For most gardeners, planting tulip bulbs in spring is not recommended. If you have bulbs that, for whatever reason, did not get planted the previous fall, there is still a chance they may bloom. By understanding how the tulip life cycle works and following a few simple instructions, you may be able to salvage these wonderful flowers.
Tulips are a member of the lily family and are indigenous to Europe and Asia. Brought from Turkey in the mid 1500's, the tulip is most commonly associated with the Netherlands due to the sheer number of varieties produced there. Early Dutch settlers brought the bulbs to the United States and settled in the Pennsylvania and Michigan areas. Tulips are available in a myriad of colors ranging from the palest pinks to the darkest purples and even black.
Planting Tulip Bulbs in Spring
Since bulbs planted in the spring have not had the benefit of the cool weather to promote root development, gardeners have two options. Though neither are guaranteed, planting as early in the spring as possible gives you a greater chance for success.
Tricking mother nature is the key to forced blooming. Fill a flower pot approximately half full with potting soil. Ideally the pot would be six to eight inches in diameter so you can plant several bulbs together. Place your tulip bulbs in the pot with the point facing up. Lightly cover with additional soil and water to moisten but not soak. Put the pot in the back of your refrigerator and leave for ten to twelve weeks or until you see roots coming out of the bottom of the pot or shoots coming out of the top.
When it is time to remove the pot from the refrigerator, place it in the coolest area of your house. Slowly adapting the plant to the warmer temperatures outside the refrigerator but out of direct sunlight will prevent the shoots from burning. Once the plant is acclimated, you can allow more warmth and sunlight to reach the plant. The tulips should bloom about four weeks after you remove it from the refrigerator. Once the blooms die, cut the stems so the only part left is foliage. Continue to water as you would any other house plant and in the fall, plant the bulb outside.
Direct Outdoor Planting
Depending on the zone and how early in spring you manage to get the bulbs in the ground, outdoor planting may still work. Tulip bulbs typically require at least 14 weeks of cool weather in order to produce flowers, which is why bulbs are planted in the fall. If you live in zones 1 through 5 there may be enough cold weather to "trick" the bulb into blooming as normal in late spring. For zones farther south (6-10), planting the bulbs directly outdoors will most likely cause the bulb to sprout but not flower because there was not enough cold weather to build up necessary nutrients.
If, after planting tulip bulbs in the spring, you got no flowers, don't assume they are completely dead. In fact, the bulb may just need another fall and winter to build up enough nutrients to bloom next spring. For bulbs that did flower, cut the flower and stem when the flower dies but leave the foliage because it needs sunlight to convert into energy for the bulb's needs next spring.