Featured in old Dutch flower paintings, tulips have been extensively hybridized since the first species were introduced to Europe in the 16th century.
Today, tulips come in a vast array of colors, shapes, and forms. Our planting guide will teach you how to plant and grow tulips.
Tulips can be grown from seeds or bulbs, but when’s the best time to plant them? The general rule is to plant tulips as late as possible in fall, later than other bulbs. You want the ground to be cool, so they are more likely to thrive and produce flowers. In warmer climates, plant in early winter.
PLANTING TULIPS IN DIFFERENT CLIMATES
Tulips are cold-weather plants. They grow best in colder regions, in the plant Zones 3-7, where the average minimum temperature ranges from 10°F/-12°C to -40°F/40°C.
They won’t grow if temperatures drop below -50 degrees.
Some varieties will grow in the slightly warmer hardiness Zone 8. But in warmer climates, tulips are often grown in cold rooms and planted out so they bloom during winter.
Almost always, when you grow tulips from seed, it’s best to grow them in a cold frame or greenhouse until the seeds create bulbs.
It will take a few months for the seeds to germinate, but it can take up to five years for the seeds to develop into a bulb. They can take up to seven years to flower.
A tropical climate, which is usually wet and warm all year round, is generally too hot for growing tulips. However, if you buy pre-chilled bulbs and plant them in the fall, or early winter, your tulips will bloom in late winter or early spring.
Dry climates are typified by very hot summers and cool, rather than cold, winters. Some areas experience extreme daily swings of up to 40°C or 104°F.
If you treat your tulips as annuals, and plant in winter when the soil is cold, you should be rewarded with a brightly colored show in early spring.
Areas with a temperate climate have distinct seasonal changes and a moderate amount of rain and snow.
Most temperate zones are great for growing tulips, including most of Canada, the U.S., Europe, Central Asia, and southern Australia.
The best time to plant is late fall.
Areas with a continental climate commonly have very hot summers and very cold winters. They are also typically quite dry.
Plant your tulips in late fall or early winter.
We’ve said that tulips are cold-weather plants, but they freeze in the bitterly cold polar winters. The weather is too cold, which is why they should be grown in greenhouses or pots indoors.
CHOOSING TULIP SEEDS & BULBS
When you choose which types of tulips to grow, check which hardiness zone they grow best in.
This is because it takes a long time for tulip seeds to develop into bulbs. Only then will plants form and eventually develop tulip flowers.
It’s extremely difficult to find commercially produced tulip seeds. You are more likely to find tulip seeds in seed-trading forums or collectors’ websites.
However, it is relatively easy to grow tulips from seed collected from seed pods once tulips have flowered in the wild or in your garden. You can also harvest tulip bulbs that have formed around the base of the parent plant’s main central bulb.
It’s easier and quicker to grow tulips from bulbs, especially if you can plant the bulbs outdoors. There is more information about suitability if you choose bulbs that are available commercially.
CHOOSING TULIP SEEDS
Your choice of tulip seeds will depend on what is available to you. But don’t expect to grow a plant exactly like the one you are harvesting seeds from.
All you have to do is gather the seed heads that form on tulip plants after they have ripened and dried. If the time is right in terms of your climatic conditions, scatter the seeds where you want them to grow.
Otherwise, put the seeds in a dish and let them dry out for about a week. Then place them in a plastic bag and cover them with a damp paper towel.
Keep them in the fridge for no more than two or three months before planting.
CHOOSING TULIP BULBS
If you are going to harvest your own tulip bulbs, if they grow, they will reproduce the parent plant. You can split and plant tulip bulbs over a larger area, or swap with a friend for variety.
There is an enormous choice of bulbs online and in garden centers. Commercial hybridization has resulted in some amazing species.
Hybridized tulip flowers come in every possible color and a range of shapes and styles:
The only problem is that, because of hybridization, your plants are unlikely to produce tulip flowers more than once or twice.
If you want to have tulips blooming every spring, it’s best to choose wild, “species” tulips, or plant new bulbs annually.
HOW TO PLANT TULIP SEEDS & BULBS
Whether you opt to plant tulip bulbs or seeds, there is nothing difficult about the process. You just need to decide whether to plant them in your garden or in pots.
