Updated/Fact-Chacked on November 27, 2022 by John
Now is the time to be planting your spring tulip bulbs, but if you are reading this article later into winter, all is not lost.
If you have missed the tulip planting window (Nov-Dec), you may still be able to plant your tulips in January. If you have some tulip bulbs left over, you might as well plant them and see what happens. If you try and store them for the following season, they may just rot or be eaten by something (I discovered 20 bulbs full of holes last week).
You will only be able to plant your tulip bulbs in January if the ground is not frozen. If this is the case, consider planting them in containers.
Best time to plant tulips
The best time to plant tulips is November. You want temperatures under 13 degrees C, but you don’t want the ground frozen.
The cold weather will kill any disease that affects tulips, namely tulip fire (Botrytis tulipae). Tulip fire will create dark spots on the plant when they come through the soil and mould.
Why do tulips need a cold spell?
Tulips need around 12-14 weeks of cold weather to flower in spring. During the cold winter months, the plant’s energy reserves begin to break down to produce glucose – which stops the plant’s water content from freezing. Once the cold weather ends, the glucose can be used for growing and the plant can flower.
Tips for planting tulips late
If the ground is frozen and you cannot dig the ideal planting depth, cover the area with compost and sit your tulip bulbs on top. Once they are all in position, cover them with 3-4 inches of mulch. This is assuming you have enough compost and mulch lying around.
If the ground is not frozen, plant your tulip bulbs as you normally would, following the packet’s instructions. Generally, they require a hole three times the size of the bulb planted in soil with a good amount of organic matter and water well.
Planting tulips in containers in January
If you have leftover bulbs in January, throw them into a planter or pot and cross your fingers! I tend to use my pots dedicated to annuals, I’ll switch the tulips out for a new display in early summer.
Late flowering tulips for January Planting
The type of tulip variety will also determine whether they flower if planted late. Kaufmanniana tulips flower early around March, so may not flower if planted in January. It will depend on the weather after the bulbs have been planted. Also note, tulips tend to flower 2-3 weeks earlier in the south over northern regions.
Mid-season tulips (April) and late-flowering tulips (May) could flower if planted in January. Late flowering tulips include Tulipa ‘Queen of Night, Tulipa ‘World Expression’ and Tulipa ‘Orange Princess’.
John Green is a 46-year-old graphic designer living in Durham. John is RHS level 3 certified and owns an allotment in Durham.