How deep do I plant tulip bulbs?

Updated February 21, 2017

Tulips are relatively easy to grow if the bulbs are sound and planted properly. Proper planting involves preparing the soil for good fertilisation and drainage and placing the bulbs in the correct orientation and at the correct depth.

Rule of Thumb

As a general rule of thumb, flowering bulbs should be both planted and spaced by measuring 3 times the height of the bulb. That means a bulb that measures 2 inches high should be planted at a depth of 6 inches and spaced 6 inches from surrounding bulbs. When measuring planting depth, measure to the bottom of the bulb.

Measuring from the Tops

Most tulips should be planted so that they will have about 5 inches of soil above them.

Digging the bed

Since tulips, like most plants, do best with adequate drainage, dig more deeply in order to fertilise and condition the soil that will be below the planted bed. Bulb packages ordinarily contain tips on preparing and fertilising the soil with bone meal or other products.

How to Dig

University of Illinois plant specialist Ron Cornwell recommends digging beds for tulips with a garden spade rather than using a bulb planting tool designed to make individual holes. He explains that this produces better drainage and soil quality.

Seating the Bulbs

Once a bed has been prepared, nestle the flat--root--end of the bulb gently into the soil. If you are planting late in the season, remove the papery layer of outer skin to help the bulb root faster. Once the bulbs are in place, cover them to the proper depth with soil.

Time to Plant

Tulip bulbs are generally planted in the fall to give the bulb time to root before its spring flowering. "October is an ideal time to plant them for a colourful spring next year," said University of Missouri horticulturalist David Trinklein.

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About the Author

Lois Lawrence is an attorney and freelance writer living and working in Stonington, Conn. She has written on many subjects including travel, food, consumerism, relationships, insurance and law. Lawrence earned a Bachelor of Arts in economics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1976, and a Juris Doctor degree from Boston University School of Law in 1979.