When To Plant Tulip Bulbs In The UK


Tulips along with daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths are one of the most popular spring bulbs planted in our gardens here in the UK.

Planting of tulip bulbs should be done between October and November before the first hard frost hits us. At this time of the year, the soil should be nice and moist, which will make the job of planting the bulbs easier.

The cooler temperatures will also help wipe out any fungal and viral diseases that may be lurking in the soil which may infect the tulip bulbs.

How To Plant Tulip Bulbs

Tulip Bulbs

Planting In The Ground

Tulips will flourish if planted in fertile well-drained soil in full sun, and sheltered from strong winds. Loose, crumbly soil beneath a tulip bulb will promote good growth and drainage, so it’s a good idea to prepare the soil a few inches deeper than the required planting depth.

Before planting check that your bulbs are nice and plump, it doesn’t matter if the paper skin has come off, but if any bulbs are soft, wrinkly or mouldy it is better to compost or dispose of them.

Most gardening books recommend planting tulips twice the depth of the bulb below the surface of the soil (about 3 inches (8cm) in the case of most tulip bulbs), but to help with drainage and prevent your tulip bulbs from rotting I would plant them 3 times the depth of the bulb and 3 to 5 inches (8-12cm) apart.

After planting your bulbs water thoroughly to settle the soil and to encourage the start of the root growth of your tulips.

In dry periods after planting it may be necessary to water once a week in autumn as sufficient moisture is essential to the health of your bulbs.

The roots will continue to grow until the soil freezes in winter, where they lay dormant until the soil begins to warm up again in early spring.

Tulips In Pot

Planting In Pots

If you are planning on planting tulips in a pot it is just as important to have adequate drainage as if you were planting them in the ground. Place pieces of broken pots or stones at the bottom of the pot to assist with free drainage and air circulation.

When planting tulip bulbs in a pot they can be planted much closer together, but make sure they don’t touch each other or the sides of the container. A dozen tulip bulbs in a 12-inch pot will give an excellent display.

To get a more dense spring display of tulips in your pots try making what the Dutch call a tulip lasagne, where the bulbs are layered on top of another. The largest and latest flowering bulbs are planted as the bottom layer, moving up to the earliest and smallest as the top layer of the tulip lasagne.

The growing shoots below need room to bend around any bulbs they hit on the way up to the surface of the soil. So if you wish to plant like this you need to plant the bulbs slightly further apart than you would in a single-layered pot, spacing an inch (2.5cm) apart should be about right.

The bottom layer of the lasagne can go as deep as 12in (30cm), then cover them with 2in (5cm) of potting compost before adding the next layer of bulbs.

Garden Trowel

What Tools Do I Need To Plant Tulip Bulbs?

Short-Handled Bulb Planter

The short-handled planter removes a plug of soil and then drops it back over the top of the hole when you’ve planted the hole. Be sure to buy a good quality bulb planter as cheaper models tend to bend easily.

Long-Handled Bulb Planter

The long-handled planter makes a hole for the bulb and then each subsequent hole made removes the previous plug of soil from the planter, this is ideal for mass planting.


If you are planting a large swath of bulbs a shovel is your best bet.

Power Planter

Bulb planting for the 21st century, the power planter fits any cordless drill and takes all the effort out of making holes for planting bulbs.

Do Tulips Have A Fragrance?

Not only will tulips brighten up your garden in the spring but they can also be very fragrant.

There are 14 varieties of tulips that are noted for their fragrance by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), 6 of which have been awarded the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the RHS. Tulips noted for their fragrance include tulip ‘Verona’, tulip ‘Angels Wish’ and Tulip ‘Purple Flag’.

Do Tulip Bulbs Multiply?

Tulip bulbs multiply only when they are allowed to have a full leaf cycle and spend all year in the ground. The bulbs multiply by growing in clusters around a parent bulb.

They will not multiply if dug up and stored for next year, as many gardeners often do with tulips. Instead leave them planted in the ground and lift them every three years in the autumn, divide them by gently breaking apart the bulb clusters, and replant immediately.

One way to help tulips multiply is to remove spent flowers once the plant has finished blooming in spring. Tulips naturally begin to grow seeds in blooms that were fertilised, so if the spent flowers are removed the energy that the plant would have used to produce seeds is directed back to the bulb and will help it multiply.

Are Tulips Poisonous?

Tulips rarely cause fatalities but do contain toxic glycosides that may cause dizziness, abdominal pain and upset, and even, on occasion, convulsions.

Do Tulips Come Back Every Year?

The tulip is duly noted in horticultural texts as a perennial plant. This means that a tulip should be expected to come back and flower year after year.

One way of making sure your tulips come back is when purchasing bulbs look for bulbs that are marked good for “perennializing” or “naturalising”.

Types of Tulips

Single Tulips (Early and Late)
Single Tulips (Early and Late)
Double Tulips (Early and Late)
Double Tulips (Early and Late)
Fosteriana Tulips
Fosteriana Tulips
Kaufmanniana Tulips
Kaufmanniana Tulips
Greigii Tulips
Greigii Tulips
Darwin Hybrid Tulips
Darwin Hybrid Tulips
Triumph Tulips
Triumph Tulips
Fringed Tulips
Fringed Tulips
Lily-Flowered Tulips
Lily-Flowered Tulips
Parrot Tulips
Parrot Tulips
Viridiflora Tulips
Viridiflora Tulips
Botanical Tulips
Botanical Tulips

Why Are My Tulips Not Flowering?

