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Past Articles Library | How to Grow Tulips

For me, when I see tulips breaking ground I know that spring is not too far behind.  They actually provide that splash of color in the dreary days of spring before everything flowers up.  As beautiful as they are, there are a few tips that will make planting your own tulip bed easier.

First, many people grow tulips as annuals, which they are actually perennials.  They do their best in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 8.  But to really get down to the barebones of the matter, tulips like areas that have dry summers and cold winters.  They do not do well in areas that remain wet and/or are exposed to irrigation systems.

Second, tulips love the sun but in certain areas the sun can be a problem.  What are these areas?  Well, if you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 7 through 8, choose a location that receives some shady or just morning sun.

Now that we know the general requirements of the tulip, what can we expect to see and how can we use them?  Tulips come in an array of colors, which includes pink, purple, white, and multicolored just to name a few.  As diverse as the colors are, so are the shapes of the bloom.  These can be bowl to goblet shaped.

As far as the use goes, tulips can be used to create a colorful border, as a bed, and can even be forced for indoor enjoyment.

How to Plant Tulips

To begin the plant process, one will need to pull out the calendar.  What you are looking for is the date by which you are six to eight weeks out from you local frost date.  If you do not know the date, contact your local extension agent.

Once you have the date, this represents your local planting time.  Next, you will need to prepare the area.  What this means is to create your planting base.  If you are creating a new bed, remove sod, turn soil over and add compost to the area.  On the other hand, if you are enhancing a bed you already have then you will need to remove weeds and loosen soil. 

Next, you will need to mark off the area in four to six increments.  This is the spacing per bulb.  To mark the spot, consider using stakes or powdered milk.

After the spacing has been established, you will need to dig the hole(s).  Tulips love to be deep but do not just guess the depth of the hole.  There are bulb planters that have measurements on them or you can mark a shovel.  Regardless of which way you choose, plant your tulip bulbs eight inches deep.

Now that the hole is dug, the next step is to plant your bulb.  The proper position of the bulb is important.  You may notice that there is a flat end and a pointed end.  You will need to place your bulb so that the flat end goes in first.  Once that is done, fill in with compost and water in.  Yes, I said water in.  This should only be done once and triggers a natural growing process. 

How to Force Tulips

To force tulips indoors, one must pull out the old calendar again.  The decision at this point is when do you want your tulips to bloom.  Tulips need about 10 weeks.  In doing so, count back 10 weeks from the date you want your tulips bloom.  Once you have that date, you know when to plant.

While any tulip bulb can be planted, those that look and do the best are those with short stem.  When purchasing your bulbs for this purpose, check to see what the mature height is on that particular bulb variety.

Next, you will need a container.  Yes, you really can use any type of container as long as it is deep enough but tulips do best in clay containers.  Once you have selected your container, the next step is to start planting.

To plant your bulbs for forcing, one will need to place drainage material in the bottom of the chosen pot.  After that is done, you will need to fill the pot ¼ full with an all-purpose potting soil.  Next, do a test run of your bulbs.  You do not want your bulbs planted as deep as if they were planted in the ground.  You actually want the tip of the tulip bulb to only be slightly below the soil level.  Add or take away soil as needed.  Once that is done, place the flat end of the bulb in the soil.  Continue to add as many bulbs as possible to the container but do not let the bulbs touch.

Tulip bulbs need a chilling period.  This is easily done by placing your planted bulbs in an unheated garage for eight weeks.  This time period is depended upon the type of tulip.  The best approach is to check for root or leaf growth.  When you see either one of these, this is an indication that the bulbs are done with the chilling treatment.

Once you see signs of growth, take your planted tulips and place in a sunny location.  Water them as soon as they have been removed from their chilling environment.  When it comes to watering any other time, make sure to test the moisture of the soil with your finger before watering.

Pests of Tulips

Tulips do have their pests.  This includes gray mold, slugs and aphids.  As far as the gray mold goes, once your tulip bulb has it there really is nothing you can do.  The only recourse that you have is to remove the plant and throw it in the trash.  Clean up around the other tulips making sure to remove any spent leaves.

As far as slugs go, there are a couple of techniques one can try.  The easiest is to just pick off the slugs from your plants, place them in a freezer bag, and freeze.  Once frozen, add to your compost pile.  Another technique is to surround your bulbs with cardboard.  You can then flip the cardboard over in the morning and remove the slugs.  The third approach is to let the slugs drown in a couple of different substances, which includes beer.  To use this approach, simply place a saucer in the garden, fill it with beer and wait until the next morning.  The next day, you will find your saucer full of drowned slugs.  Dispose of the slugs and repeat the process as needed.

Aphids can be controlled in a couple of different ways.  One is to encourage beneficial insects to environment.  This includes lady beetles and parasitic wasps.  Another way is to make a solution of water and a few drops of dish soap.  This would then be used to wipe down the leaves.  If you have several tulips, this approach can be time consuming.  In doing so, you can spray this solution on. 

While tulips do add that splash of color to a dreary landscape in the spring, they can also be used to create a three-season planting arrangement when paired with bulbs that bloom different times throughout the year.


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