The Ultimate Guide to Growing Tulips in the UK
With their stunning, glossy petals and vibrant colours, tulips are a highlight of springtime, and with well over 2500 known varieties, you are spoilt for choice.
But before you order online or visit your local garden centre, read our guide to growing tulips in the UK – we can help you get the most from them and save you money too.
Plant key details:
- An explosion of colour in mid-spring.
- Grow in pots or borders.
- Beneficial to bees and other pollinators.
- Make wonderful cut flowers.
- Bloom from March to May.
Height: Up to 15cm (6in)
Spread: Up to 60cm (24in)
Rockeries, borders, beds, pots, edges, formal
Best in full sun, okay for the first year in light shade. Lighter colours are best for partially shaded areas
Hardy perennial US zone 3-8 and in most parts of the UK although may struggle in the warmer south-west
Water & Feed
Water if grown in pots otherwise, only during dry spells
Daffodils, Muscari, Snowdrops, Cyclamen, Forget-Me-Not, Wallflower
Plant bulbs in the Autumn at least twice the bulb depth, ideally deeper. Space 8cm apart.
March to May depending on variety
What Garden Centres and Retailers Don’t Tell You
If you’ve never grown tulips, you should know this before you head off to the garden centre or purchase online:
Tulips don’t make great perennials in the UK and usually grow as annuals.
In plain language, that means they will only be good for one year.
Naturally, sellers don’t want to highlight this fact, but it’s true.
Tulips aren’t native to the UK and, in their natural habitat, would experience more extremes of temperatures with colder winters and hotter summers.
You can get great results during the first spring after planting, but by year two, tulips in the UK will be much smaller with weak stems and tiny bloom, and they may not bloom at all by year three.
There are ways to keep tulips coming back year after year, and we’ll discuss that later, but most gardeners in the UK should assume that they will only be good for one season.
How to Grow Tulips in the UK
How Do Tulip Plants Arrive?
Tulips arrive as bulbs in large sacks or smaller packets.
Where is the best place to plant tulips?
Tulips prefer a sunny spot with good drainage and preferably with some protection from the wind.
They are often found in flowerbeds, as edging around lawns, in bunches in beds and in pots.
Are tulips perennials or annuals? Are they winter hardy?
Tulips are technically a perennial, but the moderate UK climate isn’t ideal for them, and they are usually grown as an annual.
Tulips thrive in cold winters as the low temperature causes a chemical reaction inside the bulb, which leads to large, colourful blooms the following spring.
They also prefer hotter summer periods than we experience in the UK.
Do tulips need a lot of sunlight?
The more sunlight a tulip gets, the better, but lightly coloured varieties such as whites and creams perform better in shaded spots than tulips with dark colours.
What soil conditions are best for tulips?
Tulips prefer nutrient-rich soil that’s free draining. The bulbs may rot or suffer from disease if they are kept in wet, boggy ground conditions.
Consider adding organic matter or grit to improve your soil if required.
Bulb fibre compost can be used for tulips grown in pots but may prove expensive for larger areas.
When and how should tulips be planted in the UK?
Bulbs should be planted in late October, November or December.
If you live in a warmer part of the UK, plant in December as planting in colder temperatures kills off diseases that may pose a threat when the ground is wet and warm.
The usual rule for planting bulbs is to insert them to a depth of around two to three times their size, and for tulips, approximately three times is perfect.
If you want to try and grow tulips in the UK as perennials, plant them to a depth of around four times their size.
Tulip pests and diseases
Squirrels often dig up tulip bulbs, and they can be very persistent.
A great way to keep potted tulips safe is to embed a layer of wire mesh above the bulbs; just make sure the gaps are big enough for the stem of the tulip to push through.
Chilli flakes will keep them away in the garden, but it may not be a practical solution if you have a large area to cover.
Slugs and snails may nibble on the foliage.
Tulip fire is a common disease resulting in scorched brown or dark yellow foliage. You can prevent tulip fire by planting after November when the ground temperatures are cooler.
When do tulips flower and how long for?
Tulips flower in mid to late spring and are typically at their best between April and May.
The blooms may last for 7-10 days. Most gardeners plant a variety of tulips as different ones will flower at slightly different times.
Are there any water and fertiliser requirements?
After planting the bulbs, mulch with good quality compost or other organic matter, this can be topped up once a year in the autumn.
A good watering after planting can help the bulbs to settle in, but after this, they only require extra water during drought conditions.
Are tulips toxic or harmful?
Tulips are toxic to horses, cats and dogs.
Read more: Toxicity for cats, dogs and horses.
How to Care For Tulips After They’ve Finished Flowering
Tulips are often grown as annuals as the weather conditions in the UK are far from ideal and most are only good for one or at most, two years.
If you want to try and grow tulips as perennials, follow these steps:
- Deadhead the tulip flower after it’s finished blooming as this will divert energy to the bulb.
- Leave as much of the stem in place as it also helps to send energy to the bulb.
- Don’t cut back the foliage until it’s discoloured and pulls away from the bulb easily – the foliage also sends energy back to the bulb to prepare it for the dormant season.
- Check for tulip fire, a common disease. Remove and burn any diseased tulips.
- Mulch over the tulips with a couple of inches of organic material in autumn.
Common Tulip Problems
Here are some common problems and solutions:
Tulips are Very Short
This usually happens after the first year as tulips are suited to the UK climate. However, it can also occur when the tulips are planted too late in autumn.
The Tulips Aren’t Flowering
This is common after the first year and is one of the reasons why tulips are grown as annuals in the UK. If the tulips aren’t flowering in the first year, it may be because of:
- Lack of sunlight.
- Poor soil/lack of nutrients.
- Lack of water/drought.
Most likely due to a lack of water.
Tulip Bulbs Rotted
The soil is most likely too wet/boggy and lacks drainage.
Yellow Leaves on Tulips
This happens 6-7 weeks after flowering and is normal. However, if you want to grow them as perennials, the leaves should be left in place until they pull away easily.
Companion Plants For Tulips
These six spring-flowering plants go well with tulips:
Daniel’s Tulip Growing Pro Tips
Here are my pro tips for anyone wishing to grow tulips in the UK:
- If you live in a warmer part of the UK, plant from late November to prevent disease.
- Double tulips are far more showy than singles, but singles are more likely to come back in year two.
- If the location is shady, go for white, cream or other lightly coloured tulips as they perform better than darker varieties in the shade.
- Tulips can be top-heavy, so choose a large or heavy pot to prevent them from tipping over.
- Tulips have a long flowering season with early varieties blooming from the end of March and late varieties in as late as May, so choose accordingly to get the most from your tulip display.
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More From Daniel Woodley:
This guide to growing tulips in the UK was created by Daniel Woodley here at DIY Gardening and was last updated in January 2022.
Daniel is a keen amateur gardener who also manages a large residential landscape in addition to his own mid-size garden.
He also enjoys growing vegetables and fruits as well as his herbaceous border and container garden.
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