to do better in dry regions rather than humid climates since high humidity usually goes hand-in-hand with lots of spring and summer rain, which can cause bulbs to rot.


Add some compost, bone meal, or granular fertilizer to the planting hole when you plant the tulip bulbs. Feed them again the following spring when they sprout again. Other than this, no additional feeding is necessary. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions.

Tulip Symbolism and Fun Facts

  • Tulips come from central Asia, mainly popularized in Turkey. Turkey introduced flowers to the Netherlands in the 17th century. The Dutch are the no. 1 producer of tulips in the world.
  • Tulips are a symbol of true love, related to folklore stories where blood-red tulips emerged from the ground where blood was shed for loved ones.
  • Various colors have deeper meanings, according to FlowerMeaning.com. Red flowers symbolize everlasting love; white stands for forgiveness; pink means friendly or family love; yellow symbolizes spurned love; and purple represents royalty.
  • The word "tulip" likely comes from the Persian word for "turban" since the flower heads resemble turban headwear.
  • Tulips are the flowers linked to the 11th wedding anniversary.

Tulip Classifications and Types

Tulips are classified into 15 official groups based on shape, size, bloom time, and genetic origin:

  • Single early: Cup-shaped with one flower per short stem; first tulips to bloom, starting late March.
  • Double early: More than the usual number of petals, with a fluffy appearance; tall stems (12 to 15 inches); start blooming in early April; can be harmed by cold snaps and winds.
  • Triumph: Cross between early and late singles; tall stems (15 to 18 inches); late-April bloomers.
  • Darwin hybrid: Cross between Darwin and Fosteriana; tall stems (24 inches) and very hardy; naturalize well; late-season, blooming into May.
  • Single late: One bloom per stem; known for a wide range of colors and late-season bloomers.
  • Lily-flowered: Tall (18 to 24 inches), late-season bloomers with pointed, slightly flared petals.
  • Fringed: Fringed or ruffled petal edges in many colors, sometimes with contrasting colors on the fringe; late-season bloomers with 12- to 18-inch stems.
  • Viridiflora: Late season blooms on 12- to 24-inch stems with distinctive green streaks in their petals.
  • Rembrandt: Once prized for their colorful streaks and mottling, no longer grown commercially because the coloring was caused by a virus that spreads to other tulips; plants now advertised as 'Rembrandt' are cultivars that mimic the look of the originals.
  • Parrot: Named for the bud's resemblance to a parrot's beak; flowers are large, with twisted, curling petals on tall stems (12 to 24 inches); late-season blooms.
  • Double late: Also called peony tulips; tall stems (18 to 24 inches) with enough petals to rival a peony bloom; not particularly hardy but work well in containers.
  • Kaufmanniana: Also known as the water lily tulip, early bloomers with wide-open flowers that are almost flat; leaves have brownish-purple mottling; short plants, only 6 to 12 inches tall.
  • Fosteriana: Also known as emperor tulips; large flowers, often with pointed petals and available in many colors; bloom mid-season; plant 8 to 15 inches tall.
  • Griegii: Short (8 to 12 inches), early-season bloomers with flared, pointed petals and wavy leaves; brightly colored, including some bi-colors.
  • Species or wild tulips: Great for perennializing; short plants (4 to 12 inches) with lots of variety and varying bloom times.

Hundreds of named hybrids and cultivars exist across the various tulip divisions. Many hybrid types tend to be relatively short-lived. A handful of the popular ones include:

  • 'Purissima' (Fosteriana division): Very early, pale yellow petals that fade to white
  • 'Ballarina' (Lily division): Fragrant with flared, pointed, orange petals
  • 'Ballarina' (Fosteriana division): Sunny yellow with white tips that look like feathers
  • 'Prinses Irene' (Triumph division): Rembrandt-style orange petals streaked with burgundy
  • 'Spring green' (Viridiflora division): White petals with green center stripes; late-blooming and long-lasting
  • 'Las Palmas' (Fringed division): Large, fringed white petals with a red flame, long-lasting cut flower.
  • 'Vanilla Coupe' (Double late division): Yellow, double five-inch blooms with an outer layer of green petals, blooms in late May.
  • 'Diamond Jubilee' (Triumph division): Mid-spring bloomer with creamy white petals edged in vivid pink.


When growing tulips as perennials, remove the flower stalks immediately after they flower to prevent the plants from producing seed pods, which drains the bulb's energy and shortens its life. Leave the foliage in place until it turns yellow in mid-to-late summer. This helps replenish the bulb's energy.

Propagating Tulips

Tulips spread in two ways: by creating bulblets that sprout from the mother bulb underground and by seeds produced by flowers. The most common (and quicker method) is lifting the bulbs and dividing the offset bulbs (bulblets) attached to the mother bulb. This should be done in the fall, at the normal planting time for tulips. Divide bulbs every three to five years.

