Flower bulbs, Gardening tips,

When & How to Plant Tulip Bulbs — A Step-By-Step Guide

Tulips are a delightful sign that spring has sprung. But you need to know how to care for them for years of beautiful blooms.

10 MIN 05 Apr
Last update: 05 Apr 2023
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If there’s a flower that screams spring, it’s the tulip. Whether in your garden or your balcony, tulips are one of the unmistakable portents of spring. But if you’re planting tulip bulbs this spring, there might be some top tips you’re missing. 

Table of contents:
  • The colourful world of tulips
  • When is Tulip time, exactly?
  • When to get planting your tulip bulbs 
  • Should I plant tulips in pots or beds?
  • Planting tulip bulbs in the ground
  • Planting tulip bulbs in pots
  • Planting tulip bulbs — how deep and how far apart?
  • How and when to plant tulip bulbs — a step-by-step guide
  • Should you dig up your bulbs after flowering?
  • Cleaning and storing tulip bulbs
  • FAQs

And while tulips are pretty simple to grow and nurture, there are some essential things to know to get the best crop possible.

In this article, I’ll explain when and how to plant tulip bulbs, along with a step-by-step guide to planting them and caring for them year-in-year-out.

Let’s get started!

The colourful world of tulips

A spray of differently-coloured tulips
Tulips of different colours – Photo by Lisa Verena Pape on Unsplash

Tulips come in a wide variety of bright, vibrant colours and, with their delicate cup-shaped petals, are among the most favoured spring flowers in the UK. The most popular tulip colours are pink or red, but they’re also available in yellow, purple, and white.

Some tulip varieties offer single-coloured blooms, while others provide flowers of two or more sunny tones. And there are around 150 tulip varieties, spanning over 3000 different colours. 

Of course, most of us associate tulips with the Netherlands. And if you’ve ever been lucky enough to stroll through a Dutch flower market, you’ll have been seduced by the different colours and sizes that are easily transferred into your garden.

When is Tulip time, exactly?

Bed of beautiful multicoloured tulips
Bed of beautiful tulips

Tulip bulbs usually begin blooming in late spring (around April or May), offering flowers that last for two to three weeks. But, of course, it depends on the weather. The exact time depends on your location, how much sun your garden enjoys, and the tulip variety. 

Two-to-three weeks might feel like a short flowering window. This is why many tulip fanatics create a flowering schedule and plant according to when the bulbs are due to bloom.

So, for a longer blooming window, gather together early, mid, and late bloomers — that way, you’ll have beautiful tulips throughout the spring. 

Lawn doctor Louis says:

Check Plantopedia to determine the blooming period for your tulip varieties for a helpful list that will help you optimise your blooms.

When to get planting your tulip bulbs 

It might be too late to get tulips in the ground for this flowering season; you need to plant the bulbs in the autumn for the following year. So, depending on the time of year you’re reading this article, it might be a case of being prepared for next year’s crop. 

Use this as your rough autumn tulip bulb planting guide:

  • Plant early blooms in October
  • Mid and late bloomers from November to December. 

The soil temperature needs to be between 7 and 10℃ for late- and mid-season bloomers, so don’t wait until the temperature has dropped too low. 

Why planting tulip bulbs in October makes sense

Planting tulip bulbs in March won’t produce flowers in April because the bulb needs to experience a cold snap to bloom in spring. Tulip bulbs are frost-tolerant, and a spell of frost helps prepare the bulb for the new flowering season. 

If the soil temperature is too high when you plant your bulbs, they may rot before they’ve had a chance to flower. 


Keep an eye on the weather forecast, and invest in a reliable soil thermometer. Farmer’s wisdom suggests planting tulip bulbs as soon as the tree leaves change colour in the autumn and begin to fall. 

But always ensure the soil isn’t too wet or already frosty when planting. 

Should I plant tulips in pots or beds?

Tulip bulbs are easy to grow and require very little care. That’s why it doesn’t matter whether you plant your bulbs in a pot or a flower bed, making tulips the perfect flower for novice gardeners. 

Wherever you plant them, follow these top tips for tulip nirvana:

  • Tulips love full sun but can cope with light shade
  • Let the rainwater your tulip plants
  • Only water your tulip plants in prolonged dry periods of more than three weeks
  • Tulips love moist, not soggy soil

Can I grow tulips in a shady garden?

While tulip plants thrive in full sun, they’ll still cope in gardens or yards that only get a short period of daily sunshine in the morning or afternoon. 

Lawn doctor Louis says:

If you have enough space in your garden, plant tulip bulbs behind perennials. This way, their wilting leaves are less noticeable when the blooms have faded.

Planting tulip bulbs in the ground

Person holding a handful of tulip bulbs
Time to plants those bulbs

Tulips are excellent flowerbed plants. But prepare the soil before you plant the bulbs because they prefer well-drained, loose, sandy soil. 

Loosen compacted soil with a shovel or garden fork, and mix in some sand. You could also add organic matter like compost or peat moss to improve the soil’s fertility and drainage. 

Check out our ultimate guide to planting bulbs.

Lawn doctor Louis says:

Remove stones and other debris from flowerbeds around your tulip plants. They can hamper bulb development, leading to unbalanced growth.

Planting tulip bulbs in pots

As tulips are undemanding plants, they’re equally happy in pots or a flowerbed. So, if you’re considering ways of brightening up your patio or decking area, you could do worse than grow beautiful tulips in pots. 

Pots make perfect homes for tulip bulbs, especially as you can bring the pot inside during the winter. More about overwintering later. 

How to plant tulips in pots

First, prepare your pot. Ensure it has drainage holes; otherwise, the bulbs will rot and die. 

