Few flowers signify the start of spring like bright, colorful tulips. These beautiful perennial bulbs are simple to plant, easy to maintain, and come back year after year under the right conditions.
Here's how to grow and care for these beautiful, colorful plants.
- Botanical Name: Tulipa
- Common Name: Tulips
- Plant Type: Bulbous perennial herb
- Mature Size: 9 - 24 inches tall
- Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
- Soil Type: Well-drained soil
- Soil pH: 6.0 - 6.5
- Toxicity: Toxic to dogs, cats, and humans
Once planted, tulips generally require very little maintenance. Once you've enjoyed blooms in spring, allow the leaves to die back naturally, which gives the plants the chance to store additional energy in their bulbs. While tulips are technically perennials, many hybrid varieties are grown as annuals. These can be removed after they bloom in spring, then replaced with summer plantings.
In the spring, water tulips once per week if it doesn't rain. However, you'll want to avoid watering in summer and fall except in drought. Be sure to feed tulips with a phosphorus-rich fertilizer every fall.
Because they evolved in high-elevation areas of Eastern Europe and Western Asia with warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters, tulips tend to rebloom more consistently in some climates than others, such as the mountainous western regions of the U.S., but they can be enjoyed as annuals anywhere in the country.
Best Growing Conditions for Tulips
Tulips grow best in full sun with very well-drained soil. The soil should be well-drained and dry rather than wet and soggy, as excess moisture can inhibit proper growth and cause bulbs to rot.
In warmer climates (zones 7 and higher), choose a site with an eastern exposure that gets morning sun, as the hot afternoon sun can provide too much heat. Note that because tulips bloom in spring, you can plant them under trees and shrubs that lose their leaves in winter, and they'll still be able to get full sun during their growth period.
Plant bulbs in the fall to a depth of three times their height, typically around eight inches, with the pointy end of the bulb facing up. Space bulbs anywhere from two to five inches apart in clumps of at least 10 to create a fuller display of blooms.
Wear gardening gloves when planting tulips, as the bulbs contain a compound called tuliposide that can irritate skin. Handling bulbs with bare hands can lead to an allergic reaction known as "tulip itch" or "tulip fingers."
Types of Tulips
There are literally thousands of different varieties and cultivars of tulips available: classic single tulips, double tulips with ruffles of extra petals, types with fringed, pointed, or scallop-edged petals—all in a wide variety of colors, patterns, and bloom times.
When it comes to selecting tulips for your garden, consider whether they're newer hybrid varieties or old-fashioned or heirloom varieties, as the latter tend to rebloom more consistently. Another type, species tulips, are closest to the original wild tulips, with much smaller flowers than hybrids and a tendency to naturalize and spread.
How to Propagate Tulips
Tulips are easy to propagate by division. In fact, once clumps of tulip bulbs get overcrowded, they won't flower as readily, so it's ideal to divide and replant bulbs every three to five years to keep blooms coming.
The best time to propagate tulips is in the fall, once night temperatures fall between 40 and 50 degrees. Dig carefully around the edges of your tulip bed to determine how deep the bulbs are planted, then use a shovel or trowel to gently lift the bulbs out of the soil.
Remove some bulbs and plant them in a new site with good growing conditions. You can replant some of the bulbs in the same site. In warmer climates (growing zones 8 through 10), you may need to keep bulbs in the refrigerator for a few months before replanting, as tulips must experience cold before they can rebloom.
Common Problems With Tulips
Tulips are relatively hardy spring flowers, but they can experience issues caused by issues like fungus or pests. If you notice discoloration or withering of your tulips, remove affected specimens immediately and dispose of them by burning. Avoid planting tulips in that spot to keep disease from spreading. Prevent tulip diseases by carefully examining bulbs for damage, such as areas that are moldy or soft, before planting.
How to Get Tulips to Bloom
The best way to get tulips to bloom every year is to choose an ideal site when you first plant them and to select heirloom bulbs, which tend to rebloom more consistently year after year, rather than hybrids.
Choose a spot that's away from pavement or cement, like sidewalks or driveways, if possible. In warmer climates, these structures retain heat that can prevent the bulbs from reaching low enough temperatures in winter to rebloom in spring. You can also try planting tulips in mounds, which can help the soil around them drain more thoroughly.
Are tulips easy to care for?
With the right planting site, annual fertilizing, and dividing every three to five years, tulips are very low-maintenance and easy to care for.
How long can tulips?
Depending on the variety, tulips can live anywhere from one year to as many as 10 years, though older, heirloom varieties tend to live much longer than newer hybrid cultivars.
Can tulips grow indoors?
You can grow tulips indoors during winter. In fall, plant bulbs in a wide-bottomed pot just below the soil surface. Store the pots in the refrigerator or an unheated shed or garage so that they're exposed to temperatures in the 40s for 12 to 14 weeks.
When the bulbs start sending out shoots, bring the pot indoors and place it in a sunny window. You should see blooms in a couple of weeks.
National Capital Poison Center, Tulip Bulb Toxicity