HOW TO PLANT TULIP SEEDS
Although you can scatter tulip seeds randomly, the way they grow naturally in the wild, this is a hit-and-miss approach. Whether you sow them in garden beds or grassy areas, only some are likely to sprout and grow.
A more reliable way to plant tulip seeds is to fill pots with well-draining soil, compost, or a mixture of the two. Cover the seeds with about ½ inch (1 cm) of soil.
You can put the pots in a south-facing cold-frame or put them in a sunny spot outdoors. In very cold temperatures, it’s best to keep them indoors or under cover.
Because it can take months for seeds to germinate, keep the pots lightly watered. It’s also a good idea to feed them with slow-release liquid fertilizer.
HOW TO PLANT TULIP BULBS
When planting tulip bulbs outdoors, the first step is to choose a suitable site with the right growing conditions.
In colder climates, choose a site that gets afternoon or even full sun. In warmer climates, for example, Zone 7 and 8 areas, choose an area that gets partial shade.
The next step is to ensure that the soil is suitable. This also applies to bulbs planted in pots.
The soil should be neutral to slightly acidic, and fertile. Sandy soil drains well.
Prepare by digging with a tiller or garden fork to loosen the soil to a depth of about 12-15 inches (30-38 cm). Mix in about 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) of compost.
You need to plant tulip bulbs quite deep in the ground. Some experts say you will get better tulip flowers if you plant the bulbs deeper.
Space the bulbs so that they are 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) apart. Alternatively, dig bigger holes and plant three to seven bulbs in each hole to get a bouquet effect.
Dig holes that are 6-10 inches deep (15-25 cm). Plant each bulb pointy side up, cover with soil, and press it down firmly.
HOW TO WATER TULIPS
Tulips don’t like a lot of water, but they need water to grow. As soon as you have planted the bulbs, water them.
Then, water lightly once a week until the ground freezes. If it rains, you don’t need to water at all.
Water well in spring to encourage further growth. Avoid irrigation systems and don’t water in summer unless it gets extremely dry.
HOW TO GROW TULIPS
Whether you grow tulips from seed or bulbs, if you have grown them in pots or some other container, leave the plants until they are reasonably well established. This can take 12-15 months from when the plants sprout.
If you have the patience, it can be a rewarding challenge to grow tulips from seeds.
Remember that young plants grown from seed have a delicate root system, so be careful transplanting. If you’re not sure, rather keep them in pots until the bulbs form.
Tulips really are easy to grow, but you will need to feed them. When the first green leaves start popping out in spring, fertilize with slow-release bulb food.
Once your tulips have bloomed and the flowers have died, dead-head them. But let the leaves remain on the plant until they turn yellow and wither.
Tulips rely on their foliage to gather energy for their next batch of flowers.
HOW LONG DO TULIPS TAKE TO GROW?
Tulips take a lot longer to grow from seed. First, the seeds must germinate, and then develop into a bulb.
It can take as long as seven years for the plant to develop tulip flowers.
If you plant bulbs in the fall, you will have flowers by spring. Bloom times vary according to species, climate, and environment.
Most tulip species will bloom for a couple of weeks, and often only once. If hybrids flower a second year, flowers are often much smaller.
WHAT IS THE BEST MONTH TO PLANT TULIPS?
It’s best to plant tulips when the ground is cool, which means the best time to plant depends on the climate.
In areas with cold temperatures, you can plant earlier, from September. In warmer climates, it’s better to plant late in December.
DIFFERENT MONTHS FOR DIFFERENT ZONES
The rule of thumb for hardiness Zones 3-5 is September to early October; Zones 6-7, October to early November; Zones 8-9, November to early December; and Zone 10, from late December to early January.
Tulips look like brightly colored jewels in any garden, formal or wild. They are easy to grow as long as the growing conditions are suitable.
Our 2023 planting guide will help you grow tulips from seeds or bulbs. It will also guide you through the planting, watering, and fertilizing processes.
Whether you buy commercially produced bulbs or harvest your own seeds or bulbs, your efforts will be rewarded with colorful tulips blooming in your garden.