Planting Tulip Bulbs

3rd November 2023

September and October are the best months to plant most spring bulbs, like daffodils, crocus and hyacinths. But now as we enter November, this is the best month to plant tulip bulbs. Waiting for the colder weather of November reduces the chance of problems from viruses, and fungal rots such as botrytis which causes the dreaded “Tulip Fire”. Ideally, wait for the arrival of the first frost before planting tulips.


You can plant tulips right through into December, and certainly try to get them all planted by the end of January. Planting them late is fine, but buying tulip bulbs later on into December is not such a good idea. It may be tempting to wait for the end-of-season sales, but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s usually a false economy. If they haven't dried out completely, or been bashed around too much, they’ve often started to rot. Cheap bulbs late in the season carry a much higher rate of being soft, rotten or dried, and mostly unusable. Yes, you can get a refund, but it’s then too late in the season to source decent quality healthy bulbs, so that year’s planting opportunity is lost. 

Many of the most show-stopping big and bright tulip varieties are best grown as an annual. That means they only reliably flower well in their first spring, and then can be pulled up and composted after flowering. When you buy tulips, most of the energy and nutrients for flowering are already packed into the bulb. In the fields, for a year or two before being lifted for sale, their flowering stems are cut off to prevent them from flowering. This means the bulb builds up its energy, and when we let them flower, they’re packed with serious flower-power. The really showy varieties need a few years’ energy to provide that good display.


Wild species types, or varieties more closely related to the true wild species, are generally much better at providing a good display year after year. The wild species types are generally small, and need a really sunny well drained spot, ideally with little shading from neighbouring plants from spring into early summer. However, Tulipa sylvestris is one to grow under deciduous trees. Tulipa praestans 'Fusilier', Tulipa turkestanica, and Tulipa batalinii ‘Bright Gem’ do well for me at home, and Tulipa sperngeri is one of the latest to flower. Larger cultivated types that are more reliably perennial, are the Viridiflora types,which are easily identified by the green central flush on their petals. Varieties such as ‘Green Wave’, ‘Spring Green’, ‘Artist’ and ‘Groenland’ are all reputable Viridiflora tulips.


In terms of tools, a long-handled bulb planter is the best option provided your soil is soft and stone-free. On harder stonier soils, a good sturdy spade is best. For small bulbs you may find a hand trowel works fine


Get your bulbs in now, and sit back through winter knowing you’ve got buried treasure whose jewels will be revealed with the arrival of spring.


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