Tulips are bright, colorful plants and herald the coming of spring with their cheerful late-winter blooms. These perennial bulb plants require a cold stratification period and do best with mid-fall to winter plantings. They follow specific schedules every year in regard to growth, blooming and dormancy, but return year after year with the right care.
Plant tulips in fall, after temperatures drop below 50 degrees F, to give them the necessary cold in winter. The National Gardening Association recommends September plantings in U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 4 and 5, October plantings in Zones 6 and 7, November to December plantings in Zones 8 to 9 and December to January plantings in Zone 10. Choose spots with full sun exposure and year-round drainage for tulips. Amend the soil to a depth of 12 inches with 4 to 5 inches of organic compost. Mix bone meal or bulb fertilizer into the soil at manufacturer-recommended rates for quick establishment. Plant tulips at 6-inch depths with their pointed ends up. Water each site with 12 inches of water.
Tulip bulbs rest during early winter and begin root growth when temperatures reach freezing. Leave them for the winter and count on natural rain or snowfall to water the bulbs. Tulips don’t require any care at this time and may rot with too much water or fertilizer in their rooting stage.
Look for tulips sprouting in late winter to early spring and begin caring for the tulips again at that point. Mix organic compost and bone meal or bulb fertilizer into the soil to give the plants starting nutrition. Water them with 2 inches of water a week. Tulips grow in early and mid-season cultivars, and grow and bloom according to cultivar specifications.
Tulips maintain their blooms into summer, depending on cultivar and blooming time, but do not rebloom after their initial blooming. After the bloom, flowers and leaves yellow and die back into late summer and fall. Leave foliage attached during this process, as it gathers nutrition for future blooming. When the foliage dies to brown, cut it off and discontinue watering. Tulips go through a late-summer and fall dormancy, then root again in mid-winter.