Do You Dig Up Tulip Bulbs? How to Do It Properly

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A vibrant garden of blooming tulips, with a mix of pink and yellow flowers surrounded by green foliage.

There is no better way to prepare your garden for springtime than to plant and grow new flowers. From daffodils to hyacinths, spring flower bulbs can transform your garden into a colorful retreat where you can unwind and relax.

Tulip flowers make a wonderful addition to any garden. But to enjoy them, you must know how to plant and care for tulips. A vital part of growing tulips is knowing how to plant the bulbs, dig up the bulbs, and store the bulbs.

By the time you’ve finished reading this guide, you’ll know how to do all this and more.

Common Name Tulips
Botanical Name Tulipa
Family Liliaceae
Plant TypeFlower
Size6-16 inches tall, 4-6 inches wide
Sun ExposureFull
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Alkaline, Neutral 
Bloom TimeSpring 
Flower ColorRed, Pink, Orange, White, Yellow and Purple 
Hardiness Zones3-7 (USDA)
Native AreaCentral Asia
Toxicity Toxic to people, toxic to pets 

 So, Do You Dig Up Tulip Bulbs?

When it comes to tulip gardening, you may not have realized that digging up tulip bulbs can sometimes be necessary.

After all, why do you dig up tulip bulbs when tulips thrive in the soil? Tulip bulbs multiply each year if left in the ground. This can lead to inferior blooms each spring as the bulbs become overcrowded and compete for nutrients.

Additionally, tulip bulbs left in the ground are more susceptible to damage caused by frost, insects or small animals such as rabbits and squirels. Added protection to your tulip bulbs is the use of insect and pest control sprayers, which effectively deter common garden pests ensuring your tulips thrive and bloom beautifully.

However, it is not always necessary to dig up your tulip bulbs. We recommend only digging up and storing your bulbs when they have been stunted, damaged, or disturbed by wildlife such as rabbits or birds.

But if you feel like your tulips aren’t producing as many flowers – or don’t appear as healthy – as last year, it may be time to grab your hand trowel.

Green tulip buds with pink stripes, set against a soft-focus background of similar tulips in a garden.

When Should I Dig Up My Tulip Bulbs?

How do you know when digging up your bulbs is necessary? Usually, there are visual cues.

Don’t start digging just because the flowers have faded. In fact, digging up your bulbs when you notice a fading flowerhead could kill your tulips. Instead, wait to dig up your bulbs when the tulip’s foliage turns yellow.

A tulip bulb contains the nutrition your flowers need to survive winter and bloom again the following spring. After flowering, tulips use their roots and leaves to absorb necessary nutrients. So, if you dig up your bulbs prematurely, they won’t have the chance to replenish their nutrient supply. This is why it is vital to wait until your tulip’s leaves turn yellow before you dig up your bulbs.

Tip: A tulip’s foliage usually turns yellow six weeks after flowering. If you find the foliage unsightly, remove the spent flower stem only. Then, gently roll up the leaves, taking care not to break away from the bulb or split the leaf.  Secure them with a rubber band or similar. This way, the foliage will still be able to supply the bulb with essential nutrients, but the dying foliage will be hidden amongst other plants.

Row of pink tulip bulbs in a park path, with lush green grass on either side and a red tram visible in the background amidst verdant trees.

How to Dig Up Your Tulip Bulbs Effectively

The first thing to remember is that you should always handle your bulbs gently. Use a hand trowel to dig 8 inches deep into the ground around your tulip plant. We recommend ensuring that the trench you dig around your tulips is several inches larger than the bulbs. 

Then, carefully lift out your bulbs and brush off any remaining soil with your fingers. If you notice any bulbs with signs of damage or disease (blue/white mold, or soft flesh, for instance), simply discard them.

How to Store Your Tulip Bulbs Properly

Digging your tulip bulbs up from the ground is only one part of a two-step process. The next part, and the health of your bulbs, relies on how well you’ve stored your bulbs.

Once you’ve carefully cleaned your bulbs, leave them to dry for a few days. You can use a box/plastic container filled with sand or peat to store your bulbs. Press each bulb into your chosen storage material until approximately three-quarters are concealed beneath the surface.

