Tulip Basics

In autumn when most people are visiting pumpkin patches and making Halloween costumes, gardeners are thinking ahead to spring. For gorgeous tulip blooms in April and May the bulbs need to be planted in fall.

Tulip Fast Facts

Tulips are categorized into groups or classifications known as divisions, depending on how the flower looks: single early, double early, triumph, Darwin hybrid, single late, lily flowered, fringed, viridiflora, Rembrandt, parrot, double late, Kaufmaniana, Fosteriana, Griegii, and miscellaneous (species). It’s helpful to know the divisions and the sequence of their bloom to plan for more continuous color. Here is a general guide.

  • Early Flowering – single early, double early, Greigii, Kaufmanniana, Fosteriana, species
  • Mid-season Flowering – Darwin, Triumph, Parrot
  • Late-season Flowering – Single late, double late, viridiflora, lily, fringed, Rembrandt

Most early and mid-season tulip varieties are excellent for forcing. Purchase non-precooled bulbs, plant them in a pot or your favorite container, cover with fine mulch and keep in a cool (around 40 degrees) place such as a shed or garage for 6 – 10 weeks. Then move the pot into a warm room until growth is well underway. The blooms will keep longer if the container is placed in a relatively cool room and out of direct sunlight.

Tulips can grow from 4 inches to 28 inches high depending on their type.

Tulips thrive in climates with long cool springs, dry summers and cold winters. To try to keep them from year to year, plant at the recommended depth, remove faded blooms so they do not produce seed, and allow the leaves to yellow before removing them. In areas where spring is short and summer is hot gardeners usually replace tulips every year.

Plant tulip bulbs in fall at least 30 days before the ground freezes. Keep the bulbs cool, below 65 degrees, until ready to plant.

Tulips perform best growing in full sun and generally normal rainfall is enough moisture. They tolerate a wide range of soils as long as the drainage is good.

Tulips are most dramatic when planted in drifts or masses with clumps of at least 15 – 20 bulbs. It is recommended to space the bulbs 5 – 6 inches apart, but for big splash space the bulbs 1 – 3 inches apart.

A background of other perennials or a small evergreen hedge will make the blooms really stand out.

Definitely plant tulips in containers for additional color.

Low growing spring flowers like pansies and violas are good companions for tulips. Just plant these flowers right over the bulbs and the tulips will come up through the foliage. Where winters are mild plant pansies and violas in fall, cold climate gardeners can plant them in spring.

Good to Know

Tulips grown from seed often need 5 – 8 years of growth before plants are flowering size. Tulips from offsets or baby bulbs detached from the mother bulb require a year or more of growth before plants are large enough to flower.