  1. Dig up the bulbs with a trowel or spade, then brush off the soil and gently break off the small offset bulbs from the mother bulb.
  2. Inspect the offsets and discard any that appear soft or deformed.
  3. Replant the offsets and the mother bulb at a depth about three times the bulb's diameter, with the pointed side facing up.

The new tulips may produce foliage but no flowers for the first few years. At about the third year, you can expect the new bulbs to bloom.

How to Grow Tulips From Seed

Propagating tulips by seeds is uncommon, as they are very slow-growing, and seeds collected from hybrid plants generally do not "come true" to the original plant.

However, species tulips (not hybrids) will come true if you plant the seeds found in the pods left behind after the flowers fade. But nursing the seeds through germination to mature plants with bulbous roots is a slow process, requiring at least two years.

  1. After collecting the seeds from the dried pods, store them in the refrigerator for at least 12 to 14 weeks. In cold winter zones, tulip seeds are often planted indoors in late February.
  2. Sow tulip seeds on the surface of small pots filled with potting mix. Cover the seeds with a bare covering of additional potting mix (1/4 inch).
  3. Place the pots in a sunny location and keep them moist until the seeds sprout.
  4. Keep the seedlings growing in the pot through the spring, summer, and fall, feeding them weekly with a half-strength dose of balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. Heavy feeding is necessary for the seedlings to create bulbous roots. The pots can be moved outside once the weather warms.
  5. In late fall, move the potted plants into a refrigerator or a cold frame for outdoor chilling. The plants will need to be chilled for at least 12 weeks.
  6. After the chilling period is complete in later winter or early spring, bring the pots back outdoors to sprout and grow again.
  7. Once the foliage is fully developed in this second growing season, the plants can be transplanted into their permanent garden locations.
  8. Remain patient; it may take another year before seed-started plants can flower.

Potting and Repotting Tulips

Tulips are easy to grow in well-draining pots filled with standard potting mix. This method is often used to force tulips into midwinter bloom indoors, but timing is critical, as the bulbs require a 12- to 14-week chilling period.

Plant the chilled bulbs about 2 to 3 inches deep, lightly moisten the soil, then store the pots in a dry, cool (35 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit) location for the recommended chill period. The pots can be chilled in a refrigerator or outdoors in a sheltered area if you live in a cold-winter climate.

After the chill period, bring the pots into a bright room at moderately warm temperatures—about 60 to 65 degrees. Within three to five weeks, the plants should flower. Thus, the bulbs must be planted in late September and chilled until late December for late January or early February bloom.

Potted bulbs rarely rebloom the following season. It's recommended to treat the bulbs of spend flowers like annuals; pull up the bulbs and discard them.


If growing them in cold-winter zones, garden tulips require no special winter protection. However, withhold watering in fall, as wet winter soil can encourage bulb rot.

Newly planted seeds started in spring in containers need a cold frame to protect them for their first outdoor winter.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Tulip bulbs and foliage are popular with many animals, including deer, squirrels, and other rodents. In some areas, it's not worth planting tulips in the ground; you're better off growing them in protected containers. Alternatively, you can try deterrents or interplant the tulips with daffodils, but be prepared to lose a few.

Insect pests include:

  • Aphids: Wash off with water spray or squash them with your fingers.
  • Bulb mites: Sometimes found in purchased bulbs. Inspect the bulbs for signs of decay. A brief two-minute soak in 120-degree water will kill mites.
  • Thrips: Combat with sticky traps or introduce ladybugs and green lacewings as predatory insects. Thrip damage may appear as brown or silvery streaks on the leaves of tulips.

Tulips are susceptible to basal rot and fire fungus. Basal rot appears as dark brown spotting or pink or white fungus on the bulbs. Plants that grow from affected bulbs may be deformed or die early. The best remedy is to discard affected bulbs and plant new bulbs that have been treated with a fungicide.

Bulbs affected by fire fungi lead to malformed or stunted plants or plants that never emerge. Affected plants may have curling shoots or dead areas with dark green rings. Treat affected plants with a fungicide. Discard affected bulbs, and plant new bulbs that have been treated with a fungicide.

How to Get Tulips to Bloom

Although tulips are perennial bulbs, many hybrid types tend to be relatively short-lived. Mature tulip bulbs typically bloom reliably in the spring if the conditions are ideal—plenty of sun and fertile, well-drained soil.

Bloom Months

Tulips typically bloom in April or May, with foliage preceding flowers in March. They can also be forced to bloom earlier indoors after bulbs have had a 12-week chill period.

How Long Do Tulips Bloom?

