field of tulips
Benjamin Van Der Spek / EyeEm/getty

How To Grow Tulips

Tulips, those colorful extroverts of spring, grow best in climates where they are exposed to a cold winter—USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 8. Plant the bulbs after the first frost in fall but before the soil freezes. Gardeners in Zones 9 and 10 can grow tulips as annuals, planting pre-chilled bulbs in January.

Many species of  tulips originated in Turkey, eastern Europe, and ancient Persia, while others came from the steppes and mountains of central Asia or from Spain, Greece, Crete, and North Africa. They thrive in climates with long winters; cold, wet springs; and hot, dry summers.

If you live in the northern states of USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 to 6, just about any species tulip works for you. If you reside in the South however, or mild-winter areas of the West and don't want to bother with putting your bulbs through a "chilling" period, plant species tulips that overwinter in Zones 8 through 10.

Related: Did You Know That USDA Hardiness Zones Have Changed?

Choosing Bulbs

Larger bulbs produce larger flowers, so be wary of discount bulbs. Buy bulbs early in fall for the best selection, then store them in a paper bag in a cool place until you’re ready to plant.

Tip: Look for bulbs that are firm, heavy for their size, and without cuts or bruises—the same characteristics you’d seek when buying onions at the supermarket.

Species tulips are often listed in the "other" or "miscellaneous" sections of bulb catalogs.

Brent and Becky's Bulbs
Dutch Gardens
John Scheepers
McClure & Zimmerman
Old House Gardens
Tulip World


The best soil for tulips is rich, sandy loam. But they’ll tolerate clay soil so long as it drains well. Choose a spot where the plants will get at least 6 hours of sunlight daily during their bloom season. Plant the bulbs about 4 inches deep, or three to four times the width of the bulb. Whether you dig individual holes for each bulb or a broad hole to accommodate a group of bulbs, mix finished compost with the soil as you plant. Water well after planting.

Tip: Tulips do well under deciduous trees that don’t fully leaf out until after the flowers have faded.

Spring Care

Tulips emerge when the weather can be cold and unsettled, yet they are surprisingly tolerant of frosts and freezes.

Tip: A sprinkle of organic blood meal around tulip shoots when they first appear serves as a nitrogen source to nourish the bulbs and a smelly deterrent against rabbits.

After-Bloom Care

After tulips drop their petals, encourage reseeding by leaving the faded flower heads on the plant. Don’t too quick to remove the fading foliage. As long as the leaves are green, they are sending nourishment to the bulb to fuel next year’s flowers—let the foliage die back naturally to recharge the bulbs.

Tip: Mingle tulips among perennials that green up in spring, such as daylilies, hostas, or lamium. The emerging perennials will distract from the declining tulip leaves.


You don't need to fertilize bulbs the first year after planting, but in successive years, you can topdress in fall with compost, well-rotted manure, or a commercial organic fertilizer.

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