How and When to Plant Tulip Bulbs for Spring Flowers

Tulips bring joy to spring gardens. Use expert-approved tips to know exactly how and when to plant tulip bulbs in your backyard.

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When to Plant Tulip Bulbs

Fall Bulbsonepony/Getty Images
Fall is the best season for planting tulip bulbs.

Tulip bulbs should be planted in fall. But timing it exactly right can be tricky, because there’s no set date for when to start planting tulip bulbs.

Instead, watch the weather. Wait to plant until nighttime temps are consistently 40 or 50 degrees. In the North, that usually means sometime in late September or October. Southern gardeners may need to wait until late winter or artificially chill their bulbs.

Your local university extension office may be able to help you time tulip bulb planting correctly for your plant zone.

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How to Plant Tulip Bulbs in 4 Easy Steps

Red Species Tulip BotanicalRobert Murray/500px/Getty Images
A species tulip in bloom

Once the temps drop but are still above freezing, it’s time to plant your tulips. Follow these easy steps for spring success.

These 16 pictures of tulips will make you dream of spring.

1. Pick the Right Spot for Tulips

when to plant tulip bulbsCourtesy Jeannine Gailey
Put your tulips in a sunny spot.

After you buy your tulip bulbs online or at the garden center, find an area with full sun. That means the spot should get more than six hours of direct sunlight a day. Some afternoon shade is preferable in hot climates, but it is not necessary.

2. Prep the Soil for Bulbs

Loosen about a foot of soil. This helps the soil to drain better and helps prevent bulb rot. If your soil is not well-draining, consider adding compost or other amendments to improve the flow of water.

Discover 10 bulbs to plant in fall that you aren’t growing yet.

3. How Deep Should You Plant Tulip Bulbs?

when to plant tulip bulbssumire8/Shutterstock
Place tulip bulbs in the soil pointing up

Plant each bulb (pointy side up!) in a hole that’s three times as deep as the bulb is tall, or about 6 to 8 inches. Leave 4 to 5 inches between each tulip bulb for a dense but not overcrowded planting. Here’s how to plant allium bulbs for gorgeous spring flowers.

4. Top Bulbs With Soil

Planting tulip bulbs in soil with garden toolskobeza/Getty Images
Plant bulbs in well-draining soil

Once everything is settled, lightly pack down the soil to cover the bulbs. Water well to kick-start the bulb’s growth. If next spring is very dry, saturate the soil to give the bulbs a boost. Wait until next fall to water again.

Planting Tulip Bulbs in Containers

Stone trough full of red tulips against brick wall.Rosemary Calvert/Getty Images
For even more spring beauty, plant tulips in pots.

Tulips look fantastic in containers—plus, you can move the bright blooms wherever you’d like.

If you decide to plant in a pot, follow the same instructions as planting tulip bulbs in the ground. Gardeners in Zones 3 to 7 may need to bring pots into an unheated basement or garage for protection against frost in winter.

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Select a Variety of Tulips for Continuous Blooms

when to plant tulip bulbsDeepGreen/Shutterstock
Black parrot tulip

Extending the bloom time of you tulips can also be colorful! Just mix different species and cultivars. Many types have different flowering times.

For a seamless transition between spring and summer, combine the tulips with summer-blooming bulbs such as lilies, alliums or gladioluses.

Psst—you’ll fall in love with White Honeymoon tulips.

Keep Animals Away From Tulip Bulbs

Close-Up Of Squirrel On FieldDarius Harrison / EyeEm/Getty Images
Plan ahead to protect your bulbs from squirrels

Once you plant them, keeping squirrels from digging up bulbs is tricky. Tulip bulbs and shoots are also a tasty treat for voles, chipmunks and more in winter.

To protect them, surround the bulbs with a 1/2-inch wire mesh cage or bulb basket. Most rodents won’t be able to access your treasures, and the spring sprouts should emerge from the mesh just fine.

Next, learn how and when to plant tulip bulbs for spring flowers.

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Rachel Maidl
Rachel Maidl is a senior editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. She enjoys bird-watching in her urban backyard and local state parks, gardening for pollinators and researching new plants. Her favorite backyard visitors are the bumblebees that visit her sedums.