The paperwhites have all frozen. Sometimes I can get away with them being beautiful all the way until February, but not the last two years. But that is ok. I actually want my paperwhites to be out of the garden by January so I can plant tulips!

This blog post talks about:

  1. Planting tulips in January
  2. Answer the question: How do I plant tulips?

Disclaimer: this is not a blog post talking about perennial or heirloom paperwhites. Those come back every year. I am talking about a “color” change out, using annual bulbs to give my garden color in January, February and March. If I want perennial flower bulbs for January color, I will often use ‘Italicus’ (Narcissus tazetta italicus), Chinese sacred lilies (Narcissus tazetta orientalis), the double Roman or Constantinople (Narcissus tazetta romanus), or heirloom French Roman hyacinths.

Planting Tulips in January

I think it is best to plant tulips in December and January, especially if you are planting Dutch Darwin hybrids that have needed to chill in a refrigerator for 2,000 hours. Warm weather in the fall and winter can make them bloom too early for us, and I like to have paperwhites in these beds for Christmas and New Year blooms.

This is for a small area of color by our front entrance that I like to change out every season. I am ok with a high level of garden activity in smaller areas that have a large impact. For example, we have guests that use the front door, the postman comes by every day, I have to pick up the paper every day and walk by it, the spot is visual from curb, and we see it when looking out the kitchen window. This areas is worth the extra attention. The truth is, it really doesn’t take long to change the area out.

This project planted 100 tulips on each side of the walk for a total of 200 tulips.

Time: 2 hours max.

Jose helped me pull up all of the dead and dying paperwhites. Here is a picture of what happened to them after the freeze:

After all of this was removed, I dug out the soil. I dug it down about 5-6” and put the soil in a wheel barrow. You could also put it on a tarp or something similar.

This is a great time to fertilize the area, and I chose to use a well-balanced slow release fertilizer. You can really use whatever organic or inorganic fertilizer you would like, just make sure it’s not heavy on the Nitrogen and light of Phosphorous and Potassium (N-P-K ratio). I spread it evenly across the bed.

Next I found some helper to help me plant the tulips. This was after we picked up the spilled bags of tulips from the road after we dropped them. We planted them pretty tight with about 12 per square foot. 5 per square foot would probably be plenty for most applications.

After that we covered them with dirt and cleaned up. It’s really that simple!

The result every year is spectacular. Below is our pick from last year.

How do I plant tulips?

Tulips are a popular type of flowering bulb that can add a splash of color to any garden. Here are some steps to follow when planting tulips:

  1. Choose a location with well-draining soil and full sun to partial shade. Tulips prefer a location with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  2. Prepare the soil by loosening it with a garden fork and adding compost or well-rotted manure to improve the soil structure. In our case, we’ve worked the soil for years, so we simply remove the top layer of garden soil and cover them once we are done planting them.
  3. In warmer climates, I like to plant tulips in December and January. In colder climates, plant the tulip bulbs in the fall, about 6-8 weeks before the first frost. This allows the bulbs time to establish roots before the winter weather sets in.
  4. Plant the bulbs at a depth of about three times the size of the bulb. This usually equated to 3-5” of soil over the bulb.
  5. Space the bulbs about 2-3 inches apart and water them thoroughly after planting. After that, the winter rains and cooler temperatures typically keep the soil moist enough through the winter. You’ll want to start watering them when they begin to grow and bloom in March and April.
  6. Mulch around the base of the bulbs with a layer of straw, leaves, or wood chips to protect them from extreme temperatures and keep the soil moist. In our case, a nice layer of potting soil will do the trick.
  7. When the tulips have finished blooming, allow the foliage to die back naturally if you plan to try to get them to rebloom. This helps to nourish the bulbs for the following year. If you are treating them as annuals, dig them up and plant something else in that space.

I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.

2 Responses

  1. I purchased 150 daffodil bulbs from you not too long ago, and as a result, I was introduced to you blog which I love. So here is a question about tulip bulbs. If I purchased tulip bulbs from you right now, would I need to chill them? Thank you for that marvelous weekly bulb journey.

    1. Hi Vicky! Sorry for the late response…I was in San Antonio for a wedding where everything on the River Walk that was cold sensitive was brown and dead! But the bulbs, even there, are starting to come up. We pre chill our larger tulips bulbs that we sell so “no” they don’t need to be chilled. However, most of our tulips, like our other heirloom flower bulbs, don’t need chilling or very little chilling- they are typically referred to as “species tulips.” For those of you who are wondering, chilling hours are the number of hours below 45 degrees, and during the winter most tulips need about 2,000 chilling hours to bloom. Hope this helps!

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