When to plant tulip bulbs for colourful spring displays

Tulips are the star of the show when it comes to spring-flowering bulbs. Their range of colours, shapes, and heights make impressive displays that captivate you.

Once planted, tulips will give you weeks of colour from spring to early summer if you plant a selection of different cultivars. To help them create the best blooms, it's important to spend some time getting them settled for the best displays.

We'll cover how to grow tulips, including soil preparation and the best location, time and method for planting tulips. Read on to discover how to create spectacular displays in your garden next year.

When to plant tulip bulbs for spring flowers
When to plant tulip bulbs for spring flowers

When to plant tulip bulbs

Unlike other spring-flowering bulbs, Tulips require a little more attention when you plant them. People plant bulbs like daffodils, crocuses, and grape hyacinths in September. However, tulips should be planted later in winter.

Tulips should wait until the temperature has dropped, ideally six to eight weeks before the first frost. This is usually around the end of October or early November in England.

You want to plant them when the ground is frost-free so their roots have time to establish before the winter. If it's too mild, it's better to wait, even right up until Christmas. Planting too early increases the chance of tulips getting tulip fire (Botrytis tulipae). Tulip fire is a fungal disease that causes grey-green lesions on the leaves and petals, stopping them from flowering.

If you don't plant your tulips by Christmas, they'll unlikely flower the following year. Like most other bulbs, tulips need a period of cold dormancy to bloom. Planting them in early winter ensures they get the cold snap they need to start the flowering process.

If your bulbs come early, keep them in a cool, dry place that's safe from mice and squirrels.

When do tulips flower?

Tulip bulbs flower throughout April and May. If you're careful choosing your varieties, you can get six weeks of blooms.

Early single-flowering varieties, Fosterianas and early double-flowering tulip varieties flower in the first half of April. One of our favourites is 'Salmon Prince', a single early bulb with soft apricot tones and hints of pink. Pair it with Tulip 'Mondial', an early double-flowering pure white tulip, for a stunning early display.

From mid-April, Triumph tulips are next to bloom. They are a long-lasting staple of the tulip display, with their thick, weather-resistant petals. Triumph tulips are the most highly bred and colourful group, coming in almost every colour, from soft pinks to black.

Finally, choose May-flowering tulips like fringed, parrots or late doubles to lead into summer. These are often your show-stopping tulips, like La Belle Epoque tulips, Tulip 'Amazing Parrot' or Tulip Ballerina.

How to plant tulip bulbs

Planting tulip bulbs in borders or pots is quick and simple. Here's our top advice for planting tulips in soil:

1. Choose the right location

Choose a sunny spot in your garden with well-draining soil. Tulips prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade. A full sun spot usually gets six hours of direct sunlight.

If you're not sure where gets the most sun, spend a day observing how the light falls in your garden. Every couple of hours, note which areas are in the light and shade.

2. Prepare the soil

Before planting, ensure the soil is loose and well-drained. Improve heavy or clay-like soil by adding compost and sharp sand to enhance drainage. Tulips like neutral to alkaline soils; if the soil is acidic (pH 6 and lower), add lime to increase the pH.

Remove any rubble or rocks that will stop the growth of your bulbs. Finally, break up any hard soil with a garden fork before planting.

3. Dig the holes

Before you start, decide how you want to arrange your tulips. If you want them natural drifts or grouped in clusters. Space the bulbs around 10-15cm to allow plenty of room for growth.

The easiest way to create holes is using a bulb auger or planter, which will require much less digging. A bulb planter is less likely to disturb your existing plants when planting in borders.

4. How deep to plant tulip bulbs

Tulip bulbs require planting to three times their height. Typically this means planting them around 13-20cm deep.

If you have heavy soil, you can plant them slightly shallower at only twice the height (10-15cm) deep. Scatter in some sharp sand to improve drainage before planting the bulb.

5. Planting the bulbs

Place the bulbs with the pointed end facing upwards. Cover the bulbs with soil and gently firm it down, so the bulbs have good contact with the soil beneath.

6. Watering and mulching

After planting your bulbs, you want to give them a good initial drink. Water the area to ensure wet soil has settled over the bulb. Apply a layer of mulch or composted bark around the planted area to retain moisture.

Planting tulips in pots

Tulips look stunning in pots, placed near seating or on a patio area. They'll create a display that you can move to be in focus throughout the spring.

Choose a large pot and plant in a bulb lasagne with layers of tulip bulbs. Place the latest flowering varieties in the bottom, followed by mid-flowering varieties, like Triumph tulips. Finally, top with early flowering varieties closest to the top. This way, your pots will fill with colour for around six weeks.

Use a loam-based compost like John Innes 3 to plant tulips. Water the pots well and find somewhere cool and away from heavy rain. Against a wall is perfect. This will help the tulips root without becoming too wet and rotting. After six weeks, you can place them in position and leave them. Protect your tulip bulbs with wire netting, as squirrels and rats love to eat them.

If you prefer smaller pots, try planting 10 bulbs of one variety in a smaller pot. Place this into larger decorative pots when they are about to bloom. This a great wat to rotate bulbs when they start to fade.

a beginner's guide to planting tulips
a beginner's guide to planting tulips

Tulips in your garden

Tulips are truly the stars of the season and perfect for creating show-stopping displays. They're easy to grow and a perfect burst of colour to bring in the summer.

Even if you're brand new to gardening, tulip bulbs are easy to plant and care for. Plan your displays now or choose from our pre-designed collections for easy bursts of color next spring.


We've hand-picked our favourite varieties that will create non-stop displays in your garden.

Tulip collections

Designed for you

Tulip collections

Our designers have created a range of tulip collections that will create show-stopping pots and borders.

Shop now

Classic white tulips

Elegant tulips

Classic white tulips

If you love to keep it simple with classic whites, take a look at our white tulips

Shop now

Copyright © Crocus.co.uk Ltd 2024. All rights reserved.