If you can’t drill holes in your pot, fill the bottom of the container with broken pieces of terracotta — this will help draw excess water away from plant roots. Add several layers of broken pieces to ensure plenty of drainage space. 

I recommend adding universal potting soil — filling the pot to the top. 

Now it’s up to you to choose how lush you want your tulip pot to look. If you’re after a few statement blooms, plant them in a circle around the centre of the pot. If you want a packed crop, plant another circle of bulbs closer to the edge of the pot — this way, the leaves will hang over the edges of the pot. 

Lawn doctor Louis says:

Potted tulip bulbs need to remain moist in the winter months. Otherwise, the pot could dry out completely.

Planting tulip bulbs — how deep and how far apart?

Tulip bulbs in a paper bag on soil
Tulip bulbs, ready to plant

You can pack tulip bulbs quite closely together. But how exactly do you plant them?

Well, choose:

  • The correct depth: Plant tulip bulbs 3-times as deep as the bulb is tall (from top to bottom). Always plant with the growing tip pointing upwards.
  • The correct spacing: Make sure you give the bulbs enough room to grow and develop. Go for 4-5cm apart in pots or 4-6cm apart in beds. 

Prepare the bed as described earlier and cover the bulbs with soil, pressing down lightly to keep them in position. Water well to help the bulbs settle in their new home. 

Lawn doctor Louis says:

Did you buy different coloured tulips? Plant them slightly apart so the colour remains separate. Then, the blossoms will shine in all their glory.

How and when to plant tulip bulbs — a step-by-step guide

Now that you’ve chosen your tulip bulbs (and know how deep and far apart they need to be), it’s time to prepare the ground. 

Step 1: Prepare the ground

As mentioned, it’s essential to loosen compacted soil with a spade, mixing some horticultural sand in with the topsoil to improve drainage. Add some compost for extra nutrients and improved soil density, which helps support future nutrient uptake. 

Ensure the soil beneath the bulb is loose, debris-free and not compacted; otherwise, the bulbs won’t be able to take root. 

If planting in a pot, make sure it has plenty of drainage holes or add broken terracotta shards to the bottom of the container to provide drainage space. 

Step 2: Plant your tulip bulbs

Most tulip bulbs are around 5cm in length, so bury them around 15cm into the ground (i.e., 3x the length of the bulb). Plant the bulb growing-end up. 

Step 3: Mulch the soil

Mulch helps maintain moisture during hot weather and keeps the bed warm when it’s cold. So, add a 2-3cm layer of mulch over the top of your soil — don’t mix it in; let it sit on top of the earth.

Step 4: Water and wait

Your bulbs need some time to settle into their new environment, so plant them two seasons before flowering. Water them regularly for a few weeks just after planting (but not when it’s frosty), and then leave the rest of the watering to nature. 

Tulip aftercare

Tulips need moisture to grow, but once your bulbs have settled, you shouldn’t need to water them if they’re exposed to the elements because the rain will do that for you. Never overwater tulip bulbs because they’ll rot. 

Stop watering entirely once the first frost has taken hold to prevent ice crystals from developing inside the bulbs. 

Your tulips will emerge once the soil temperature reaches 7℃. Once they start growing, add a universal flower fertiliser to boost growth. 

Lawn doctor Louis says:

It’s safe to use organic lawn fertiliser if you don’t have any flower fertiliser in your shed.

Should you dig up your bulbs after flowering?

A woman tending to tulip plants in the garden
Tulips look stunning in flower beds

Once your tulips have flowered and the blooms have died back, you’ll notice that the leaves start wilting. 

At this stage, it’s essential to remove the stem and the leaves to help the plant draw its energy back into the bulb. But don’t remove the foliage too quickly — allow it to turn yellow first, which should take around a month. Cutting back too soon results in weaker blooms the following year. 

There’s no need to dig up your tulip bulbs — they’ll reflower the following year. 


If your plants start producing fewer blooms, be sure to deadhead the flowers as soon as they wilt to prevent the plant from putting its energy into developing seeds. 

This applies to tulip bulbs both in soil and in pots. 

Cleaning and storing tulip bulbs

Some people lift their tulip bulbs after flowering because they can rot in heavy clay soil if the ground gets too wet. Alternatively, you may have bought too many bulbs to plant in one go or before planting time. 

So, keeping the tubers clean and dry is essential — but quite simple:

  1. Clean the tulip bulbs before storing them. This reduces disease and pest potential. Remove coarse dirt, then rinse the bulb in cold water. Be sure to dry it thoroughly, using a dabbing action. Leave it to dry completely before storing. 
  2. Store your bulbs in a cool, dry place. A paper bag or box works best as it allows airflow while keeping the bulbs cool and dry. Label the container with the date and the tulip variety, making replanting in October much easier. 

Lawn doctor Louis says:

Clean freshly bought bulbs before planting, reducing disease risk and improving the flowering potential.


Can you plant tulip bulbs in spring?

You can plant tulip bulbs in spring, but they won’t bloom until the following year. You might be lucky if you’ve had a mild winter and the soil is warm, but — in general — we recommend planting tulip bulbs between October and December, depending on the variety. 

Can I still plant tulip bulbs in February?

Tulips are spring bloomers, so you should plant them in the autumn. This gives the bulb time to settle and establish itself in the ground before bursting into life the following spring. You can leave bulbs in the ground after flowering, but dig them up if you have heavy clay soil that gets waterlogged, as they could rot. 

Can you leave tulip bulbs in the ground?

It depends on the tulip variety: some are annual, others perennial. You could experiment with annuals by leaving them in the ground — chances are, they’ll return next spring. However, they will provide smaller flowers. 

Ready to get planting?

I hope you’ve got all the information you need to get planting your tulip bulbs. But if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch

We love to hear from you and promise to reply as soon as we can.   

Thanks for reading. 

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