The main reason for tulips not blooming next spring is blindness and the main culprit for causing this is an impatient gardener removing the leaves too prematurely the previous year or if they were hit by a late frost. Tulips cannot replenish their energy reserves if they cut back too early. The leaves need to be allowed to die back naturally for as long as possible before cutting the foliage back.

Don’t tie up the foliage once flowering has finished either, many gardeners do this to tidy up their appearance but this also interrupts the plant’s process of storing energy for next year’s blooms. If untidy tulips bother that much, lift the bulbs and plant them in unused pots or another part of the garden until they haven’t died back completely.

Other reasons for blindness are;

  • Overcrowding
  • Shallow planting
  • Allowing seed heads to form
  • Lack of nutrients in the soil

If you have a large clump of blind tulips then it is more than likely that they are overcrowded. Lift the bulbs and re-plant them 3 to 5 inches apart.

Can You Deadhead Tulips?

It is a good idea to deadhead tulips once their blooms are spent as this prevents them from wasting energy forming seeds, energy that can be used to build up the bulb for next year’s show of flowers.

Why Are My Tulips Drooping?

The main culprit though for your plants falling over is because of shallow planting. If your tulips look healthy and have no signs of disease on them, then there are a few reasons why your tulips are drooping. They can be blown over by strong winds or if we have heavy rain, the rain can make the leaves and flowers droop.

Do Tulips Attract Bees?

If you’ve ever looked into the centre of a tulip flower you will notice the black panthers that are usually covered in pollen, oftentimes in such great quantities that it’s dust covers the inner petals as well. The best types of tulips for attracting bees are found in varying shades of violet. Bees are able to see the ultraviolet rays these petals produce when reflected in the sun.

Tulip Facts

Tulip Bulbs
  • Currently, there are around 75 wild species of tulips and 150 species in total with over 3000 varieties.
  • The word tulip is derived from a Persian word called delband, which means turban. It is generally believed that it was called this due to the turban-shaped nature of the flower. However, this might have been a translation error as it was fashionable to wear tulips on turbans at the time.
  • Tulips are perennials (a plant that lives for more than 2 years), they bloom in spring, usually for only 3-7 days.
  • Tulips grow from bulbs and being native to mountainous areas the tulip needs a period of cold dormancy, known as vernalisation. So they should be planted in the fall (Autumn) and thrive best in climates with cool springs and dry summers.
  • The tulip is usually sweetly scented and depending on the variety it can grow from a few inches to over two feet tall. The flower has a variety of shapes and it comes in most colours although there are no pure blue varieties.
  • Tulips normally have one flower per stem, however, a few species have up to 4 flowers on a single stem.
  • Tulips are a part of the lily family.
  • The tulip is native to central Asia and eventually made its way to Turkey. But it was when the flower was first cultivated in the Netherlands that it really came to prominence.
  • The Dutch obsession with tulips began with Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius. When he was made the director of Leiden University’s new Hortus Botanicus (botanical garden) in 1593 he planted some of his own tulip bulbs. As a result, 1594 is considered the official date of tulips first blooming in Holland.
  • Carolus Clusius was also the first person to identify “broken tulips” which is a viral infection that caused beautiful streaks in the petals. Clusius would go on to create many new colour variations of tulips.
  • Tulips started to become highly prized in Holland in the 1600s as some of Clusius unique tulip variations at Leiden became much sought after.
  • This led to a period from 1634 to 1637 known as “Tulipmania” when enthusiasm for the new flower started an economic frenzy and one of the world’s first ‘speculative bubbles’. The value of tulips shot up nearly overnight, they became the most expensive flower in the world, so expensive that they were treated as a form of currency.
  • At the peak of tulip mania, certain bulbs were selling for 10 times more than the annual income of a skilled worker and a valuable tulip bulb could change hands up to ten times a day. Tulipmania was short-lived though and the whole economy eventually crashed.
  • Today, the Netherlands is still the world’s main producer of commercially sold tulips, producing as many as 3 billion bulbs annually, mostly for export.
  • Tulip petals are actually able to be eaten, during the Dutch famine of 1944 in WWII people often had to resort to eating sugar beets and tulips.
  • The tulip is the national flower of Turkey and Afghanistan.

Why Are Tulips Topped In The Netherlands?

Have you ever wondered where all the tulip bulbs come from? In Holland, there are many tulip farms with endless tulip fields. On these fields, millions of tulips are grown every year.

Around the end of April, the farmers top the tulips (taking the tulip head or flower off) so the bulbs can get stronger before they are taken out of the ground during the summer months.

For tulip lovers, this is a horrible sight. As big machines start rolling into the colourful and wonderful smelling tulip field and starts topping the tulips. The end result is a field with green stems (and the occasional tulip which is too small to be chopped).