You Can Still Plant Tulips

You can still plant tulips.

These Zoomerschoen tulips have been in my garden for years, but it’s still possible to plant tulips bulbs now, even if there’s snow on the ground.

Doreen G. Howard


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I discovered a package of tulip bulbs on a garage shelf, behind a bag of soil sulfur, two weeks ago.

Evidently, the dozen ‘Mata Hari’ tulips hid when I planted over 150 other bulbs last October.  I was looking forward to their ivory, edged with lipstick red, flowers along my garden path.  At least, that was the plan.

After doing a little research, I came across a study about planting tulip bulbs on top of the ground and late in the season, done by Cornell University.  Researchers found you can grow gorgeous tulips in only mulch, two inches being the optimum depth.  They experimented with mulch layers up to six inches deep and determined the two-inch covering (renewed every autumn) produced the largest amount of flowers and the most vigorous plants.

I'm looking forward to seeing these 'Mata Hari' tulips in April, even though I planted them shortly after New Year's day.  Photo courtesy of Breck's Bulbs.

How to Plant Tulips

According to the Cornell study (done over a six-year period), you should plant tulips this way:

  • Loosen soil if possible.  If not, choose an area with soil full of organic matter.
  • Scratch in bulb fertilizer.  If ground is totally frozen, scatter fertilizer sparely and over a larger range than normal.
  • Place bulbs on top of soil.  Do not press them in, as this will damage bulb base where roots form.
  • Cover with two to four inches of aged mulch or finished compost.  Go for the thicker layer if planting during winter like I did.
  • Renew mulch covering often to be sure there is at least a two-inch layer.

Use the link above to view the Cornell study and look at photos of tulips blooming over the six-year period.  It’s interesting.

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

Reader Comments

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Planting potted tulips

I have just inherited a pot of spent tulips. I would like to plant them in my garden. How is the best way to handle this situation?

They need to make top growth

They need to make top growth to feed the bulbs for next year’s flowers. If the ground is warm enough for planting in your area then by all means plant them outside but otherwise keep them growing in the pot as long as you can. Help them along by scratching in some bulb fertilizer or giving them some water soluble plant food. If the tops die back you can pull the bulbs from the pot and let them dry out. Store in a cool, dry, dark place. Plant them in the garden in the fall and hope for the best. Often forced bulbs need a year to recover and rebloom.

Plant tulips under mulch

Did you have any trouble with squirrels eating the bulbs? I have problems when the bulbs are buried under soil. This technique sounds like a squirrel smorgasboard! lol

Tulip bulbs

I had purchased tulips and hyacinth in small pots last summer with the intention of planting the bulbs in fall, thru miscommunication they were simply placed in shed, still in pots with some soil. Now a warm day in middle of March in NE Oklahoma, I open the shed to find these tulip bulbs were sprouting an inch and more in their completely dry soil pots, I have watered them all and sat them in Sun for past 4 days bringing them in at night, as we are having a freezes at night and cooler windy weather during day. Having never had tulips or hyacinth, I need help, have I done the right thing, when should I put them in ground? The hyacinth is about 1 1/2" and has already started to show its color blue flower without opening all the way and is still so short, what should I do, when to plant in ground or stay indoor ( I think is indoor kind) to cold winter. Will these hyacinth bloom all the way?

You can keep the bulbs in the

You can keep the bulbs in the pots and bring them outdoors when the weather has warmed up a bit. Or you can plant them in the ground with some compost added. You can also add a little 10-10-10 soluble fertilizer to the soil. See more information at


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