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Australian Grow Guide: Tulips

Traditionally, tulip bulbs are planted around Mother’s Day. This allows the plants to become established so that they’re ready to display their fabulous blooms in spring.

Growing tulips in Australia is relatively easy if you give them the necessary conditions that will allow them to thrive and reward you with gorgeous blooms in spring.

Essentially, tulips are cold-climate plants and their bulbs need a certain amount of chill time for the flowers to develop.

Therefore, growing tulips in different parts of the country will require different methods.

When should you plant tulip bulbs?

Ideally, tulip bulbs should be planted in late autumn no matter where you live in the country. Traditionally, tulip bulbs are planted around Mother’s Day (May 14).

This allows the plants to become established so that they’re ready to display their fabulous blooms in spring.

How to plant tulip bulbs in the garden

Before you plant your newly-purchased bulbs, check to see if they have been pre-chilled. If this is the case, they’re ready for planting.

planting tulip bulbs | Plant care

However, if the bulbs are not pre-chilled or you’re not sure, place them in a paper bag and pop them into the crisper section of your fridge for around four to six weeks before planting.

In Australia, tulip bulbs should be planted fairly deeply. This is because the soil is cooler the further away you get from the surface.

In Europe and similar cold climates, tulip bulbs are normally planted twice as deep as the height of the bulb.

However, because our climate is a little warmer, it’s a good idea to plant your tulip bulbs three times as deep as the height of the bulb. This will ensure that the bulbs are protected from the warmer surface temperature of the soil.

If you plan to plant a number of tulip bulbs, it’s worthwhile investing in a special bulb planter as this will easily allow you to dig the right-sized hole. Otherwise, a trowel is perfectly suitable.

planting tulip bulbs with bulb planter | Plant care

Make sure that you plant your bulbs the right way up. When you look at a tulip bulb, one end will be flat and the other end will be pointy. Always plant your bulb with the pointy end up.

Keep your bulbs watered but ensure that the soil drains well. Avoid waterlogged conditions because this might cause the bulbs to rot.

Where to plant tulips in your garden

Tulips do best when grown in a sunny spot in the garden. They can handle a little dappled shade but you’ll get the best flowering results when the plants are exposed to a fair amount of sun.

tulips 1 | Plant care

Another possibility is to plant your tulips under a deciduous tree in your garden. This will allow the plants to be shaded from the hot summer sun but they’ll be exposed to the warming sunshine in winter and early spring.

Tips for growing tulips in the colder southern areas of the country

If you live in the southern parts of the country where the winters are colder, you can leave your tulip bulbs in the ground over summer. 

I did this in my last garden and they rewarded me year after year with lovely blooms every spring. The bulbs were shaded over summer underneath a large camellia and the soil was always covered with mulch. 

You can plant summer flowering perennials around the tulip bulbs so that you don’t end up with a bare patch once the tulips have finished flowering.

This also helps to shade the ground and keep the soil cooler.

Tips for growing tulips in the warmer northern regions

If you want to grow tulips in the warmer regions around the country, you will have to lift the bulbs over summer and keep them cool. This will give them the required chill time that they need.

In late spring, after the foliage has browned off, gently dig up your bulbs with a trowel. Leave them in a dry, shaded spot until the leaves have dried off completely.

It’s important not to lift the bulbs until the foliage has browned. This is because the leaves of the plant will help the bulb to store the energy necessary for next year’s growth and flowering.

Remove the dried foliage from the bulbs and place the bulbs in a paper bag or an old stocking. It’s important not to put them into a sealed container because moisture could be trapped in the container and this may rot the bulbs.

Store the bulbs in a cool spot over summer. Ideally, at a temperature below 20 degrees Celsius.

tulip bulbs | Plant care

Some seasoned gardeners even store their tulip bulbs in the crisper section of their fridge over summer. 

Once the temperature has cooled down in autumn, you can plant your bulbs back into the garden.

If your bulbs have been stored in the fridge, there’s no need to prechill them. However, if they haven’t had their required chill time, place them in the crisper for around four to six weeks before planting them in the garden.

Caring for your tulips in the garden

While your tulips are in active growth and they have lots of green foliage, give them a dose of fertiliser during this growth phase. This will allow the bulbs to store more energy for next year’s flowers.

It’s also a great idea to cut off the flower heads once they’ve finished blooming. This will ensure that the plant puts its energy into the bulb rather than into producing seeds from the spent flower heads. 

Just cut each spent flower stem right off at the base of the plant.

Growing tulips in pots

It’s also easy to grow tulips in pots. Treat them the same way as if you were planting them into the ground. 

tulip bulbs in pots | Plant care

Ensure you use a good quality potting mix and feed the plants while they’re growing with an organic liquid fertiliser.

After the foliage has finished, you can take the bulbs out of the pot and store them in a paper bag in a nice cool spot. 

Give them a prechill session in the fridge and replant them again into a pot with fresh potting mix the following autumn.

FAQ

When do tulips bloom in Australia?

In Australia, tulips bloom in early spring. They are usually one of the first spring-blooming bulbs to emerge.

Do tulips multiply?

Like many other types of bulbs, tulips will multiply after their first year of full growth. You can expect each bulb to produce two to five new bulbs every year.

How do you store tulip bulbs?

In colder regions, tulip bulbs can be left in the ground. In other areas, the bulbs should be lifted in stored in a cool, dry spot in a paper bag over summer. They can also be stored in the crisper compartment of your refrigerator.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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