How and When to Plant Tulip Bulbs for Spring Flowers

Updated: Sep. 21, 2023

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

When Should Gardeners 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.

Discover fascinating tulip facts you don’t know.

How to Store Tulip Bulbs Properly

Tulip Bulbs In Paper Bag On White BackgroundLiudmila Chernetska/Getty Images
Store tulip bulbs in a paper bag

“How long do daffodil and tulip bulbs last when they are stored in a paper bag and kept in a cool place?” asks Field Editor Juli Seyfried of Grove City, Ohio.

Horticultural expert Melinda Myers says, “Many gardeners dig up spring-flowering bulbs once the bulbs go dormant, to store them in a cool, dark place during summer before replanting in fall. If purchasing bulbs, place about six in a perforated or paper bag and overwinter them in a cool, dark location or the refrigerator before planting in spring. All these bulbs usually remain viable and suitable for planting when the storage conditions are favorable. Always check stored bulbs before planting—they should be firm and free from soft, discolored areas.”

Discover the top 10 types of tulips to plant in your garden.

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 into the 40s and 50s but are still above freezing, it’s time to plant your tulips. Follow these easy steps for spring success.

These pretty 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.

Are tulip flowers and bulbs toxic to cats?

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.

Check out 10 of the best daffodil bulbs to plant.

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.

Daffodils not blooming? Here’s what to do.

Select a Variety of Tulips for Continuous Blooms

when to plant tulip bulbsDeepGreen/Shutterstock
Black parrot tulip

Extending the bloom time of your tulips is easier than you think! 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, discover 5 deer-resistant bulbs for spring blooms.