Planting Tulips Does Not Involve Rocket Science
There aren't really all that many things one needs to know when it comes to planting tulips. There's a best way to plant them, a best time to plant them, and a best location for planting them, but that can be said for most flowers and vegetables, and there are plenty of flowers and vegetables that take a lot more time to plant and to care for than is the case with tulips.
There are things that can be done wrong of course, in which case the tulip bed could turn out to be a bit of a disappointment. Tulips could be planted during the wrong time of the year, the bulbs could be placed in the ground upside down, planted a bit too deep, or planted a bit too shallow. All of those things could be done and many of the abused bulbs would still manage to produce lovely blooms. The point is, if just a few things are done right, the rewards can be great.
Tulips Are Planted In The Fall
The first rule for planting tulips is to plant them in the fall. It usually doesn't matter much how severe the coming winter may be. If the bulbs are planted at the proper depth, they'll generally be well protected, and you can always add a little extra mulch if you're worried about the ground freezing, and remove the mulch in the spring. While the larger tulips farms are quite often located near sea level, as is the case in the Netherlands and the Skagit Valley in Washington State, the tulip is actually a native of higher elevations, such as the Himalayas. These plants are used to cold winters and hot summers. You shouldn't even have to make a note on your calendar during September or October that says “plant tulips now”. Tulip bulbs generally aren't available in nurseries, plant stores, or even your local supermarket, until early in the fall, and should you order your bulbs through the mail or over the Internet, they usually won't be shipped until it's time to plant them, which will be sometime during the fall months.
Prepare The Soil, And Prepare It Well
Once you have the bulbs in hand, prepare the soil. This is about the only work involved in planting tulips that can be a little strenuous. There are special bulb planting tools which remove a cylinder of soil when pushed into the ground and pulled back out. These tools are very handy, but it's still best to prepare the soil for the entire bed, and not simply use a special tool to plant a bulb in hard ground. A hand trowel will often work just as well, or you can dig a trench if you're planting the bulbs in a row, although tulips generally look nicer when planted in bunches. Tulips like a nice airy soil, so add some peat moss or other soil amendment if needed.
Flat Side Down, Pointy Side Up
When it's time to place the bulbs in the ground, dig the hole, add a little bulb fertilizer, and place the bulb in the hole. The bulb goes in flat-side down and pointy-end up. You can sometimes make out a trace of dried root growth on the flat bottom. The typical tulip bulb isn't one of those bulbs that make it virtually impossible to distinguish between the top and the bottom. Should there be any doubt, a tulip bulb planted on its side will still produce foliage and a nice bloom. As far as the depth of planting is concerned, the standard rule of thumb, which works for most flower bulbs, is to place the bulb in a hole whose depth is 3 times the length of the bulb. If you're a fraction off, it won't hurt any.
That's all there is to it. Once you've covered the bulbs with dirt, there's not much more to worry about except for an occasional watering should the weather turn exceptionally hot. If you've planted a number of bulbs and several varieties of tulips, it might not be a bad idea to make a little map as to what has been planted where. That's often a better approach than using a multitude of plant markers, which have a way of unearthing themselves, or simply disappearing. If you live in an area where animals are apt to disturb the plants, you might consider placing some chicken wire on top of the flower bed and leaving it there until the shoots first start to appear.
Plant Both early Blooming And Late Blooming Varieties
If you're planning on planting quite a number of tulip bulbs, it might pay to do a little research into which tulip varieties flower early and which flower later. It's more enjoyable to see tulips blooming in your garden over a period of 4 to 6 weeks, rather than to have everything blooming at once, and for only about 2 weeks. As we mentioned up front, for something that doesn't require a degree in rocket science to plant and care for, planting tulips can be very rewarding.