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What Are Tulips?
Tulips (of the genus Tulipa) are perennial flowers from the lily family that skyrocketed in popularity during the period of tulip mania in seventeenth century Holland. These springtime bloomers grow from bulbs and produce large, dazzling cup-shaped flowers in a range of vibrant colors. Although tulips are technically perennials, many varieties struggle to produce flowers after their first spring. As a result, gardeners typically grow them as annuals and plant new bulbs the following year.
6 Different Tulip Varieties
Tulip plants fall within 15 cultivars and vary in their colors, sizes, and flower shapes. Some of the most popular types of tulips include:
- Darwin hybrid tulip: Popular for its tall stems and big blooms, the Darwin hybrid tulip is one of the longest-lasting perennial tulip varieties, as it produces blooms for up to five years.
- Double late tulips: Also known as peony tulips, double late tulips produce large double flowers in late spring and feature a pleasant aroma that makes them a wonderful cut tulip.
- Fosteriana tulips: Also called emperor tulips, Fosteriana tulips are one of the earliest tulips to bloom in the springtime. Fosterianas grow up to 20 inches tall, feature large cup-shaped flowers reaching five inches wide, and are available in various hues of red, white, and yellow.
- Fringed tulips: Fringed tulips grow 14 to 30 inches tall. They have petals edged with tiny incisions which give them the appearance of fringed cloth.
- Species tulips: These small-flowering tulips grow between three and eight inches tall and, like the Darwin hybrid variety, are one of the most reliable perennial tulips, returning to bloom year after year.
- Triumph tulips: Available in the widest array of colors, Triumph tulips are a medium-sized tulip with the classic, single cup-shaped flowers.
How to Plant Tulips in Your Garden
Planting tulips for the first time is a simple process. Follow these steps for a beautiful spring bloom.
- Plant tulip bulbs in the fall for a spring bloom. Plant fall bulbs before the ground freezes. In USDA hardiness zones three through seven, plant your tulip bulbs between September and late November. In warmer climates like USDA hardiness zones eight through 10, refrigerate your tulip bulbs between 40 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit for eight weeks, then plant them between early December and early January.
- Choose a sunny planting area. Tulip plants thrive in a full sun environment, though they tolerate partial shade in hotter climates. For taller types of tulips, select a location shielded from strong winds.
- Plant tulip bulbs in well-drained soil. Tulips need soil with good drainage because soggy soil causes tulip bulbs to rot. If the soil at your planting site has insufficient drainage, consider adding sand or pine bark to the soil to increase its drainage capacity or use a raised garden bed filled with better quality soil. Test the pH of the soil to ensure that it falls between 6.0 and 7.0.
- Enrich your soil with fertilizer. Add compost, bone meal, or bulb fertilizer to your planting hole. This is especially important if you're planning to grow perennial tulips, as they'll need those extra nutrients to bloom the following year.
- Plant tulips close together. Plant bulbs six to eight inches deep and four to six inches apart. Since tulip bulbs vary in size, a basic rule of thumb is to plant them two to three times as deep as they are tall. To ensure that all your bulbs have a simultaneous bloom time, make sure you plant them at the same depth. Place each bulb in the planting hole with the narrow end facing upward, then refill the hole with gently packed soil.
- Water generously at planting time. A thorough watering will prompt your bulbs to begin root growth before the winter dormancy period begins.
- Spread a two-inch layer of mulch over the topsoil. Mulch will insulate your soil and help maintain a consistent level of moisture.
How to Grow and Care for Tulips
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Different tulip varieties have different bloom times, ranging from early to late spring. No matter which varieties you're growing, these tulip care tips will help ensure your tulip plants are as healthy as possible.
- Water sparingly. Tulips do not require much water to thrive—they are prone to rot disease if left in waterlogged soil. With the exception of your initial watering at planting time, refrain from watering your tulips throughout the growing season as long as they receive a normal amount of rainfall. If you live in a hot, dry climate, it may be necessary to give them an occasional light watering.
- Fertilize in early spring. Once sprouts appear in early spring, fertilize one more time using the same type of fertilizer you used at planting time.
- Deadhead spent tulip flowers. Spent flowers—flowers that have finished blooming and begun to die—divert valuable energy from your tulip plant that could otherwise go to the bulb's energy storage for the following year. Once your blossoms start to droop, cut them off at the base of the stem.
- Practice pest control. Be on the lookout for harmful aphids, and remove them from your tulip plants with a spray of water from a garden hose. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and deer may eat tulip bulbs; to deter these animals, try companion planting other flower bulbs like daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses; these bulbs are either toxic or unappetizing to animals and should keep them away.
- Monitor and prevent diseases. Provide good air circulation around your tulip plants to reduce the risk of fungal diseases, and make sure not to over-water to prevent bulbs from rotting.
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