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How to Grow Tulip Bulbs Outdoors or in a Pot

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At Gertens, we have some tried and true tips on how to grow tulip bulbs outdoors or in a pot. Tulips are by far the most popular blooming bulbs. Planted in the fall, the result in the spring is a profusion of colorful blooms to help wash away memories of a long, drab, gray winter. Tulips are easy to grow, making them popular with virtually everyone. There are early, mid and late blooming varieties of tulips. Remember to think of this when you are planting to have continuous color throughout the spring.

Tulips come in a great variety of bright colors – white, yellow, pink, red, black, purple, orange, bi-colors, and more. Tulips are native to Central Asia and Turkey, however today almost all tulip bulbs come from the Netherlands and are exported all over the world.

Don Quichotte Tulip

Selecting Bulbs
As a general rule, the biggest is the best. Quality bulbs should be heavy and large for their size. If the bulb has a few nicks in it, that’s fine, just part of the harvesting process. You should avoid bulbs with large deep cuts or bulbs that are showing signs of rot, especially near the base. Blue mold is a sign that the bulbs have been wet at some point, but it’s not a critical unless it is associated with a soft to the touch feel. Gertens only buys #1 grade, quality bulbs.

Soil Type
Flower bulbs thrive in well-drained soil. Adding compost/peat moss will increase drainage and boost bloom size. Adding bone meal or Dutch bulb food will produce stronger, more colorful flowers.

How to Plant
You can select from several methods to plant your bulbs: power-drilling the holes, trenching, using a bulb planter, or using a small shovel (troll) to dig out a shallow hole. Whatever method you choose, you will need a hole from 4” to 6” deep. In heavier soils, it is advised to plant an inch or two shallower than indicated. Loosening the soil with organic matter, such as peat moss, and adding a good bulb fertilizer will ensure success.

You can create a formal garden or you can naturalize. An ideal place for a bulb garden is in your existing annual beds. Small bulbs should be planted 2" apart and larger bulbs should be planted 5" apart. After the bulbs are planted, water the soil well once and cover with an inch of mulch to help insulate the bulbs from our cold Minnesota winters.

Bulbs can create a healthy smorgasbord for squirrels. We have found the best way to protect them is putting a layer of chicken wire between the covered ground and your 1" mulch layer. Make sure to pin the wire down. The mulch will help disguise the wire. There are also a number of repellents on the market for deer and squirrels.

Container Growing

Even if you don't have a garden you can enjoy the color and fragrance of spring bulbs. You can use any style of pot made out of any material you choose, i.e., terra cotta, plastic, wooden, etc. Here in Minnesota, make sure your pot size is at least 10" deep and 17" across. Also make sure the container has drain holes. In Minnesota, your pot will have to live in an insulated garage wrapped in burlap or foam and you will have to water during the winter. Planting depth is the same as when you plant bulbs in the ground.

What you need to plant bulbs

  • Trowel, bulb digger, bulb auger
  • Gloves
  • Bone Meal, Dutch Bulb Food
  • Peat moss, compost
  • Chicken wire (if needed)
  • Gertens' Quality Bulbs

After you Plant
Once planted, bulbs need four to six weeks to properly set root. Giving them a little bulb food will ensure brighter and richer colors in the spring. It is very important during this time to water thoroughly, about one inch per week as a general rule. Mulching your bulbs with dry leaves, straw or wood mulch is also beneficial, but wait until after the first frost. If you mulch too early small critters might use this area as a home for the winter. (Another way to deter critters is to tack chicken wire between the soil and the mulch cover). Mulching after the first frost also helps prevent soil temperature fluctuation.