How And When To Plant Tulip Bulbs

With winter fast approaching, it’s time to learn how to plant tulip bulbs. This easy guide will show you how.

Tulips push their way towards the sun in early spring and delight with beautiful blooms. Grown from a bulb that sleeps during cold months, tulips are a delightful way to celebrate the end of winter and brighten up the flower beds.

group of white tulips growing in a field in springtime

Tulips are available in a cacophony of brilliant colors. They come in many shapes, some with traditionally pointed flower heads to large ruffled petals resembling peonies.

They are often grown beside other spring bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinth, brightening up dreary landscapes and adding cheerful splashes of color in homemade bouquets.

Given the right conditions, tulips are easy to grow and make an excellent cut flower. Join us today for step by step instructions on how to properly plant tulip bulbs. Be sure to check the end of this article for tulip troubleshooting ideas!

healthy tulip bulb pointy side up
Healthy tulip bulbs are large and firm with no sign of disease or decay.

How To Plant Tulip Bulbs

To plant tulip bulbs, find a location that gets at least 6 hours of sun, with soil that drains easily (no standing water). Dig a large hole 5 to 7 inches deep and place bulbs in hole 4 to 5 inches apart. Water well and then cover with soil.

Depth: 5 to 7 inches deep

Spacing: 4 to 5 inches apart

Sun: 6 hours

Is it that simple? Yes, but we’ve got detailed steps covered in the rest of this article!

This is a step by step tutorial on how to plant tulips. Be sure to reference the end of the article for frequently asked questions.

Step One: Planting Time

When is the right time to plant tulips? The fall months of October through December. The tulip flowers will emerge the following year!

The first step to planting tulips is determining the right TIME to do so for your zone. Mid to late autumn is the best time to plant tulips, about 4 to 6 weeks before the first hard frost when the ground freezes.

This is often the time frame of late October to early December, but is dependent on your zone. The soil temperature needs to be below 60 degrees at a depth of 6 inches.

Tulip bulbs need cold temperatures and moisture to grow their roots. If you plant too early eager bulbs will push up leaves through the soil and trying their best to grow.

For accurate timing of planting check out your hardiness zone on this USDA map.

Typical Tulip Bulb Planting Times Based On Zones:

  • Zone 1-3: Plant in late September to October
  • Zone 4-5: Plant in late September to early November
  • Zone 6-7: Plant in October to Mid December
  • Zone 8-10: Pre chill tulip bulbs by placing in refrigerator for 6 weeks, then plant in December.

If you are still unsure about your local planting timeline, stop by a gardening center and ask to talk to a regional expert. These employees should have experience specific to your area and climate.

group of six tulip bulbs waiting to be planted in fall

Step Two: The Right Location

The right location is important to the success of your bulbs thriving over winter and pushing up their buds in spring. Light, soil quality, and drainage are important.


When the weather has cooled it is time to determine the right location for your tulip bulbs, and the first consideration should be light. Tulips prefer a location with full sun, although a bit of partial shade in the afternoon will work okay as well. Look for an area that will get 6 hours of bright and direct sun.


An area with well draining, loose soil is also important for tulip bulbs to thrive. Fertile, sandy soil is ideal for tulips. A great location would be a spot that has a slight slope to help with drainage and consists of loose, well-drained soil.

Heavy clay soils and sunken wet soil will cause tulip bulbs to rot. If needed, amend your soil organic matter and peat moss, which helps with drainage.

shovel digging dirt for tulip bulbs

Step 3: Planting Tulip Bulbs In The Ground

Now it’s time for the fun part- digging and planting!

There are two specific planting styles that are common with tulip bulbs. Traditionally, many gardeners will plant their bulbs 4 to 5 inches apart, giving each bulb space to grow roots and breathe. Planted in this way, you typically have 5 to 6 bulbs per square foot.

Rules are meant to be broken, however, and you may want to plant your bulbs close together, creating a colorful show of many flowers blooming in one area. To do this plant your bulbs so they are almost touching, like eggs in a basket. Many people plant tulip bulbs this way with fantastic results.

child measuring the distance of the top of a tulip bulb to the edge of the dirt to make sure the hole is deep enough

We will go through each method here with photos.

Traditional Planting Method

Important… Always make sure that the pointy end of your tulip sticks up! If you put the round end up you are planting the bulb upside down, and you won’t get a very pretty bloom that way!

Normal planting methods space tulips out about 4 to 5 inches apart, so plan accordingly. You can get a visual for how large of a hole you need by placing your bulbs on top of the soil prior to digging the hole (remove bulbs before digging!).

Dig a large hole about 7 inches deep.

When planting with my children, we like to measure things out for learning and precision, but you don’t have to be that exact for successful planting.

The bulb should sit between 5-7 inches deep. The bottom of the bulb here reached 7 inches and the height of the bulb was at 5 inches deep. We spaced our bulbs 4 to 5 inches apart.

A good rule of thumb is to plant the bulb twice as deep as it the bulb is tall.

Before placing the bulbs in their hole, we added a half a cup of bone meal and mixed it in with the soil. Bone meal will add extra phosphorous to the soil, which helps root growth, flowering, and overall health. You can also use a bulb specific fertilizer, if desired.

tulip bulbs planted traditionally with pointed side up and spaced 4 to 5 inches apart

Give the bulbs a nice drink of water, cover with dirt, and make sure to label the spot where you’ve planted. If you live in an area of plenty of rainfall you will not need to water again. In hot, dry climates water regularly over winter.

