How to Plant and Care for Potted Tulips

Published March 24, 2022
Three potted tulips in a tray with garden tools

There is nothing like the beauty of tulips, especially after a long, cold winter. If you don't have outdoor garden space, or you just want to add color to other areas of your home or garden, the good news is that tulips grow wonderfully in containers. Whether you want to add some potted tulips to your kitchen windowsill or to an urn on your porch or patio, growing tulips in containers is very easy to do.

How to Plant Tulip Bulbs in Pots

Tulips grow very well in pots and containers, but to get the best blooms, you'll have to make sure you're giving the bulbs everything they need. Whether you're growing tulip bulbs in pots indoors or outdoors, the size of your container, the type and quality of soil you plant in, and how you plant the bulbs themselves will all impact how well your tulips will grow and bloom.

Choosing the Best Pot for Growing Tulips

Single pink tulip on a worn barnboard background

You'll want to make sure you're planting tulip bulbs in a large enough container. The size you plant in will depend on whether you're just growing a few bulbs and treating them like annuals, or whether you want to grow the tulips outdoors and have then come back every year.

  • If you're growing tulips indoors and plan to either compost the bulb when it's finished blooming or plant it out in the garden, then choose a minimum container size of six inches in diameter (for one to three bulbs) and at least eight inches deep.
  • For containers that will be spending the winter outside, the diameter of the pot should be at least 24 inches, and the depth should be at least 18 inches. This will ensure that there's enough soil in the pot to protect the bulbs from the damage that can come with being exposed to harsh winter weather.
  • No matter which type or size of container you choose, it needs to have good drainage; tulip bulbs sitting in wet soil will rot.

Choosing the Right Soil for Potted Tulips

You'll want to choose a good quality potting mix, preferably one with a good amount of perlite and/or vermiculite in it to ensure that the mix stays light and the bulbs don't rot. You can mix your own potting mix, or use your favorite store-bought mix.

Planting Tulip Bulbs in Containers

Pots of tulips grace brick steps

Planting tulip bulbs in containers isn't all that different from planting them out in the garden, with a couple of important differences.

  1. Plant the tulip bulbs as deeply as you would in the garden, roughly six to eight inches deep.
  2. You can ignore the standard instructions for plant spacing when planting tulips in containers. They can be spaced as closely as an inch apart. Just make sure they're not touching, since this can lead to rot.
  3. Add bulb fertilizer or bone meal at planting time according to the package's instructions.
  4. Once the bulbs are planted, water well.
  5. Remember that tulips need at least 10 weeks of cold temperatures to force bloom. You can get this by placing the container outdoors (if you live in a cold climate) or by placing the pot of tulip bulbs in the back of your refrigerator (such as if you're planting tulips in spring). Once they've chilled for at least 10 weeks, you can place them wherever you like, and they'll start sprouting and then bloom a few weeks later.
  6. If you're growing potted tulips outdoors, you can keep the pot in a sheltered area such as an unheated porch or garage so they can get their necessary cold treatment, and then move the container wherever you like once leaves start pushing up through the potting soil.
  7. You shouldn't need to water the container during its cold treatment, but once you see leaves appear, it's a good idea to start testing the soil to see if it needs to be watered. Once it's dry to an inch or two below the surface, it's time to water.

How to Care for Potted Tulips

Pot of violet tulips

Potted tulips are pretty easy to care for. The container should be placed in an area where it will get bright light or full sun once the leaves start sprouting. Water them when the top inch or two of soil is dry to the touch, and be sure to let all of the water drain so the bulbs don't rot.

There's really not much more to it than that. Enjoy the blooms and don't let the potting soil dry out.

How to Grow Tulips Indoors

Tulips in pots

Growing tulips indoors is pretty straightforward. You'll want to keep them in bright light when the leaves are sprouting and growing. Once the tulip starts blooming, you can move it into a spot with slightly lower light if you like, since this sometimes helps the flowers last longer.

It's worth keeping in mind that tulips bloom longest and best at temperatures lower than 60 degrees; at 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the blooms only last a few days. So for the longest bloom period, you'll want to grow your tulips in the coolest part of your house.

Water when the top inch or two of soil is dry. They won't need any additional fertilizer until fall (if you plan to continue growing them in a pot).

Once the bloom fades, you'll have to decide whether you want to try to keep the bulb alive so it can flower next year, or if you're treating it primarily as an annual.

What to Do With Potted Tulips After They Bloom

Planting bulb of tulip on the soil in the garden

Tulip blooms usually last for one to two weeks, though it can be even less if temperatures are higher than 68 degrees Fahrenheit. And since the blooms are the main reason to grow tulips, that leaves you with a dilemma: what should you do with potted tulips after they bloom? There are a few things you can do, based on your overall goals.

  • If you just wanted temporary color, you can compost the bulbs once they've finished blooming. People often do this when growing tulips indoors, especially if they don't have an outdoor garden area to transplant the bulbs into, or if they live in a warm climate.
  • If you have space, plant the tulip bulbs in the garden in autumn, planting them six to eight inches deep and giving them bulb fertilizer or bonemeal. They'll come back and bloom again next year.
  • If you want to try to continue growing tulips in a container to get more blooms next year, continue watering and caring for the remaining foliage. It's important for the foliage to stay on as long as possible, since that's how the bulb stores energy for next year's blooms. Eventually, the leaves will yellow and start shriveling up. At this point, you can put your potted tulip in an out of the way spot, continuing to give it water when the top couple of inches of soil are dry. In fall, give it another dose of bulb fertilizer, and then the chilling process starts all over again.
  • If you're growing tulips outdoors in a large container, consider planting annuals among the fading tulip foliage. This will provide additional color and disguise the yellowing foliage, while the bulbs continue to get the care they need. Pansies, violas, marigolds, petunias, or impatiens would all be good options. In fall, remove the spent annuals, give the bulbs a fresh dose of bulb fertilizer, and let the chilling process do its thing.

Grow Tulips Anywhere

Growing tulips in pots allows you to have gorgeous spring color wherever you want it, indoors or out. And because the type of container you choose adds another dimension of beauty to your space, you can get even more creative. Urns, window boxes, or even upcycled containers can all make unique, attractive containers for tulips. Just make sure they're deep enough and have holes for drainage, and then let your creativity take over.

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How to Plant and Care for Potted Tulips