How to Grow and Care for Tulips

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Tulips are one of the iconic signs of spring. These lovely flowering tulip bulbs fill our spring gardens with glorious color before other spring bulbs have even emerged from their winter sleep. They give so much enjoyment to people all around the world. 

Tulips are available in a multitude of colors including some that are even bi-colored. Interestingly, the only color that tulips don’t come in is blue.

Most tulip bulbs only produce one flower per stem, but there are a few varieties of tulips that will produce multiple flowers from the same bulb.

The gorgeous cup-shaped flowers generally have three petals and three sepals. There are even varieties that have frilled or ruffled petals and some even have double blooms.

Of course, it goes without saying that tulips make excellent cut flowers and the first tulips are sure to brighten up your home early in spring.

History of Tulip Flowers

Tulips have an interesting history and it’s not what you would first think of. Tulips grew naturally as wildflowers in Central Asia. Tulip cultivation began in Turkey around 1000AD.

In fact, the name “tulip” came from the Persian word “delband” which means turban. Around the 18th century, tulips were so popular in Turkey that there were many tulip festivals. It was also considered a crime to sell or buy tulips outside the capital city.

Around the late 16th century, tulips were introduced in the Netherlands and Western Europe by a biologist, Carolus Clusius, from Vienna. Clusius was the director of the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden. He managed to procure some tulip bulbs from his Turkish friend, Ogier Ghiselain de Busbecq who was the ambassador of Constantinople.

In the 17th century, tulips became a major trading product in Holland and spring bulbs fetched unbelievably high prices. Around 1637, tulip prices crashed but the interest in these sun-loving plants never waned.

tulip flower

Tulip Plant Facts

Scientific NameTulipa spp.
Common namesTulip
FamilyLiliaceae (Lily family)
HeightUp to 24 inches
WidthUp to 9 inches
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone3 to 8
OriginEurope and Asia
Flower colorsRed, pink, orange, yellow, green, purple, white
Blooming seasonSpring
Plant/Flower special featuresTulip bulbs are toxic to pets and mildly toxic to humans

How to Plant Tulip Bulbs

Tulip bulbs should be planted in the fall before the ground freezes in order to give them the necessary chill period to bloom profusely. Most tulips are perennial, so once gardeners plant tulip bulbs, they’ll come up again year after year.

However, due to the constant hybridization, some tulip bulbs may not produce flowers for a large number of years. Therefore, if you want a massive display each year, it’s a good idea to plant bulbs every fall before the ground freezes, in addition to the ones still in the ground.

Plant bulbs around 4 to 8 inches deep (10 to 20 cm) in well-drained soil. You can easily make just the right depth of planting hole by using a bulb planter. This tool will also be useful for planting other bulbs in your garden.

Make sure that you space them around 2 to 5 inches (5 to 12 cm) apart when planting tulip bulbs to give them enough room to grow and multiply. Ensure that the pointy end of the tulip bulb faces upwards.

Tulips can even be planted under deciduous trees as they’ll tend to bloom long before the trees will, once again, be fully covered with foliage. For a good display, group your spring bulbs together with a minimum of about 10 flower bulbs in each planting.

red tulips

How to Propagate Tulips

The most common way to propagate tulips is by lifting the bulbs and dividing them. As the tulip plants grow, they put extra energy into the bulbs. 

In turn, the bulbs will produce offsets or bulblets that are attached to the original tulip bulb. These bulblets can be separated and planted individually. Here’s what to do:

  • In the fall, dig up all of your tulip bulbs that are more than three years old. You can use a trowel or a small garden fork for this but be careful not to damage the bulbs.
  • Brush the soil off the tulip bulbs and separate all the smaller bulbs from the parent bulb.
  • Discard any of the small bulbs that are soft or deformed.
  • Replant all of these new bulbs, including the parent bulb ensuring that the pointy end is facing upwards. These should be planted at a depth of around 3 times the diameter of each bulb.

Bear in mind that when you do this, these young bulbs are unlikely to produce flowers in the first two years. However, they will produce green growth. It’s not until the third year that you’ll start to get a display of tulip flowers.

