Yard and Garden: Properly Planting Tulips in Fall

October 8, 2014, 3:30 pm | Richard Jauron, Greg Wallace

Tulips may bring thoughts of warm weather, spring, new life -- even a sense of renewal. But to enjoy tulips in spring, the best time to act is now. Tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs should be planted in October, giving them enough time to establish themselves for spring growth. 

Here are some tips from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists on the best way to plant spring flowers this fall. 

When is the best time to plant tulips?

October is the ideal time to plant tulips, daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs in Iowa. When planted in October, spring-flowering bulbs have sufficient time to develop a good root system before the ground freezes in winter. If the ground isn’t frozen, tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs can be planted as late as late November/early December.


What are good planting sites for tulips?

Tulips perform best in full sun. Planting sites should receive at least six hours of direct sun per day. Tulip bulbs also need a well-drained, fertile soil.

How deep should I plant tulips?

Plant spring-flowering bulbs at a depth equal to three to four times their maximum bulb diameter. Accordingly, tulips and daffodils should be planted 6 to 8 inches deep, crocuses and grape hyacinths 3 to 4 inches deep. Large bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, should be spaced 6 inches apart. A 3-inch-spacing is adequate for crocuses, grape hyacinths and other small bulbs.

What is the proper way to plant tulips?

Plant tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs in clusters or groups to achieve the greatest visual impact in the garden. When planting tulips and daffodils, plant 10 or more bulbs of the same variety in an area. Smaller growing plants, such as grape hyacinths and crocuses, should be planted in clusters of 25 or more bulbs.

Which are the best tulips for perennializing?

Most modern tulip cultivars bloom well for only three or four years. However, there are some tulip types (classes) that bloom well over a longer period.  

Darwin hybrid tulips are generally the longest blooming hybrid tulip. Darwin hybrid tulips are prized for their large, brilliant flowers. Flowers are available in shades of red, pink, orange, yellow and white. Blooms are borne on stems that are up to 30 inches tall. Darwin hybrid tulips bloom in mid-season.  

Fosteriana tulips also perennialize well. They are noted for their large, elongated flowers. Flowers appear in early spring on 10- to 20-inch-tall stems. Foliage is typically green or gray-green. However, a few cultivars have mottled or striped foliage. Fosteriana tulips also are known as Emperor tulips.  

Species tulips are generally the longest lived tulips. Some naturalize when given favorable growing conditions. Species tulips include wild tulip species and cultivars developed from these wild species. Species tulips are usually smaller than modern tulips. They also have smaller flowers. Species tulips are excellent choices for rock gardens and in the front of beds and borders. They sometimes are referred to as botanical tulips.  

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