Tulips are easy to plant, looking after themselves underground over the winter months and emerging in spring to bring a burst of mood-lifting colour and swish of style to your garden. They make dramatic cut flowers too, (entirely superior to your average shop-bought bunch) looking ever more lovely in a vase as they slowly mature.
How to grow tulips
When to plant tulips
Don’t plant your tulip bulbs until it's cold. Wait until mid-late October and plant through November and into early December. Avoid soaking wet or frosty days when soil is easily damaged.
How deep to plant tulips
Tulips should usually be planted between 10-15cm deep. Plant 8 cm apart, placing the smaller bulbs of botanical tulips closer together.
Planting tulips – a step-by-step guide
If you can’t plant bulbs straight away store them in a cool dry place.
- Select a spot that has sun for at least part of the day, the sunnier the better.
- Avoid planting in ground that is waterlogged or very heavy with clay. You are looking for nutrient-rich, moist but free-draining soil. However, for the first-year tulips really aren’t that fussy.
- Tulips last longer if they have some shelter from strong wind.
- Think what other plants are around, what will they look like in April and May? (This may influence your colour choice).
- If you are planting in between existing plants also think about how much space they will be taking up in spring. This may be quite different to autumn when you are planting.
- Place the tulips on top of the ground where you are going to plant them then dig each one a hole at least twice the length of the bulb deep.
- Check bulbs are firm to the touch and undamaged then plant them pointy end up.
- Cover them back up with soil. Water the area with a watering can and rose if you face a dry spell.
How long do tulips take to grow?
Tulips are planted in the late autumn and flower the following spring between March and May depending on the variety. Some more ‘perennial’ tulips reliably flower for years, but for many, it is best to either add to or replace them after one season to ensure a good show of flowers come spring. The fresh green foliage emerges first, then the stem extends and finally, the wonderful colour of the flower is fully revealed when they open.
How to grow tulips in pots
If you are planting two or three different colours consider whether you want them to flower in sequence or at the same time. Most early-season tulips flower at the beginning of April with later varieties following through April and into May. The flowers are at their best for 10-14 days depending on the weather.
Check you are happy with the eventual height of the flowering stems.
Look at the size of the bulbs and think about how many you can fit in your pot.
Ensure your container has drainage in the base. Then place some pieces of broken pottery or something similar that will partially cover the holes to create space for drainage.
Tulips do not need extra feeding. They will grow in any general-purpose peat-free compost as long as there is good drainage.
Fill the container with compost, to within 15 cm of the top, and position the bulbs. They can be quite close if you want a full-on flowery display but not touching. Next fill up to the top with compost, lightly pressing it down to avoid air gaps.
Water once after planting to settle the bulbs in the compost and then the container can remain outside.
Once the foliage starts to push through it is important that you water occasionally if there is a prolonged dry spell so they can continue to grow and have elegant long stems.
Pesky squirrels love to dig up and eat tulip bulbs, especially those in containers. They are easily deterred by covering the top of pots securely with chicken wire. You can it remove once the foliage is growing and the squirrels are through the hunger of winter.
Remember…if necessary, you can place a container in a more sheltered spot and move it into the final position as the tulips start to flower.
How to grow tulips from seed
Growing tulips from seed is a long game. The seeds may germinate in a few months, but it can be at least four years before you see a flower.
Top 10 tulips to try
Perfect tulips you can buy from J. Parker’s Bulbs
Tulip Cape Town
£5.99 for 10 / £11.98 for 30
An award winning creamy yellow mid season tulip edged with a distinctive scarlet red that deepens with age. Superb in a vase. 40 cm. Buy here
£2.49 for 10
A sweetly scented, cheerful lily flowered tulip with bright orange petals. Mid-late season it is wonderful in borders or even in turf as it sticks around and returns year after year. 60cm. Buy here
Tulip Black Hero
£8.99 for 10 / £14.98 for 20
A tall and handsome late double with multiple layers of silky, deep maroon-black petals. 50-70cm. Buy here
Tulip Isaak Chic
£4.99 for 10 / £12.97 for 30
This wonderful and well-named tulip, produces chic lily shaped flowers in a classy rich red. Full sun or partial shade. 40 cm. Buy here
£8.99 for 10 / £14.98 for 20
Distinctive double with opulent cream and green flowers lightly flecked with magenta. 45cm. Buy here
Tulip Parrot Lady
£6.99 for 10 / £11.98 for 20
An exuberant and exotic parrot tulip with lively fringed petals in soft tones of pinky apricot and warm yellow. Gorgeous and show-stopping. Great in a container or amongst less eye-catching late season pastels or darks. 45cm. Buy here
Tulip White Marvel
£4.99 for 10 / £9.98 for 30
A beautiful single early flowerer. Considered to be the best white in its class, The blooms open ivory-white, maturing to pure glistening white. Full sun. 40 cm. Buy here
£3.99 for 10 / £6.98 for 20
An unusual, opulent combination of deep crimson petals edged in soft orange. A sturdy mid season tulip that is surprisingly easy to combine with pastel shades. 40 cm. Buy here
Tulip Sunrise Dynasty
£2.99 for 10
An interesting and reliable pastel tulip in warm shades of apricot-orange. Mid season. And held on strong tems this is excellent grown as a cut flower. 50 cm. Buy here
Tulip Yellow Spring Green
£3.99 for 10 / £7.98 for 20
A fun recent introduction that pairs zesty acid yellow and lime green petals with a classic shape. This late season tulip is beautiful planted alone or bold and energising with deep magenta. 50 cm. Buy here
£5.99 for 10 / £8.98 for 20
A resilient mid season tulip. The sturdy stems make it useful for windy locations. Pale primrose yellow and ivory blooms combine well with a fresh spring palette of blues and whites. 40 cm. Buy here
Hannah Gardner is a Kew trained head gardener with twenty years experience based near Bath. Hannah founded her design studio New British Landscapes in 2010 and became a freelance consultant specialising in sustainable and organic horticulture in 2021. She pursues interests in travel, design, writing, consultancy, plantsmanship and practical horticulture.
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