Growing Tulips from Seed

If you have the patience and you have some true species of tulips rather than hybrids, you can try and plant tulips from seeds.

However, this is a long process and can take around two years to even start producing bulbs. Here’s what you can do if you want to give this a try:

  • Let some of your tulip flowers go to seed. Remember that you can only do this with true species because hybrid plants will not produce seeds that will grow into plants that are identical to the original.
  • Collect the seeds from the dried seed pods.
  • Store these seeds in your refrigerator for around 12 to 14 weeks.
  • Fill some small pots with potting mix and sow the seeds on the surface of the soil.
  • Cover the seeds only very lightly with more potting mix.
  • Put the pots in a sunny spot and keep the soil moist until you see them germinating.
  • Choose a bright sunny windowsill indoors for this.
  • Once the seeds have germinated and the weather outside is starting to warm up, you can place the pots outdoors.
  • Continue to grow these seedlings in their pots right through spring, summer, and fall.
  • Feed them weekly with a balanced fertilizer at half strength. The seedlings need this constant feeding to produce their bulbs.
  • In late fall, you want to bring the pots back indoors and store the bulbs in the refrigerator for their required chill time of 12 to 14 weeks.
  • In late winter or very early spring, place the pots outdoors again so that the plants will produce green growth.
  • As this will be their second growing season, wait until the leaves are fully developed before planting them into the ground.
  • Once the seed-grown tulips are in the ground, it may take another 1 year before you’ll start to see some blooms.
planting tulips

Tulip Care and Maintenance of Tulips

Once you’ve planted your tulip bulbs, they don’t really require all that much care and maintenance. You just need to feed them in early spring once they start to sprout. 

You also need to ensure that you plant tulips in well-drained soil and that you remove the spent flowers as soon as they’ve finished blooming.

The only other most important thing to remember is that tulips need to chill during the winter period for around 12 to 14 weeks. Without this chill time, the plants will not produce flowers in the spring even if the planting time is right.


Plant tulips in rich soil (4 to 8 inches deep) that has plenty of organic matter added to it. The soil in your planting site should also be well-draining and have a neutral to slightly acidic pH in the range of 6 to 7.

It’s a good idea to prepare the soil before getting ready to plant tulip bulbs by adding lots of matured compost. This will not only feed the bulbs but will also improve the structure of the soil. This, in turn, will produce good root growth and allow the tulip bulbs to multiply easily.


After planting your bulbs, you should water them in well. During the colder months, your bulbs don’t need to be watered unless you’re experiencing an extended dry spell without any rainfall.

If you do happen to live in an arid region, you should water your tulips once every two weeks. Bear in mind though, that tulips dislike areas that can become waterlogged as this will result in some rotting of the bulbs.


The best way to fertilize your tulips is to add some type of added nutrients to the soil before planting. This can be in the form of bone meal, compost, or even some organic fertilizer granules.

If you’re growing your tulips as perennials, feed them again very early in spring just as the foliage starts to emerge. The leaves of the plants will use the nutrients to feed the bulbs. The tulip bulbs will then store the nutrients over winter to produce flowers the following year.


Tulips prefer to be grown in full or afternoon sun. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t plant tulip bulbs under and around deciduous trees.

As tulips flower quite early in spring, these areas are still receiving morning sun even though they will be shaded in the middle of summer.

This makes tulips extremely versatile because there are likely going to be many areas in your garden where you can plant tulips and enjoy their gorgeous display in spring.

Temperature and Humidity

Tulips are best grown in cooler regions because they need to be exposed to a certain degree of chill to produce their glorious blooms. They grow best in USDA zones 3 to 8 where the winters are cold and summers are warm and dry.

As a general guide, tulips need around 12 to 14 weeks of temperatures that are below 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). This necessary chill period can be achieved artificially and many commercial growers will do this.

Therefore, those living in warmer climates can purchase pre-chilled bulbs from your local garden center. Or, you can dig up last season’s bulbs and place them in the refrigerator during winter for around 12 to 14 weeks before planting them outdoors in late winter.

