Spring wouldn’t be the same without the impressive flowers of these showy bulbous perennials. Tulips are grown for container displays, for cutting and favoured for both informal and formal border planting.Their size varies greatly with the smaller species and hybrids offering a less regimented and more delicate show. Although perennial, they’re often only reliable for one year and are usually treated as annual bedding. Species tulips and hybrid types will set seed and the display will improve year after year.
How to grow tulips
Plant tulips in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. Let the foliage die down completely after flowering to ensure the nutrients return to the bulb for the following year. You can lift tulip bulbs to replant in autumn or leave them in the ground to establish.
More on growing tulips:
Where to plant tulips
How to grow tulips – Tulip ‘Jan Reus’
Tulips of all types do best in a sunny, sheltered spot, in well-drained soil. Improve heavy clay or sandy soils by incorporating plenty of well-rotted organic matter before planting. Conditions in your garden not ideal? Find out how to grow tulips in problem places.
How and when to plant tulips
How to grow tulips – planting tulips in a pot
Tulip bulbs can be purchased in early autumn. Delaying the planting of tulip bulbs until November is said to reduce the risk of the fungal disease tulip fire (see below), as cold weather can wipe out the fungus. Choose large bulbs and avoid any with damage or mould. Dig a planting hole with a garden trowel or bulb planter and drop the bulb into the hole with the pointed end up. Plant at about three times the depth of the bulbs’ height with about 5cm between each bulb. For an impactful display plant a good number of tulips together.
In this clip from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don demonstrates how to plant tulips and evergreens in a pot:
In this No Fuss video guide, Kevin Smith demonstrates how to layer tulips with other spring bulbs in a pot:
How to propagate tulips
If you want to enjoy blooms from year to year, plant fresh every autumn, or lift and store the bulbs. To do this, lift them with a hand fork once the foliage has turned yellow a month after flowering. Remove the foliage and pull or cut off the stem and remove the flaky outer coating from the bulb. Leave the bulbs to dry and then store in a paper bag. Offset bulbs that have formed can be gently pulled away. These are then stored alongside their parent bulbs in paper bags in a cool, frost-free place.The offsets are then planted out but deeper – about 20cm – in autumn. Species bulbs will self-seed in the garden. Avoid deadheading and allow the seed to disperse to encourage more plants.
Watch Monty Don’s video guide to lifting and storing tulip bulbs:
Growing tulips: problem solving
Tulips are prone to attack from a fungal disease known as tulip fire (Botrytis tulipae). This fungus is particularly bad in wet seasons as the spores are spread by wind and rain. The symptoms include distorted and stunted shoots and leaves and unsightly brown blotches all over the plant. If your plants are affected, remove and burn them and avoid planting tulips on the same site for at least two years. If storing bulbs prevent this problem by dipping them in a fungicide solution. Planting in November should help reduce the risk of the disease.
How to grow tulips in problem places
Here, Daniel Haynes explains how to get species tulips to reflower:
How to deadhead tulips
Tulips can be deadheaded after flowering. Avoid deadheading species types or you will miss out on the seed. Don’t cut back foliage until it has turned yellow which will be about a month after flowering. Cut back foliage too early the bulbs will be weaker the following year.
Tulips in a vase
Tulips make good cut flowers and have a good vase life – they will continue to grow in the water. Avoid mixing daffodils and tulips in a vase as the daffodils let out a substance that can prevent the tulips from taking up water.
Great tulip varieties to grow
How to grow tulips – Tulip ‘Brown Sugar’
Tulipa sprengeri – a species tulip with bright red flowers in May. Reaches about 15cm in height
Tulipa ‘Cairo’ – single orange, streaked with soft red flowers. Slightly earlier flowers than others. 45cm in height
Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’ – a very popular dark velvety tulip with almost black flowers. Grows to about 55cm in height
Tulipa ‘White Triumphator’ – a lily flowered tulip with pure white flowers. A really popular tulip reaching a height of 50cm
Tulipa ‘Angelique’ – shell pink flowers with a slightly ruffled edge. Reaches a height of 40cm
Tulipa ‘Brown Sugar’ (pictured) – a beautiful Triumph tulip with coppery petals and a light scent
Tulips by flower colour
Browse tulips to grow in our Plant Finder.