More Fall Bulbs: Planting Tulip and Daffodil Bulbs

by on October 25, 2012Wilma Stordahl

This week I’ll finish up what has ended up being a mini series of articles on how to plant fall bulbs. A few weeks ago I wrote about how to plant garlic, last week I wrote about planting iris bulbs, and I’ll wrap things up this week by covering how to plant what are probably the two most popular of fall bulbs: tulips and daffodils.

As I wrote last week, the planting depth for bulbs is three times the length of the bulbs. The planting depth for tulip and daffodil bulbs is typically 5 inches deep with 4 to 8 inches between plants, but this can vary by species. When planting tulip or daffodil bulbs, the same rules apply as those laid out last week in my article on how to plant iris bulbs.

When to Plant Tulip Bulbs and Daffodil Bulbs

planting daffodil and tulip blubsIf you’re wondering when to plant tulip bulbs and daffodil bulbs, just remember that fall bulbs are planted in the fall, over-wintered in the ground, and emerge to flower in the spring. When do you see tulips and daffodils flowering? It’s in the spring, right? So, that means tulip and daffodil bulbs need to be planted in the fall, when the bulbs are still dormant.

Most tulip bulbs need a good winter chill to flower. You’ll know when to plant tulip bulbs, because temperatures will start to dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius. In most regions of the U.S., you can start planting tulip bulbs in October or November. In warmer climates, however, you may need to wait until December or January.

Like all fall bulbs, tulips and daffodils will over-winter, put down roots and be ready to flower in the spring. In most regions of the country, daffodils and tulips flower between March and May.

Garden Design: Where to Plant Tulip Bulbs

Tulip bulbs should be planted in an area that gets full sun while the plants are in bloom. They tend to lean and stretch out toward the light if planted in a shady area. After flowering is finished, in hotter climates it is best if tulips get part shade. The leaves of other perennials can shade the ground where the tulips are planted.

Plant tulip bulbs in rich, sandy soil. They do well in good, fast-draining soil, but should not be planted in an area where tulips were planted the previous year. Either locate your tulips in a new site from year to year or dig out the old soil to the required depth and transfer garden soil from some other area of the garden.

Finally, you might want to plant your tulip bulbs in a wire cage to protect them from borrowing animals like gophers and digging squirrels.

There are a wide variety of tulips. Some are tall and elegant while others are small and dainty. Tall, stately tulips look best when planted en masse along with shorter, spring-flowering plants. Tulipa ‘Yokohama’ or Tulipa ‘First Lady’ planted with Euphorbia polychroma and Dicentra spectabilis ‘Goldheart’ add bright color and contrasts to the spring garden.

Smaller, shorter tulips look good in rock gardens and along the edges of paths. Many species of tulip fall into this group. For example, Kaufmanniana tulips (Tulipa kaufmanniana) only get about 6 to 8 inches tall and have 3-inch yellow flowers that open up flat in the sun, making them a wonderful addition to a rock garden.

Planting tulip bulbs in containers is also a great way to show off some of the more unusual types, such as Rembrandt and Parrot tulips. One of my favorite Parrot tulips is Tulipa ‘Black Parrot’ paired with Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve.’ Trust me – these two are gorgeous together.

Planting Daffodil Bulbs for a Naturalized Effect

If I could only have one type of fall bulb in my garden and had to choose between tulips and daffodils, daffodils would win every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Why? Because – confession time – I’m a lazy gardener.

I often refer to myself as a “tough love” gardener, and all the caging and relocating needed for tulips is more work than I want to do every year. Daffodils are not as picky about soil as long as they have good drainage. They need a sunny site and grow quite nicely under large deciduous trees. Once you’re finished planting your daffodil bulbs, you can almost forget them and they will come back and increase from year to year.

Plus, you don’t need to plant daffodil bulbs in a cage. Do you know why? They’re poisonous, that’s why. Deer, squirrels, and other burrowing animals will leave them alone.

Because of their ability to increase each year, a popular method of planting daffodil bulbs is to plant them in a lawn or meadow for a naturalized effect. Planting daffodil bulbs in this way involves the first rule of planting en masse that I ranted about last week.

Do not plant in straight lines!

If you are planting daffodil bulbs in a lawn, be careful when digging to gently remove the turf so you can replace it once you have your daffodil bulbs in the planting hole. While you’re out there digging, you can plant some crocuses, which also look great in a lawn.

What are your favorite plants to combine with tulip and daffodils? Do you have any experience planting daffodil bulbs in a lawn? How did it go? Let us know, and post your questions. We love to hear from you.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lynne Jones May 20, 2013 at 2:46 pm

What do you do after the tulips have bloomed and the flower petals drop off……do you let the green part (leaf) of the plant die down and then cut off even with the ground…..or do you dig them up to replant in another location…..????? I have heard both suggestions…….we planted our bulbs in the fall and they came up successfully in the spring……now what???? Tks for a reply!!


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