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Mastering the Basics

How to grow and care for Tulips

Tulips mark an exciting time for the garden – spring! They bring splashes of colour to your borders and look pretty in pots on a balcony. In this guide, Will Williams, Soto Co-founder, creative director and five times RHS medal winner explains how to plant tulips for the best display.

Spring bulbs such as tulips brighten up flowerbeds, terraces and containers at the start of growing season. Tulips come in a vast variety of colours, shapes and sizes bringing easy interest to your garden. In this guide we answer the most frequent questions about planting tulips and explain how to plant tulip bulbs this autumn for a fantastic display in spring.

How do you plant a Tulip bulb?

There are 3 key steps to planting Tulips:

  1. Tulips like to be planted in sunny or part sunny spots or South / South East / South West facing areas in your garden. Use this guide for determining the aspect of your garden if you want to check if the space is suitable.
  2. Prepare the ground for planting. Make sure you understand how to prepare the soil in your garden, this Journal entry on determining your soil type will advice how to make sure the ground has enough drainage. The most important thing is to add grit to your soil.
  3. When to plant bulbs is important. Tulip bulbs should be planted October – December. It is important it is not left too late to plant bulbs as they can turn soft and dehydrated.

    How many tulip bulbs do I need?

    To determine how many bulbs are needed for a flowerbed, you need to know the ‘look’ you are going for. If you are planning on using the tulip bulbs with your Soto border, we suggest spacing the tulip bulbs 20cm apart (as a guide). If you are wanting to achieve a large group, we suggest 10cm apart. Wanting to create a stunning tulip display in a pot? Plant the bulbs closer together, but no closer than 5cm apart.

    How deep should I plant tulip bulbs?

    Plant tulip bulbs around 15cm deep. Most bulbs should be planted at a depth of roughly 2-3 times their own height.

    My bulbs came before it is time to plant, how should I store them?

    For best flowering results, store bulbs in a cool, frost free, place until you are ready to plant them. Remove bulbs from their packaging so they can get some fresh air, but make sure your pets don’t nibble them. It is important to plant bulbs within the same season that they are supplied.

    Caring for tulips

    How do I deadhead a tulip?

    It is important to deadhead tulips, as this encourages the plant to put its energy into making bulbs for the next season. To deadhead tulips, cut the stem off just above the leaves using secateurs. For Darwin hybrid, botanical and kaufmannia tulips, if you want to use the bulb next year, leave the browning foliage on your tulips until all the leaves are brown. This allows the bulb to store energy to produce flowers the next year.

    What care do I need to give the tulip bulbs over winter?

    You don’t need to water bulbs as they grow, it is important the soil doesn’t get too wet as this can rot the bulb. In the spring check that the soil doesn’t get dry, especially in pots as these dry quicker. Use a watering can or hose to do this.

    Will the tulips come back next year?

    Some types of tulips (Darwin hybrid, botalnical and kaufmannia) can come back each year. Tulip Hakuun is an example of a Darwin hybrid. For these species leave the bulb in the ground and allow foliage and stems to die back naturally so that bulbs have enough energy to flower the following year. Cut Darwin and kaufmannia tulips just below the flower when it has faded.

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