Tulips can bloom for one to two weeks, depending if the outdoor ambient temperature is cooler (45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit). The flowers will only last a few days if the temperatures are warmer. These flowers will not rebloom in the same growing season.

Tulips also make great cut flowers. Cut tulips prefer cold water in the vase and cooler room temperatures to last longer. On average, blooms last about five days in a tall-stemmed vase. Barely opened buds last longer than already opened tulips.

To help cut tulips last longer: Cut off 1/2 inch from the bottom of the stem every day in the water, top off the water with cold water daily, remove leaves below the water level, do not put the vase in direct sun, and do not allow tulips to share a vase with narcissus (daffodils) since they give off a toxin.

Failure to Bloom

When tulips fail to bloom, it is usually for one of these reasons:

  • The bulbs are not yet mature enough. Especially after dividing, small bulbs may take a year or two to develop into flowering plants. Good spring feeding will speed their development.
  • The bulbs are too old. Hybrid tulips, in particular, are relatively short-lived. When your tulips decline, dig them up and split off the younger offset bulbs to replant.
  • The plants don't get enough sunlight. Tulips are sun-loving plants, so don't position them where fences, walls, or evergreen plants cast shade.
  • The bulbs need feeding. Tulips are not heavy feeders, but you should give them a healthy dose of bulb fertilizer when planting and each spring after that.

What Do Tulip Flowers Look and Smell Like?

The flowers are usually cup-shaped, with three petals and three sepals, but within this general description, there is a wide variety, including types with ruffled, fringed, and fully double blossoms that look more like peonies than tulips. Many tulips are odorless, but some have a honey or green-citrusy smell.

How to Encourage More Blooms

Tulips are perennials, so they should return year after year, but if kept in the ground, they are picky about reblooming the following growing season. Tulips depend on ideal growing conditions throughout the year.

If purchasing bulbs, choose tulips labeled "naturalizing" or "perennializing" if you are planting in the correct USDA zone for that variety.

Some tulip growers choose to pull up bulbs, store them, chill them, and replant them for the next season. Others pull up the bulbs and discard them like annuals if they're not a reliable reblooming variety.

Deadheading Tulip Flowers

Deadhead tulip flowers as soon as the flowers wither if you want to keep the bulbs for the following year. Otherwise, the plant will put its energy into developing tulip seed pods, pulling vigor from the bulbs.

Caring for Tulips After They Bloom

After deadheading, many tulip growers allow the foliage to die back naturally. They dig up the bulbs about six weeks after blooming. Discard damaged or diseased bulbs and let them dry. Store them in trays or nets in a dark, dry place over the summer and replant them in the fall.

Common Problems With Tulips

In the right location and climate, tulips are relatively trouble-free, though hybrid types may decline much faster than you'd like—within three or four years. In addition, there are a few other common complaints:

Tall Varieties Flop Over

Some hybrid tulips have very large blossoms and flower stalks that can be 2 feet or taller. These types may require staking, especially if the plants are in semi-shady locations, which encourages legginess.

Plants Collapse at Ground Level

When tulip stems grow soft and collapse at ground level, it's almost always due to root or stem rot caused by excessively moist soil. Remember that tulips are native to moderately dry regions of Europe and Asia and will do best in conditions that mimic that environment.

Foliage Is Twisted, Distorted

This is usually a symptom of a severe fungal disease (basal rot or fire fungus) requiring you to dig up and destroy the bulb before it can spread to other plants.

Flowers and Flower Buds Are Streaked, Distorted

This is usually a symptom of tulip virus, for which there is no cure. Affected plants must be removed and discarded—not composted, which can allow the virus to be transmitted.


  • How do I use tulips in the landscape?

    Tulips are among the earlier spring bloomers, so they can be worked into any spot in the yard. They look best when planted in clusters rather than lines. They make good companions for other spring bulbs, like Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow), late daffodils, dwarf iris, and Scilla.

    Cool-season annuals like snapdragons and pansies provide a nice contrast to the cup shape of tulip flowers. The blues of forget-me-nots and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) play up the bold colors of tulips.

  • Can I grow tulips if I live in a warm-winter climate?

    Because tulips require a chilling period, gardeners in warmer climates purchase pre-chilled bulbs and plant them annually. In warm southern gardens, tulips can emerge in early January and bloom in early February.

    You can also chill the bulbs yourself by giving them at least six weeks in a refrigerator at temps below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. But it is important not to store the bulbs in a refrigerator that is also being used to store fruits and vegetables, as produce outgases compounds that can prevent tulip bulbs from setting buds.

    It is also possible for southern gardeners to dig up bulbs after the foliage has faded, then store the bulbs and chill them in the refrigerator before planting again in late fall. Bulbs dug up and reused this way do not have a very long life; at most, you'll get a couple of years of flowers from them. It is better to buy fresh, chilled bulbs each year.

