Every year I buy about two hundred tulip bulbs. And I procrastinate getting them in the ground. But really, you can plant them August-November. You probably could sneak them into the ground even in December (or ?January, though I don’t recommend this!) and they would still bloom in the spring. Unlike me, the tulips are not procrastinators—after all, they have stored up all the energy they will need for the next season, right in their bulb–and they are ready. Some tulips will return for several years (these are referred to as ‘perennial tulips’). Others, will only last a season or two unless you fertilize them extensively to keep them going.
I’ve been losing a lot of bulbs to some pesky moles the last few years, so I took a different approach this year and planted them in pots for a grand spring display. The moles will not go after them there. The only drawback to planting bulbs, or any plants, in pots, is that there is a lot of competition between them for a limited supply of nutrition–everything has to be there in the pot. Therefore, as with all plants in pots, you have to fertilize them heavily if you want the tulips to return for more than one year—or if you want to remove the bulbs next year and plant them in the ground for viable plants next season.
For a beautiful display, plant the bulbs much closer together than you would put them in the ground. I fill the pot halfway with potting soil into which I have blended additional slow release fertilizer and extra bone meal. Place the bulbs pointed side up. Then cover them with the same amended soil.
A beautiful combination is red (I bought ‘Red Impression’) tulips with purple muscari (grape hyacinth). Since the muscari doesn’t need to be planted as deep as the tulips, I planted the tulips first, covered them—and then added the muscari to the perimeter, as you can see below. Just pushing the muscari down a couple of inches.
Another advantage to putting tulips in pots is that it allows me to ‘force bulbs.’ In December, I will bring a few pots into my greenhouse and this will fool them into thinking that it is spring. I will have tulips a couple of months earlier. I will also bring a couple more inside the greenhouse in January. This will give me a continuous display of tulips for several months. Once blooming, I will move them out of the greenhouse and flank my front porch with the blooming pots. The remainder will stay outside until they bloom on their own terms. If you don’t have a greenhouse, a similar prolonged display of tulips can also be achieved if you plant a mix of ‘early blooming’, ‘mid season’, and ‘late blooming’ tulips.
Lastly, as a bonus, I’m including some photos I took at the Oregon tulips fields last April 6, 2015. I am lucky to live just 30 minutes from what is truly something spectacular and rarely seen on this planet outside of Holland.