I just love this time of year. Spring bulb catalogs are being delivered and I’m excited about shopping for my spring blooms. 

Tulips are my love. I love to spend hours searching through the catalogs and online. I make my list, check it twice, looking to see whose bulbs are largest and nice. 

I’m a total tulip fanatic. I plant a thousand bulbs each year, sometimes all the same color, sometimes every color I can find. No matter what I decide, the show is spectacular. In our horticultural zone 8 I treat my tulips as annuals, tossing them into the compost pile after the flowers have faded.

How to choose which company to buy from? Search for reviews. Read reviews from garden community web sites, stay away from vendor reviews as you never know who is doing the posting, the vendor or the customer or my favorite — ask a Master Gardener.

The secret to a successful tulip explosion is pre-chilling and drainage. Both are easy. Before my obsession became what it currently is I stored my tulip bulbs in an old mini refrigerator for six to eight weeks. For the most part this was a simple process assuming your refrigerator is moisture free.

Some of the bulbs molded and of course your purchase ability is limited to the size of your refrigerator space. Also, and this is a big also, you cannot store fruit in the same refrigerator as your bulbs as fruit emit gases that can kill the tulip bulbs. A separate refrigerator is your best option. Temperature control is also a factor for successful tulip bloom. 

Tulips should be stored between 32 and 36 degrees Fahrenheit, avoid freezing. So perhaps you can see why now I pay the small fee to the tulip company to pre-chill my bulbs and deliver them at the optimal time for planting (mid-December to early January). 

Another element I have learned, buy from a vendor who sells “tulips for the south.” Since I have added this criteria to my selection requirement my success rate has increased many fold. 

One last consideration, some tulip companies don’t charge you for the pre-ordered tulips until they are shipped. I ordered my tulips a couple of weeks ago and will not have to pay for them until December when they are shipped.

With that being said, let’s discuss planting your little jewels. If you plant them in the ground consider drainage, sun (not usually an issue in the winter unless you don’t have deciduous trees) and wind. All bulbs need good drainage, spring bulbs need full sun and wind is your worst enemy. 

Sites sheltered from the wind are your best choice. A good strong north wind can tear your tulip petals from the stems faster than you can say, “Oh no, not my tulips.” Until recently my preferred method of planting was in large pots. Pots work best if you have dogs allowed in your garden space (by choice) and/or armadillos (not by choice). 

I’ve tried small pots with less success so I recommend sticking to really large pots. We recently transitioned from a sodded front lawn to a gardenscape and of course I planned for lots of tulip planting beds. Most of my 1,000 tulips last year were planted directly into the newly amended soil and the display was breathtaking. 

Planting in pots? How many tulips to plant in a pot? Pack them in, put as many as you can in a pot without them touching one another. Rule of thumb for a bulb’s planting depth – plant as deep as twice the height of the bulb. If your bulb is 2 inches tall, plant it 4 inches deep. In my pots I like a huge show so I plant 20-25 bulbs per pot.

Usually in the winter watering is not an issue but in winters when we get little rain you’ll have to drag the hose out and water your tulips. Do not over water, again tulips can rot if not allowed periods of drying and pots must have good drainage.

I hope this article has inspired you to plant a tulip or two or three or ... you get the picture. And while you are strolling through the spring bulb catalogs stop by the page for hyacinths, they too are easy to grow and very rewarding. Most hyacinths will come back year after year and re-bloom without having to chill after the first year.


Carolyn Neff of Grandview is a volunteer for Texas AgriLife Extension and a Johnson County Master Gardener. For information, visit txmg.org/johnson or aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu or call the Extension office 817-556-6370. Like us on Facebook at Johnson County Master Gardeners.

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