How to Plant Tulip Bulbs: The Complete Guide

Written by Nikita Ross
Updated: August 2, 2023
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There’s nothing like seeing beautiful tulips in bloom to signify the arrival of spring. Yet, unlike many springtime blossoms, these flowers have unique planting requirements and require months of preparation to be ready for the spring season.

In this article, we’ll cover how to plant tulip bulbs and some important considerations for getting showy spring blooms.

Choosing the Right Tulip Bulbs

When choosing tulip bulbs, there are a few key things to look for. 

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Tulip USDA Zone

First, assess their USDA Growing Zone. Tulips are generally hardy and can grow in a wide range of Hardiness Zones. However, certain species are more sensitive to temperature and won’t thrive in some environments. Be sure the tulip bulbs you’re considering are compatible with your USDA Zone

Tulip Bulb Growth Timing

Tulips have different growth timing depending on the species. These are generally categorized as early, mid, and late-season bloomers. 

Emperor tulips are the most common early-season bulbs to grow, often showing themselves before all other species. Triumph tulips and hybrids are well-known mid-season bloomers, and Darwins are notoriously late to the party.

If you want flowering tulips for the entire growing season, consider purchasing a selection of tulip bulbs from early, mid, and late-blooming species. You can plant these in the same garden for a continuous bloom. Just leave ample space between bulbs and note existing bulb placement if you’re planting them at different times.

Tulip Bulb Size

Size matters when choosing tulip bulbs. The more robust the tulip bulb, the more flowers it will produce. The general recommendation among gardeners is to plant bulbs with a minimum circumference of 4 inches, though upward of 5 inches is better.

Tulip Bulb Quality

Bulb quality is another priority when making your selection. Examine your bulbs for blemishes or signs of decay. Discard damaged bulbs away from healthy bulbs, as these are susceptible to bacteria and pests. 

You can also purchase hot-water treatment (HWT) bulbs. These bulbs have been soaked with a disinfectant that kills bacteria and pests. 

Finally, consider the weight of your bulbs. Each bulb should feel solid and present. If the bulb feels empty or husk-like, discard it.

Garden of Orange Emperor Tulips in bloom

Emperor tulips are the most common early-season bulbs to grow.

©Andrew Fletcher/

How to Plant Tulip Bulbs: Preparing the Planting Site

Choosing the right placement and preparing the soil will help encourage tulip growth. Here are some practical tips for preparing the tulip planting site.

Tulip Bulb Soil Preparation

Tulip bulbs require well-draining, slightly acidic soil to thrive. The bulbs and roots are prone to rot and only require a bit of water throughout the growing season. If you live in a rainy area, ensure your garden has plenty of drainage. 

Tulip bulbs prefer a pH of 6-7 for optimal growth. Test your soil with a testing kit, or try a pantry test using vinegar and baking soda. You can help make your soil more acidic by mixing in organic matter. Tulip bulbs thrive in nutrient-rich soil, so this is the best approach.

You should also take the time to churn the soil, removing rocks and debris from previous growing seasons.

Tulip Bulb Light Exposure

Tulips are a sun-loving plant. Plant your tulip bulbs in a South or West-facing garden for favorable results. Ensure the garden isn’t shaded by a tree or other large plants to give your bulbs the light they need to thrive.

Tulip Bulb Watering

As mentioned, tulips are not water-loving plants. As long as you live in a fairly humid area with regular rain, you won’t need to worry about the blooming tulip plants.

However, tulip bulbs require a good soaking when you plant them. This ensures they have the moisture they need to get started and helps reduce air bubbles in the soil to keep them insulated during the cold season. 

Healthy tulip bulbs are large and free of discoloration.

The more robust the tulip bulb, the more flowers it will produce.

©Natallia Ustsinava/

How to Plant Tulip Bulbs: Step-By-Step

Planting tulip bulbs is simple. All you need is a trowel, the bulbs, and a watering can.

  1. Use your trowel to dig holes 6-8 inches deep. Leave plenty of space between bulbs — at least 3-4 inches or more with large species.
  2. Put one tulip bulb in each hole with the pointy side facing upward. 
  3. Cover the tulip bulb with soil and pat it down to remove air bubbles. 
  4. Water the planted tulip bulbs to help the soil settle and give them a good start.
  5. Consider covering the garden with mulch or another organic insulator.

Ideally, you’ll plant the bulbs in the fall before the ground freezes. This timing provides ample time for vernalizing so the tulip bulbs are ready to bloom in the spring.

Planting tulip bulbs

When planting tulip bulbs in the soil ensure that the pointy side faces up.


How to Plant Tulip Bulbs in Spring

If you miss the planting season and want your tulips to bloom in the spring, you can create the vernalizing process in your fridge. 

Put soil in an airtight container. Add your tulip bulbs, keeping them apart and away from the sides of the container. Moisten (but don’t soak) the soil, cover the container, and put them in the back of the fridge or an unheated shed for 12-14 weeks.

When the ground thaws, you can plant your bulbs. Hopefully, this process will help them catch up and bloom in the spring they’re planted.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Natallia Ustsinava/

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About the Author

Nikita Ross is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering plants, gardening, and yard care. Nikita has been writing for over seven years and holds a Marketing diploma from NSCC, which she earned in 2010. A resident of Canada, Nikita enjoys reading in her library, epic beach naps, and waiting for her Coffea arabica plant to produce coffee beans (no luck yet).

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