Before we answer this question, let us first say that there is a way to find out which topics are being searched on Google. And, believe it or not, this one question is trending! So, we thought we’d tackle this head on!
The bulb so popular that it caused an entire country’s market to crash, the tulip offers some of the most iconic spring blooms to be found. Gorgeous, colorful, and mainly cup-shaped, it’s a classic favorite that is simply impossible to beat when the gardening season returns again after a long winter. However, in order to enjoy its cheerful presence in your spring landscape, planning and planting early are incredibly important.
When to Plant Tulips
As spring-flowering bulbs, tulips are dormant during the summer when the weather is hot. This means they can’t set their roots in the heat of the summer. They also dislike heavy moisture, making the bulb both stressed and susceptible to fusarium, or basal rot, which causes it to mold and waste away.
By waiting until the fall, however, when the weather is nice and cool, this triggers the bulbs to set their roots and become well-established throughout the colder temperatures. Plus, these pre-set roots are the key to absorbing excess moisture and keeping the bulbs from freezing in the winter, as they change the physiology of the bulb. It becomes more elastic in nature, creating an almost antifreeze-like effect that protects it from the cold and keeps it safe so it can easily burst into bloom when spring returns. Unfortunately, sometimes we may not get our tulip bulbs into the ground in fall. Whether you didn’t have any bulbs for fall planting or you simply forgot, is there still time to get them in the ground to enjoy them in spring?
Planting Tulips in Spring
If the bulbs have lasted through the winter, have some weight to them, aren’t dry and crumbly, or soft and mushy, the good news is yes, tulip bulbs can still be planted in early spring just as soon as the ground is workable. It’s worth a shot to try anyway and not waste your money! But, there is a caveat! Without the time to establish strong roots in the cooler temperatures, they are much more likely to have weak blooms or even not bloom at all.
Spring planted tulip bulbs need at least 14 weeks of vernalization, a chilling period that induces a bulb to grow and flower. So, unless the temperature is still holding below 50℉ in spring when you are going to plant, you may not see flowers until next year at the earliest, if at all. This may be good news for those in Zone 5 and lower, who often still have enough chill to make it if they get them in the ground soon enough. For warmer climates, though, your best chance may be to try forcing them indoors or you can purchase bulbs pre-chilled!
It’s important to note that while forced bulbs add indoor beauty, the effort of blooming in an indoor environment often depletes the bulbs' energy reserves. You can try to plant them outside for future blooms, but it may take several years before you'll see flowers—if at all.
After forcing, you won’t be able to just throw your potted tulips into the ground—they will need to be acclimatized first. Do so by gradually introducing them to the outdoors. Start by placing them out in the shade for only a few hours a day. Then, work your way up by leaving them out longer and longer, slowly moving them out into the sun. When they’ve finally worked their way up to a full day spent in the sun, they’re ready to join your other plants in the beds.
How to Plant Tulip Bulbs
Gardeners used to believe that tulips preferred to be planted deeper than most bulbs, with a depth of 8 inches typically recommended. However, a study by Cornell University showed that tulips produce beautiful blooms even when planted less deeply—with some tested bulbs planted right on top of the soil and mulched!
On the other hand, because squirrels and other rodents find tulip bulbs tasty, we recommend planting at a depth of 6 inches. To plant them, dig a hole about 6 inches deep and stick the bulb in with the pointy end up. Cover with soil and water. If you want to add impact by planting masses of tulips, dig a wider hole at the same depth, and add 7 to 10 bulbs in the hole, spacing the bulbs a few inches apart, and cover with soil. You’ll be rewarded with a lovely burst of color!
Be sure to plant them in full sun in well-draining soil. Tulips hate being wet, so amend your soil with a bit of gravel to help with drainage. Once planted, they should only need watering if the rain has been less than a quarter of an inch.
While tulips may be spring-bloomers in need of fall planting, you may still have a chance for blooms this year! For more help and advice with planting your tulip bulbs, let us know, and we’d be happy to help!
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