  • How long do tulip bulbs last?

    The longevity of tulip bulbs varies considerably depending on the type you are growing. Species types are fairly long-lived perennials, coming back and multiplying year after year. But many hybrid forms will give you a good display for only two or three years, then begin to decline gradually.

  • How can I protect my tulips from squirrels and deer?

    Squirrels and other small rodents love to dig up and eat tulip bulbs–sometimes within hours of planting. One way to guard your bulbs is by burying chicken wire or hardware cloth over the bulbs. The metal wire will discourage rodents but still allow plant shoots to emerge through the openings. You can also use granular or liquid repellants, though these will need to be applied every week or two until the plants have fully sprouted.

    Finally, intermingling your tulip bulbs with bulbs that are repellant to squirrels can help. For example, rodents dislike hyacinths, alliums, and daffodils, so mixing tulips among these bulbs may discourage these creatures.

    If a deer problem prohibits you from growing tulips in your yard, grow them in a fenced vegetable garden.

Learn How to Plant and Care for Tulips (2024)


How do you plant and care for tulips? ›

Tulips need the sun to grow, but though they adore basking in its glory all day, they can also do very well in places with dappled shade or scattered sunlight. Tulips will need to be planted deep enough that they won't be affected by temperature variations above ground, either too warm or too cold.

Can you leave tulip bulbs in the ground all year? ›

While you do not need to dig and divide your tulips every year; they should be dug up at least 3-4 years if planted in the ground. If you are not digging them up yearly, make sure they are not in an area of the yard where they will be watered all summer. Too much water over the summer will rot/kill your bulbs.

How many tulip bulbs do you plant in one hole? ›

And following the design principle known as the Rule of Threes, odd numbers of objects in a grouping look more pleasing than even, so we suggest planting at least three to five tulip bulbs per hole. It's also beautiful to plant an entire area—say, a few feet wide and long—for maximum aesthetic impact.

What are the basic needs of a tulip? ›

Tulips require full sun for the best display, which means at least 6 hours of bright, direct sunlight per day. They also prefer fast-draining soil and, consequently, make excellent additions to rock gardens.

What is the best month to plant tulip bulbs? ›

For the best results you need to plant your tulip bulbs in autumn. This is due to the soil needing to have cooled off from the summer season before you plant. Ideally you should plant your tulip bulbs in October or November. However if you are in a warm climate it is best to plant them in December.

Can I transplant my spent potted tulips in ground? ›

Once the weather heats up, the leaves will die off. Then you can plant the bulbs in the ground, or wait and plant them in the fall. Plant only bulbs that are firm and odorless. The tulips might not bloom next year, but they may the second or third year.

How many years will tulips come back? ›

(Small, weak tulip bulbs will likely never bloom again.) Plant new tulip bulbs in the fall. While most modern tulip cultivars bloom well for three to five years, some tulip types (classes) bloom well over a longer period.

How do you get tulips to come back every year? ›

So, planting your tulip bulbs in a sunny area increases the likelihood of them returning year after year. Once the tulips have finished blooming and starter to wither cut the dead heads from the tulips. This way the plant will preserve the energy it needs for the winter months.

What happens if you plant bulbs too deep? ›

So I planted them deeper than the package suggested. Will this hurt? Planting bulbs too deep can result in bulb rot and a bit of a delay in spring growth.

What side of the house should you plant tulips? ›

Tulips need full sun. That's what it says on their planting instructions so I plant them where they will get full sun most of the day. This is the first year I've ever planted them. It gets hot here and the winter may not be cold enough to set the bulbs.

How do you make tulips happy? ›

Tried and true ways to keep your tulips from drooping:
  1. Grab green tulips. ...
  2. Keep the stems in water. ...
  3. Cut your tulips. ...
  4. Remove leaves below water level. ...
  5. Choose a supportive vase. ...
  6. Be careful who you pair tulips with. ...
  7. Choose cold water. ...
  8. Don't overfill your vase.
Feb 18, 2018

Do tulips drink a lot of water? ›

Tulips drink a lot of water, so it is essential to change the water daily or every other day. This also keeps their water supply clean and lessens the harmful effects of bacteria. Doing this one thing, along with cutting the ends of the tulips, will extend the life of your tulips more than anything else.

What to do with planted tulips after they bloom? ›

To encourage your tulips to bloom again next year, remove the seed heads once the blooms have faded. Allow the foliage to die back naturally then dig up the bulbs about 6 weeks after blooming. Discard any damaged or diseased ones and let them dry.

How do you keep tulips blooming every year? ›

To guarantee that your tulips will come back and bloom again next year, dig up the bulbs after the leaves have turned yellow and withered, then let then dry before storing them in a dark, cool location such as a basem*nt or garage. Replant the bulbs in the fall.

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