Planting tulips for the cutting garden or floral work is different than planting for the landscape.
Flower farmers have perfected planting tulips so they get taller and bloom earlier. There are even certain tulip varieties flower farmers will plant known as “doubles” that look almost like peonies.
Below you will find my simple guide to planting tulips for cut flower production.
When to Plant:
In my 6b/7 climate, tulips should be planted in the fall. I planted mine at the end of October, but you could plant into late November. As long as the ground isn’t frozen, you should be ok.
Where to Source the Bulbs:
Typically, you will want to start shopping for tulips in store in October. However, for farming varieties, you might want to shop from another farmer online starting in the summer.
Floret Farm sells out fast, but has beautiful options for home gardeners who don’t have the space (or resale tax-number) to buy in bulk. Here are some of Erin’s favorites for cut flower production.
I source my bulbs from Fred Gloeckner thanks to my re-sale tax number. I highly recommend going through the process to register your business to get the wholesale discounts as soon as possible.
Prep the Soil:
Before my tulips arrive, I make sure my soil is prepped. This means double digging or tilling my rows. I add about 3 inches of fine compost PLUS a dry organic fertilizer. I follow the Floret Flower recommendation and use Nature’s Intent (7-2-4) mix.
“We…sprinkle a generous dusting of a high quality organic fertilizer at a rate of 1.5 lbs/10 linear feet (or) 10.5 lbs per 70 foot long row….which is made from natural ingredients including bone meal, cottonseed meal, feather meal, kelp meal and rock powders.” (Erin at Floret Flower)
That dry organic fertilizer will feed your bulbs all winter.
Once the bed is prepped, it is time to plant!
Plant the Tulips:
If you are wanting tulips for the landscape, you generally plant a few bulbs together in clumps for splashes of color.
When you plant for a cutting garden or for flower production, you typically dig a trench in one long row. I plant in 4 ft by 30 ft rows.
I start by digging a 6 inch trench down my row.
Then I place the bulbs (pointy side up) in my trench like eggs in a carton. This will encourage the stems to stretch towards the sun resulting in taller stems.
Now, Floret Farm proceeds to water their tulips before covering them again. However, I am working in very different soil. My soil is clay, meaning it hold onto the water.
I chose to forego the watering process because I didn’t want my bulbs to rot. At this moment, my bulbs are enjoying a nice slow drink thanks to the foot of snow that fell, so i have no worries about them getting enough water this winter.
Come spring, I will start watering the tulips regularly.
When it is time to harvest your tulips, you will harvest in the “colored bud stage.” They are not fully open, but are showing color.
You can either pull the whole bulb out (the bulb continues to feed the bloom for a longer shelf life until sold) OR you can leave two sets of leaves on the stem (which will continue to store nutrients for perennializing the bulbs).
I have done some reading on perennializing the bulbs or multiplying them and it sounds tricky. Often the bulbs rot, are eaten or have less appealing blooms the following year.
Flower Farmers typically re-plant new bulbs every year to get the best blooms for cut flower production.
However, I am really hoping to become self-sustaining and learn how to produce my own tulip bulbs someday.
Vase Life of Tulips:
Tulips are known to last a little over a week. Funny enough, they also tend to KEEP GROWING taller after being cut. How cool is that?
Tulip stems also have a tendency to curve post harvest so keeping them straight for the first few hours is important.
If you have additional questions, let me know in the comments. I am happy to help.