Planting Tulip Bulbs In Groups Close Together

Planting bulbs in groups close together will create a colorful and dramatic impact. This planting approach is often done in borders or for growers who sell tulips and need to grow a lot of flowers. We personally think this is the best way to plant tulips.

Start your planting process the same way as when you plant bulbs traditionally, digging a bulb bed about 7 inches deep and adding bone meal or bulb fertilizer.

Instead of planting your bulbs 4 to 5 inches apart, plant them right next to each other, like eggs in a basket. They can be quite close, less than an inch apart. The bulbs should not quite be touching. Make sure that the bulbs are placed pointy side up, deeply water, then cover with dirt.

Tulips planted close together like eggs in a basket.

Now that you’ve planted your tulip bulbs, all you have to do is wait through the winter! When you think you cannot take a another moment of winter a beautiful burst of color will arrive as your tulips sprout through the earth and share their brilliant colors with you.

group of six tulip bulbs ready to plant

Are Moldy Tulip Bulbs Still Good?

Mold and rot on tulip bulbs is a common problem, and bulbs are susceptible to fungal diseases. Make sure to observe each bulb before planting and only plant healthy bulbs. This can also happen with new bulbs from the store.

If there is mold on the bulb then toss it, and if the bulb is mushy when you gently squeeze it or visible mold and decay have occurred, do not plant it.

It will be apparent if your bulb is rotted. A healthy tulip bulb will withstand the pressure of light squeezing and feel firm and hard. Sometimes bulb rot will occur on recently purchased bulbs that were not stored properly. Do not hesitate to ask for an exchange on these bulbs!

A spoiled bulb with have spots of grey or brown rot, and be soft and mushy to the touch.

Rotting and decayed tulip bulb
Rotted tulip bulb

To prevent rot on planted tulip bulbs, make sure to plant in an area that has well-draining soil. A slightly sloped area may be ideal in order to help with drainage and keep water from encouraging rot.

What Is Eating My Tulip Bulbs?

Deer, moles, rabbits, squirrels and many insects enjoy chomping on tulip bulbs. Before planting, inspect bulbs for insects, which may be boring into your bulbs and causing decay. Do not plant any that have been heavily damaged by insects.

Bulb mites are a common insect which will bore into your tulip bulbs and feed on your bulbs by sucking out the juices within. This leaves your bulbs susceptible to rot. Discard any tulip bulbs affected by mites immediately.

Mites eating a tulip bulb
Mites enjoying a nice lunch of tulip bulb. These mites weaken the bulb making it extremely
susceptible to rot.

To prevent bulbs from being eaten by deer, mice, moles and other critters, you can try a few tactics:

  • Place a layer of sharp rocks at the bottom of the hole prior to planting tulip bulbs to prevent moles from digging in
  • Make sure you are planting deep enough to make it harder for critters to detect and enjoy your bulbs
  • Lay a piece of chicken wire over the dirt once planted. Use rocks to hold the chicken wire in place. This will deter digging

Should Tulip Bulbs Be Soaked Before Planting?

No, there is no need to soak tulip bulbs before planting.

Where To Buy Tulip Bulbs

Garden centers, big box stores, and online flower businesses all carry tulip bulbs.

Types Of Tulips

There are over 3,000 tulip varieties to choose from. They come in many flower shapes, colors and heights.

Different varieties can give you different bloom times, which means you can get color all season long.

Darwin Hybrid are reliable perennial bloomers that are more likely to come back the next spring. Botanical tulips are tulips that mimic wild tulips with small flower buds.

Some tulip varieties bloom in late spring. These varieties often have longer stems and ruffled petals. Some of these late spring varieties are Double or Single Late Tulips, Parrot Tulips, and Fringed Tulips.

Other Spring-Flowering Bulbs To Plant

Other popular spring blooms to plant in the tulip bed are daffodil bulbs and grape hyacinths. Make sure the bulbs you plant with tulips have the same light and soil needs.

Can You Plant Tulips In Late Winter?

Yes, you can plant tulip bulbs any time that the ground is still workable. Keep in mind that these tulip bulbs may have smaller blooms and shorter stems. These tulip bulbs will have the best chance of thriving if they were kept chilled prior to planting.

How To Plant Tulip Bulbs In Pots + Containers

Planting tulip bulbs in pots and containers is very simple and can prevent some of the pesky critters from enjoying your flower bulbs!

Use a well draining container that is deep enough to plant tulip bulbs at least 5-7 inches with room to spare. Just planting tulip bulbs in the ground, you need good drainage for the best results.

Make sure you use a container that will not crack in winter frosts.

Terra cotta pots tend to crack, while plastic and metal are good choices for strength against cold temperatures. If you plant in terra cotta, place the pot somewhere that will be cold but not freezing, such as a garage.

tulip bulbs planted 5 to 7 inches deep in pots.

Use a high quality soil mix when planting tulip bulbs in pots. Do not use soil from the ground because it will be dense and not well draining. You can mix bone meal in with your soil for extra nutrition for your bulbs.

Plant your tulip bulbs the same way you would in soil. Make sure the pointy end of the tulip bulb is up, and plant your bulbs 6 to 7 inches deep. You can plant your tulip bulbs close together or space them out to the typical spacing of 4 to 5 inches.


Are you planning to add tulips to your flower garden this year? We’d love to hear about it! Drop us a comment below and let us know how your bulb planting ventures go.

Happy planting! -Jamie, The Green Garden Cottage

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