Also, ensure that your tulip bulbs are not so closely placed that they touch one another. If your tulip bulbs touch, they could rot.

Store your box/plastic container in a warm, dark, well-ventilated place at 18-20°C or 65-68°F. Then, leave your stored bulbs until autumn, when you can plant them again.

Add beauty to your garden by adding lava rock pebbles which is suitable not only for succulent plants but also for a wide range of plants.

Tip: Don’t place your box/container of bulbs where they might be exposed to sunlight.

Do You Have to Dig Up Tulip Bulbs Every Year?

Tulip bulbs deteriorate over time, so using the same bulbs season after season may not ensure a successful display of blooms.

So, do you have to dig up tulip bulbs every year?

Simply put, no. We already mentioned that you don’t need to dig up tulip bulbs at all, and truthfully, a lot of gardeners only dig up their bulbs every three or four years when they stop flowering as well. However, if they stop producing the same quality of flowers, and you want to guarantee beautiful blooms in spring, it is best to dig up the old bulbs and replace them with new ones. Read our tips on tulips coming up blind.

Purple tulip bulbs, with one fully bloomed and others as buds, set against a blurred green background.

Perfect Timing: When to Plant Tulip Bulbs

You can’t have tulips bloom at their best if you don’t know when to plant tulip bulbs.

The best planting time for potted and in-ground tulips is in autumn. The soil needs to have cooled off from the summer season, so it’s recommended to plant your bulbs in October or November.

However, if you live in a region with a consistently warm climate, you can plant your tulip bulbs as late as December.

How To Plant Tulip Bulbs: A Simple Guide

Now, all that’s left is to know how to plant tulip bulbs.

Below, we’ve provided a simple step-by-step guide to help you plant beautiful tulips year after year.

  1. Pick a planting spot that provides approximately six hours of bright, direct sunlight. Additionally, tulips thrive in fast-draining soil.
  2. Using a garden trowel, dig a planting hole and drop the bulb in the hole with the pointed end facing upward.
  3. Plant your bulbs. The optimal planting depth is generally three times bigger than the bulbs’ height, with about 5 cm between each of your bulbs.
  4. Once planted, water the bulbs generously. By giving your bulbs a good watering, you’ll allow the soil to settle. After that, you only need to wait between 15-30 days.
  5. When you see green leaves and buds emerge from the soil, only water your tulips when there’s been no rain for 3-5 days.
  6. After your tulips have bloomed, don’t forget to deadhead them without removing their leaves.
Pink tulips in full bloom, with a soft focus background emphasizing the foreground tulips.

Tulips in the Springtime: Final Thoughts

A garden full of stunningly fresh and healthy tulips is the perfect way to celebrate a warm springtime.

Historically, tulips have symbolized serenity and true love, making them an ideal addition to a garden you and your loved ones will enjoy. What’s more, tulips are incredibly versatile, with a choice of colors–you’ll never struggle to find a variety that suits your yard.

Don’t forget to take plenty of photos of your thriving tulips and tag us on social media. We love to see your gardens!

For more flower care and gardening tips, check out our blogs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Our most frequently asked questions on tulip bulbs.

1. Can you leave tulip bulbs in a pot?

Potted tulip bulbs tend not to perform well in pots for a second season. After one season has passed, we recommend starting the new season with fresh bulbs.

2. How long does it take for tulips to grow from their bulbs?

Most tulips require a minimum of 12-14 weeks within a ‘cold period’ to grow beautiful flowers.

3. How many tulips will grow from one tulip bulb?

Although some tulip varieties may have more than one flower bud in the bulb, you can generally expect to see one flower per bulb. Some plants, however, may also sprout side bulbs.

4. How long do tulip bulbs last?

The answer to this question depends mainly on the variety of tulips you intend to grow and your region’s climate. Most modern cultivated varieties will produce blooms for 3-5 years. However, the quality of these blooms may quickly decline after their first season. For this reason, we recommend that you start with a fresh batch of tulip bulbs each year.

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