November is perfect for planting tulips for flowering in the spring. Here’s our top bulb-planting tips…
Just when you think there’s nothing left to plant, along come tulips! From cups, goblets to fringed parrots; through snow white and stripes to shocking pink – tulips hide unseen for a quarter of the year, only to burst into a painter’s palette of colour and form come spring. And the garden centres and catalogues have a pick-and-mix selection on offer now.
Unlike other spring bulbs, these stars of the late spring garden are best planted in late October, November, or December. They don’t store well and if planted earlier, can be susceptible to viral and fungal diseases.
Where to plant tulips in the garden
Tulip bulbs prefer a warm and sunny spot and fertile soil with good drainage. They hate wet feet, so if you’re planting in a border, check there are no compacted areas with puddles. Dig in plenty of well-rotted, peat-free compost or our SylvaGrow Farmyard.
It’s best to plant the bulbs in clusters of six or more. This gives maximum impact and a more naturalised feel. And if you’re planting through grass, a bulb planter is a must! Add some Melcourt Horticultural Coarse Grit to the planting hole, pop the bulb in and plug with your turf divot.
Best planting depth for tulips
A general rule of thumb is to plant tulips at double or triple the height of the bulb. So a 4cm bulb will need to go 8 – 12cm below soil level. They should also be spaced at least twice the width of the bulb. Always insert them gently into the soil or compost, so you don’t damage the root. And plant pointed-end up.
Tulip in containers
You can go for a slightly closer spacing in pots for a luxurious display. Fill the container to around a third of its depth, place the bulbs fairly close together and then top up with compost. Or follow the Dutch ‘bulb lasagne’ method and layer two to three levels on top of each other, one inch apart. The top layers could be smaller and earlier flowering bulbs such as narcissus. The final layer, some cyclamen, or violas for winter interest.
Once they have used up their own reserves, potted tulips will rely on you for nutrients. Use a good-quality, peat-free compost such as our SylvaGrow with added John Innes. This sturdy RHS-endorsed compost contains rich, balanced nutrients sufficient for the first four to six-weeks of growth. Try adding three-parts peat-free compost to one-part Melcourt Horticultural Grit to give the free-draining conditions tulips crave.
Getting a repeat performance from tulips
While spring flowers such as narcissus, bluebell and anemone will happily split and reproduce – bedding tulips rarely make a comeback. But there is some evidence to suggest the deeper they are planted the more likely they are to make a return. There’s also ‘species or ‘perennial’ tulip varieties available, which with the right care will flower again the following year. Try deadheading before they go to seed and lifting and drying for use next year.
The most important thing to remember is make sure you label your tulips. It can be very easy to empty pots or dig up next year’s beautiful blooms in the border before they’ve had chance to flower!