It’s important to note that tulips do not like a lot of humidity. This is because humidity is commonly associated with high rainfall. This can cause the bulbs to rot if they’re constantly sitting in damp soil.

If you live in a region with a humid climate, you can still try and grow tulips but you’ll have to plant them in pots so the soil drains really well. You’ll also have to pre-chill the tulip bulbs before planting them in the pots.


If you’re growing your tulips as perennials, you should remove the spent flower stalks as soon as they’ve finished blooming. This stops the plants from producing seed heads.

Rather, it allows the tulip plants to use photosynthesis to store excess nutrients in the bulbs. If you allow the flowers to go to seed, it will shorten the lifespan of the bulbs.

Pest and diseases

Unfortunately, tulip leaves and bulbs are very attractive to wild animals such as squirrels, deer, and different types of rodents.

If you have a problem with these animals in and around your garden, it’s better for you to grow your tulips in pots where they can be protected.

In addition to this, there are a few insect pests and diseases that you need to watch out for.

  • Aphids like nothing better than to suck the sap out of fresh green growth. You can get rid of these by blasting them off with the hose or rubbing them off with gloved fingers.
  • Bulb mites can sometimes be present on bulbs that you’ve purchased. Inspect the bulbs carefully before planting them to see if you can spot any evidence of decay. To treat your bulbs, soak them in a bucket or other container with water that has been heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). You only need to soak your bulbs for 2 minutes to kill the mites.
  • Thrips are common insects that also like to feed on fresh green foliage and emerging flower heads. The best way to get rid of these pests is to hang sticky traps around your tulips and then hose the pests off the plants.
  • Fungal diseases can damage your bulbs if left unchecked. The most common ones for tulip bulbs are basal rot and fire fungus. These fungal diseases cause plant deformities and even the death of the plant. The best way to get rid of any fungal diseases is to make sure that you discard any affected bulbs. You can also treat your bulbs with a fungicide before you plant them.

Growing Early Spring Tulips In Pots

Apart from growing tulips in your garden, it’s also quite easy to grow these lovely plants in pots. You can use a standard, good-quality potting mix to grow your tulips.

It’s also a popular way that some people use to force their tulips into blooming in the middle of winter indoors. Here’s what to do if you want to give this a try:

  • Chill the bulbs for around 12 to 14 weeks before planting them into the pots.
  • Moisten the soil and place the pots in a cool spot that is dry. The temperature should be no higher than 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). This can be in a refrigerator if your outdoor temperatures aren’t cold enough.
  • After the bulbs have been chilled for a number of weeks, you can bring them indoors and place them in a well-lit room with a temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius).
  • Your plants should flower within 3 to 5 weeks.
tulip flowers

Uses of Tulip Flower

Believe it or not, tulip flowers are actually edible. They were commonly eaten during World War II by people who could not afford other types of food. These people even made bread with them. Apparently, the flowers can be used to replace onions.

Bear in mind though, that the bulbs are mildly toxic and it is only the flowers that are edible.

These days though, tulips are mainly grown for their gorgeous blooms and the joy that they bring when everyone realizes that spring has arrived.

See more: Tulip Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Common Tulip Varieties and Cultivars

Not only are there a bewildering variety of different types of tulips available, but these can also be split into 15 different divisions.

These divisions are based on various plant characteristics such as the flower shape, the plant size, the exact bloom times, and the origin of each variety.

Here’s a rundown of the 15 separate divisions with bloom times:

Single Early Tulips

These beautiful tulips are the first to bloom in early spring before your other plants have woken up. They have only short stems and one flower per stem. The flowers are cup-shaped.

Some interesting varieties include:

  • Cardinal Rampolla (burnt orange, yellow and gold blooms)
  • Diana (ivory-white tulips)
  • Purple Prince (purple blooms with a lilac blush)

Double Early Tulips

These tulips also bloom in early spring, however, they have tall stems and flowers that have more petals than standard varieties.

Some popular varieties include:

  • Abba (red tulips)
  • Melrose (vivid pink blooms with white edges)
  • Orca (orange blooms with slightly frilled edges)

Triumph Tulips

This group of tulips is a hybrid cross between single early and single late varieties. They have tall stems and bloom in mid-spring.

