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Home & garden.

7 Dec 2021

How to grow tulips

Tulip bulbs are planted in November for flowers the following spring. Learn how to grow them and try our Best Buy varieties
CT
Ceri Thomas
Tulips

Tulips are one of the most glamorous plants in the spring garden. Growing them in pots works particularly well as they dislike growing in cold or wet soil. You can make the most of their colourful flowers, which will brighten up your outside space on even the dullest days through April and May.


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Key facts

Plant type: Spring-flowering bulb

Position: Full sun or partial shade

Soil: Well-drained

How to grow tulips: month by month

JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune



FLOWERINGFLOWERING
JulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember




PLANTINGPLANTING

Best tulip varieties

Which? members can log in now to see the full results and which are our Best Buy varieties. If you’re not a member, join Which? to get instant access.

Best Buy tulips for pots
What it looks likeVariety nameHeight
25cm
This was a very elegant tulip with delightfully simple, single flowers of pure white. They all came into bloom in perfect unison, presenting their flowers at almost exactly the same height, and gave a very striking display. They continued to bloom immaculately for the next four weeks through some very warm spring weather which caused other varieties to quickly go past their best. We thought these were particularly beautiful and refined tulips. Peak flowering: Four weeks, Apr-May
What it looks likeVariety nameHeight x spread
30cm
The big, double blooms of this variety put on a great show. All the plants were very healthy, with thick and strong stems which provided the necessary scaffolding to hold their large flowers steady, even in strong winds. The flowers all opened in perfect synchronisation to ensure they gave maximum impact and they lasted for four weeks from mid-April. Their bright-pink colour faded slightly as they aged, but this just added to their charm.  Peak flowering: Four weeks, Apr-May
What it looks likeVariety nameHeight x spread

How we test tulips

We selected 26 popular tulip varieties that had been recommended for growing in pots. 

We planted 15 bulbs of each variety at twice their own depth in a 35cm-diameter pot, using our Best Buy compost for containers

The pots were placed outside on the patio for the winter and, as they came into flower in the spring, we kept records of how long they were in flower, noting whether all the plants of the same variety flowered at a similar time and height. 

We kept an eye out for any problems caused by pests, diseases or the weather. 

We also assessed the plants’ suitability for pots, looking especially at the length and thickness of their stems.

Caring for your plants

Buying bulbs

Choose the biggest bulbs you can and make sure they’re firm and free from mould. They're on sale from August onwards in garden centres so buy earlier for the best selection of varieties or alternatively order online from a bulb specialist. Then store in a cool place, such as a shed, until you're ready to plant them in November - don't plant earlier or they are more vulnerable to fungal diseases, such as tulip fire. If you delay planting until December or January, you'll get shorter plants that don't spend as much time in flower. However, if you forget to plant at the right time, it's still worth putting them in the ground.

Planting

If planting in a pot, ensure that it has sufficient drainage holes as tulips can suffer if they’re waterlogged. Plant tulips at three times their own depth. Bulbs should be planted about 5cm apart.

Feeding 

Give them liquid feed while they are in leaf. This helps them to form strong bulbs for next year.  

Deadheading

Remove the faded flowers to the base of their stems once they fade. Allow the leaves to wither and die before tidying them up.

Common growing problems

Tulip fire

Tulip fire is a serious disease of tulips. Shoots become distorted and wither as they emerge. New bulbs shouldn’t be affected, but the infection can be transferred in spring as they emerge.

Read more about tulip fire

Not reflowering

Getting tulips to bloom again after their first year can be tricky. We've found that planting the bulbs deeply (around 15cm deep) and leaving them in the ground gives the best results. Alternatively planting under a deciduous tree or shrub is good as it gives the dry conditions they need in summer.

But if you can’t avoid lifting them, then don’t bother planting them too deeply– they will be just as happy shallow planted and then dug up after flowering and replanted the following autumn.

Bulbs grown in  pots develop satellite bulbs (bulbils). This causes a lot of leafy growth but no flower production. It's best to start with fresh bulbs each autumn.