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How to Plant Tulip Bulbs in the Spring

When spring rolls around do you find yourself wishing that you had planted more tulip bulbs in the fall? I feel like this almost every spring. Driving past landscapes that feature waves of colorful tulips is almost intoxicating. I want to get out of my car and lay in them like Dorothy laid down in the poppy fields in the Wizard of Oz. (This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure policy.)

Garden Bench in Spring with Pink and Yellow Tulips

If you’re like me and failed to plant bulbs in the fall, never fear. You can successfully plant tulip bulbs in the spring, but you need to do it early or be prepared to use a shelf of your refrigerator for 10 to 12 weeks. Tulip bulbs need about 14 weeks of cold temperature to collect and store enough nutrients from surrounding soil to help them grow and bloom. That’s why most gardeners plant spring bulbs in the fall.

If you live in a climate where the soil is still cold but workable, you can plant tulips in January or February. If your ground is frozen or covered in snow, you’ll need to use the refrigerator method for storing and preparing the bulbs.

How to plant tulip bulbs in the spring

Chilling Tulip Bulbs

In a freezer safe container or pot, plant your bulbs pointy side up in a mixture of soil and compost. Lightly water and cover the soil with a bit of mulch. Wrap the container in a plastic bag and place in your refrigerator. The bulbs do best when the soil is around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Bulbs need to be moist to absorb nutrients from the soil so check them on occasion to make sure the soil hasn’t dried out. Keep the bulbs in the refrigerator for about 10 to 12 weeks. Once the outdoor temperature is 50 to 55 degrees, you can take them outside to be planted.

If you plan to place your tulip bulbs in a container, be sure to fill the container with a mix of soil and compost a few weeks in advance. This way, the soil is colder and better for the bulbs when you transfer them. Plant your bulbs pointy side up about 8 inches deep in the container. Add soil to cover them making sure soil is slightly moist when planting. Use mulch or a wire screen over the top of the container to protect the bulbs from squirrels.

Feel free to add a second flower to your container, like the one below that uses a mix of orange tulips with grape hyacinths for an appealing effect.

Orange tulips and bluebells in wooden planter

Planting Spring Bulbs in the Ground

Make an easy task of planting tulip bulbs directly in the ground at 8 to 12 inches deep with a handy bulb planter. Add compost to the bottom of the hole and plant your bulb, tip side up. Cover the hole with soil and gently tamp down the dirt. Lightly water and cover with mulch. You can water the bulbs on occasion if needed, but don’t oversaturate. Oftentimes, melting snow and spring rains provide the proper moisture.

The Easiest Option

Many garden centers now offer potted, growing bulbs in the spring. You can purchase these and plant them in your garden spaces. I’ve done this myself when I fail to plant in the fall and don’t want to share refrigerator space with bulbs. These potted tulips will come back the next year. The garden center will likely sell other potted spring bulbs like hyacinths that you can try, too.

House porch in spring with wicker furniture and tulips

Design Tips for Planting Tulips

Designing spring flower beds is where the fun comes in. Think about pairing different tulip colors. Yellow and purple look great together since they’re on opposite sides of the color wheel. An array of colors is especially pleasing if you’re planting a big batch of tulips to create a wave of color. The garden below is located not too far from me and has become a tourist attraction every spring. People come from miles around to enjoy the scenery and take pictures. I try not to think about how much all those tulip bulbs cost!

Large tulip garden in residential neighborhood

Although a mass of tulips is lovely, consider adding other spring flowers to the mix. Here, a smattering of English daisies look so pretty beneath the towering tulips.

Orange tulips with small English daisies

Rather than plant tulips (or any flower for that matter) in a “couple here and there” approach, you’ll find they make a greater visual impact when several are planted together.

Pink tulips planted in a cluster in a garden

There are so many beautiful tulips from which to choose. From color to type of petals – there’s only great options for you.

Orange tulips - how to plant tulip bulbs in the spring

 

Here’s a handy tulip chart that you can download and print. Keep it in your potting shed for easy reference. It’d also be pretty in a frame and hung anywhere in your house.

Chart of Tulip Varieties

DOWNLOAD THE TULIP CHART

 

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this post, I didn’t know you had to plant them in the Fall. I did get Hyacinths for Valentines day so that’s a start. I have a big metal tub I want to plant them in.

  2. Hi Jen. I planted tulips this winter. Lots of them. I ordered late. They were on sale. I did have them in the bag with holes on it and it rained. A few bulbs started molding in spots. I put them out in my baskets I dry flowers in or pick grapes etc. Ten after they dried out I planted them. 100-125 of them. Lots of different kinds. I watered the ground and containers where they are planted. So many of them were not polking up so I dug a few paces and they were moldy awwwful messes!
    The ones that seem to be doing well are in ground and our soil is rocky and awful ground! So I am confused and terribly sad these are not going to be what I imagined they would do.

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