Planting Tulip Bulbs

Let’s start this blog off with a question. Where are tulips from originally? Nope, not Holland. They are actually from the mountains of Central Asia (the ‘stans’ – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), growing wild in Asia Minor (Turkey), and on through Siberia to China where the springs are cool and the summers are hot & dry. It’s only under these conditions that they grow and thrive and reproduce. They’re picky about that and that’s why they behave more like an annual than a perennial and why they need to be planted each fall. So…if you want to tip toe through the tulips next spring, you gotta plant them now.

For horticultural zones 1-4, tulips need to be planted in mid- late September and October. If they are planted earlier than that, you could wind up with a tulip show or part of a tulip show sooner than you had expected. Tulips need to be planted in the fall because they need a vernalization period – a chilling period – of at least 12-16 weeks in temperatures of at least 5-10ºC – well people, we have THAT one covered here in the Edmonton area!

Here are some planting tips:

  • Plant high quality bulbs (usually found at garden centers) in a full sun location, in well drained soil. Tulips bulbs, and all bulbs in general, hate wet soil – they will just rot.
  • The bulbs kind of look like an onion, remember to plant them with the pointy side up – they will have difficulty growing upside down.
  • Plant them around 6 inches deep – 3 times as deep as they are tall – this protects the bulbs from freezing.
  • Plant tulips in clumps of 6-8 all together in a hole, a few inches apart – for the best color display. This way you have a clump of color, rather than having single blossoms of color here and there in your garden.
  • To accomplish this clump planting, dig a hole 7-8 inches deep and wide. Press each of the bulbs firmly into the ground. At this point, you can add some good quality bulb fertilizer if you wish. Now water them generously…like fill the hole ½ way up. Let the water soak in, cover them with soil to fill the hole, and then add a couple of inches of mulch on top of that.
  • Remember to label them, so you know their names when they pop up in the spring.

In spring:

  • After their long winter nap in our town, as spring comes, you will start to see the tulips by the beginning to the middle of May. As they are coming up, water them. Don’t water them so often that they stay soaked, but water them so they are moderately moist. This keeps the tulips on their growth trajectory. If it’s rainy, hold the water, Mother Nature is taking care of them for you.


  • As tulips get ready to bloom, you have 2 options – enjoy the blossom in the garden or cut them.
  • For cutting:
    • Harvest the tulips as the buds are just beginning to show color.
    • Since the likelihood of them being productive next spring is pretty minimal, just pull up the bulb, so you can get the longest stems possible. Commercial flower growers do this and keep them stored in coolers for up to a month. They last this long because the cut flowers still have their food source with the bulb attached. When the tulips head to the flower market, the bulbs are cut off.
    • The vase life for a tulip is about 10 days. Remember that they naturally close up at night, so don’t panic when you see this happen. Some people say that putting a penny in the vase makes them last longer.

If you would like to try getting tulips to last more than a year in your garden, cut off the bloom when it is spent, leave the bulb in the ground and leave 2 sets of leaves on the tulip plant to replenish the bulb. Let the leaves die back naturally. As we said before, tulips aren’t that great of a perennial performer, but they are spectacular in the early spring to jump start colour the garden. The best varieties to perennial over are called Darwin Hybrids, Fosterianas, species, and wild tulips. But again, they may turn out to have a less than stellar show the next spring.

There is a tremendous amount of diversity within the tulip family – there is great variety in the structure of their flowers – there are singles, doubles, fringed, peony, and parrot. And the color selection is wide. Tulips can be single colored, 2 toned, and multicolored. Give tulips a try in your garden this autumn – they are worth the labour and worth the wait. This is the time of year when bulbs are easy to find almost anywhere.

Should you be curious about other fall bulb planting ideas, check out this link to our website for our blog called Planting Fall Bulbs which discusses other flower varieties like daffodils and crocuses and others.

If you have anything you’d like to discuss about gardening, please feel free to contact us via this link or give us a call at 780-467-3091.