Tips for Growing Tulips

Tulips are one of the prettiest bulb flowers with deep, rich colors of almost every hue.
While tulips are perennial, they often have to be grown as annuals, especially in hotter climates that do not really suit them. To start them off many gardeners in temperate regions need to place the bulbs in the crisper section of the refrigerator for 10-14 days. Thankfully, in the Puget Sound region where I live, tulips grow great. We even have an annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival that draws crowds from all over the world during the month of April. 

Gardeners who live south of the sub-tropical regions should be able to grow tulips. There are more varieties now than there used to be, and these – Single Late Tulips - are better suited to warmer temperatures. They are sometimes called French Tulips or Warm Climate Tulips. Whatever the variety, here are some tips for growing tulips.

skagit valley tulip festival

Tips for Growing Tulips

skagit valley tulip festival

Where to Grow Tulips

Tulips and other bulbs should be grown in soil that is somewhat sandy so that they do not rot and slightly acidic, with a pH of around 6. Heavy soils should have sand and compost added and beds should be slightly raised to ensure good drainage. The tulip bulb should be planted to three times its length. If other plants are going to be planted in the same bed, do them first so that the bulbs will not be damaged by the trowel. Sandy soil also helps the bulb to increase.
Tulips do best in full sun, but will still grow and flower in a partly shaded area. They are reasonably tall so need to be about in the middle of the garden if there are three different heights of flowers.

Spacing Tulips

While tulips can be grown in rows, for the home garden they look stunning grown in clumps of about 10 bulbs spaced at around 6 in (12cm) apart, however, this will depend on your garden and your preferences. Anywhere between 3in (7cm) and 8in (20cm) is fine.

Fertilizing Tulips

Tulips thrive on a good application of Blood and Bone fertilizer, a dash of lime and another of complete fertilizer.

skagit valley tulip festival

Tulip Disease

Tulips are blessed with good health; they are not prone to any disease except Tulip Fire. This disease causes the whole plant to be stunted and deformed, and leaves will have brown splotches on them. The only cure is to destroy the bulbs of affected plants. However, if bulbs are overcrowded in the garden there can be problems, so be sure to dig them up and take off those new little bulbs that have formed. They can also be planted out, but ensure they are properly spaced.

How to Care for Tulip Plants

No plant remains looking good forever and tulips are no different. Once the flowers start to die and look fall off it is quite okay to deadhead them. However, the leaves should be left as they will provide nutrition for the bulbs next year. If they look unsightly, they can be gathered gently and braided so that they look tidy. Leave them like that until they are really dead, then dig up the bulbs and store them in a cool dry place ready for next year.

Of course, if you are treating them as annuals you can simply leave them in the ground to rot down for additional fertilizer. Bonus, you can leave them in the ground and hope they come back next year. Confession: that's how I grow mine!

Cut tulip flowers make outstanding displays. They last for about a week in a vase and if you add a teaspoon of sugar to the water, will last a little longer. 

If you find yourself in the Seattle area, don't miss the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. You will be truly inspired! Mother nature decides when the tulips bloom but you can usually find the fields in bloom during the month of April. 

Fun fact: tulips are the only flower that will still grow even after they are cut.

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