Some outstanding varieties include:

  • Prinses Irene (orange blooms that are streaked with burgundy)
  • Diamond Jubilee (creamy white blooms that have a vivid pink edge)
  • African Queen (mauve flowers fade to white)

Darwin Hybrid Tulips

These tulips are a hybrid cross between the Darwin species and the Fosteriana division. They have very tall stems and bloom late in spring.

Some of the best varieties include:

  • Acropolis (deep red blooms)
  • Capri (two-toned pink blooms)
  • Ivory Floradale (soft yellow blooms)

Single Late

You’ll find these tulips blooming late in spring and have one flower per stem.

Some late-blooming varieties include:

  • Big Smile (buttercup yellow blooms)
  • La Romaine (vibrant dark pink blooms)
  • Camargue (creamy yellow blooms with a pink stripe on the petals)

Double Late

These garden tulips have blooms that look very much like peonies. That’s why they’re sometimes called peony tulips. They have very tall stems and are late-season bloomers.

Some late-season varieties include:

  • Vanilla Coupe (double yellow blooms that have green outer petals)
  • Angelique (soft pink blooms)
  • Purple Peony (vibrant purple blooms)


These are late-blooming tulips that have slightly flared petals and are tall varieties.

Some popular varieties include:

  • Ballarina (fragrant orange blooms)
  • Ballade (deep burgundy blooms with white edges on the petals)
  • White Triumphator (ivory-white blooms)


These interesting tulips have ruffled or fringed edges on their petals. They’re late-season bloomers with moderately tall stems.

Some planting varieties include:

  • Las Palmas (white blooms that have fringed petals with a red flame)
  • Sensual Touch (pale orange blooms)
  • Carachel (pink blooms)


These tulips tend to bloom late in the season and have tall stems. They can be distinguished by the green streaks on their petals.

Some of the limited varieties include:

  • Spring Green (white blooms with petals that have a central green stripe)
  • Flaming Spring Green (cream blooms that are striped with red)
  • Red Spring Green (rosy red blooms with a green stripe)


These are now only available as cultivars because the original mottling and streaking of the petals were caused by the tulip breaking virus. These broken tulips are no longer available but each commercial grower will have their own collection of Rembrandt-like tulips.


These are interesting species and so named because the flower buds resemble the beak of a parrot. They have tall stems and their petals are often twisted and curled. They tend to bloom late in the season.

Some outstanding varieties include:

  • Flaming Parrot (yellow and red ruffled blooms)
  • Black Parrot (purple to black tulips)


These tulip species are also commonly called water lily tulips because of their open flowers that are almost flat. They’re quite short plants and their leaves are mottled with purple.

Some outstanding varieties include:

  • Ancilla (wide-open blooms with white petals and yellow and orange centers)
  • Early Harvest (orange blooms)
  • Stresa (striped blooms in yellow and red)


These tulips have large flowers with pointed petals. They’re a mid-season bloomer and have medium-height stems.

Some interesting varieties include:

  • Purissima (pale yellow to white blooms)
  • Ballerina (yellow blooms with white tips)

Greigii Tulips

This is another low-growing species that bloom early in the season. The tulip plants have wavy leaves and flowers with pointed petals.

Some outstanding varieties include:

  • Cape Cod (orange blooms with petals fringed in yellow)
  • Casa Grande (peach-colored blooms)
  • Red Riding Hood (open red blooms with a black center)

Wild or Species Tulips

These small-growing wild or species tulips come in a variety of flower colors. Wild tulips don’t have tall stems and are perfect for group plantings in areas where they can be naturalized as perennials. They are also commonly referred to as perennial tulips.


Tulips are lovely spring-blooming perennial bulbs. They have been delighting gardeners with their massive variety of colorful blooms for many centuries.

These majestic plants are fairly easy to grow and look really good when they’re mass planted. This ensures a magnificent display when all the colors start exploding throughout the blooming season.

Just remember that their best planting time is in the fall so that they can be exposed to the extreme cold in winter in order to produce their magnificent blooms.Feel free to explore our blog for more colorful flowers to plant.

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