Like other spring-blooming bulbs, such as hyacinths and daffodils, tulip bulbs are usually planted in the fall. But the good news is that, if you didn't have a chance to plant in the fall, you can still plant your tulip bulbs in the spring. If you want them to bloom, it'll require a bit more planning, but it's definitely possible.
Tulips are a member of the lily family and are indigenous to Europe and Asia. Brought from Turkey in the mid 1500's, the tulip is most commonly associated with the Netherlands due to the sheer number of varieties produced there. Early Dutch settlers brought the bulbs to the United States and settled in the Pennsylvania and Michigan areas.
Tulips are available in a myriad of colors ranging from the palest pinks to the darkest purples and even black. These spring-blooming bulbs need a period of cold before they can bloom, which is why they're planted in the fall. In spring, the warming soil kickstarts the blooming process. Without that cold period, you won't get blooms. But, there are a couple of ways to help your bulbs along, even if you don't plant them in fall.
Planting Tulips in Spring
When planting tulips in spring, you'll need to keep in mind that the bulbs have not had the benefit of the cool weather to promote root development. You have two options for spring planting. Though neither are guaranteed, planting as early in the spring as possible gives you a greater chance for success.
Tricking mother nature is the key to forced blooming. Fill a flower pot approximately half full with potting soil. Ideally the pot would be six to eight inches in diameter so you can plant several bulbs together.
- Place your tulip bulbs in the pot with the point facing up.
- Lightly cover with additional soil and water to moisten but not soak.
- Put the pot in the back of your refrigerator and leave for 10 to 12 weeks or until you see roots coming out of the bottom of the pot or shoots coming out of the top.
- When it is time to remove the pot from the refrigerator, place it in the coolest area of your house.
- Slowly adapting the plant to the warmer temperatures outside the refrigerator, but out of direct sunlight will prevent the shoots from burning.
- Once the plant is acclimated, you can allow more warmth and sunlight to reach the plant.
The tulips should bloom about four weeks after you remove it from the refrigerator. Once the blooms die, cut the stems so the only part left is foliage. Continue to water as you would any other house plant and, in the fall, plant the bulb outside. This is your best bet for getting blooms from spring-planted tulips.
If you live in a cold area, and want to save refrigerator space, you could also plant the bulbs in a container as described above, then set the container outside. Again, it will need at least 10 weeks of cold to ensure blooms, but this is another good option if you didn't have a chance to plant in the fall.
Direct Outdoor Planting
Depending on the zone and how early in spring you manage to get the bulbs in the ground, outdoor planting may still work.
Tulip bulbs typically require at least 14 weeks of cool weather in order to produce flowers, which is why bulbs are planted in the fall. If you live in Zones 1 through 5, there may be enough cold weather to "trick" the bulb into blooming as normal in late spring. For Zones farther south (6-10), planting the bulbs directly outdoors will most likely cause the bulb to sprout but not flower because there was not enough cold weather to build up necessary nutrients.
What if Your Spring-Planted Tulips Don't Bloom?
If, after planting tulip bulbs in the spring, you didn't get any flowers, don't assume they are completely dead. In fact, the bulb may just need another fall and winter to build up enough nutrients to bloom next spring. Care for the plants as you would any other, watering occasionally until the leaves start to yellow and shrivel up. It's important to let them go through this process, because they photosynthesize and store energy in the bulb for next year's blooms.
In fall, plant the tulip bulbs in the garden, and by next spring, you'll be rewarded with blooms.
Planting Tulips in Spring: Definitely Worth a Try!
If you found some errant tulip bulbs that you didn't get around to planting in the fall, or came across a great deal at the garden center, there's no harm in trying to plant those bulbs in the spring. The worst that will happen is that maybe they won't bloom, but you won't know unless you try. At the very least, you'll get blooms the following spring.