6 Secrets To Getting Your Tulips To Thrive In The South

The top tulip tips from the Vice President of Gardens and Facilities at Nashville’s Cheekwood Gardens and Estate.

"Nothing says spring like a garden full of tulips," says Peter Grimaldi, Vice President of Gardens and Facilities at Nashville's Cheekwood Gardens and Estate. Each fall, over an 8-10 week stretch, Grimaldi and his team are hard at work planting 150,000 tulip bulbs, which unfurl each spring as the eye-popping centerpiece of Cheekwood in Bloom, a seasonal must-visit for locals and travelers. They can be tricky to grow in the South, though, where warm winters can result in a lackluster bloom. Fortunately, we've learned how to coax those bulbs into flowering, and you don't need thousands to pack a visual punch in your own backyard. Here, Grimaldi offers a few tips and tricks to help home gardeners transition their tulips successfully from bulb to bloom.

Peter Grimaldi is the Vice President of Gardens and Facilities at Nashville's Cheekwood Gardens and Estate.

01 of 06

Annuals Or Perennial? What's The Deal?

Cheekwood Estate & Gardens Pink Tulips
Courtesy Cheekwood Estate & Gardens

"Tulips are perennial plants, but they do not perennialize well in the Southern and Southeastern United States," Grimaldi says. "Most of the hybrid tulip varieties that you would think of as classic tulips really have to be treated as annuals in these climates. That's how we manage them at Cheekwood. We plant new bulbs every year because the number one factor for getting tulips to flower is a cold requirement."

02 of 06

Trick Your Tulips And Buy Pre-Chilled

Cheekwood Estate & Gardens Tulips
Courtesy Cheekwood Estate and Gardens

"Tulips need at least 12 to 16 weeks of low temperatures. So everything we bring into Cheekwood has been pre-chilled, spending time in coolers in order to achieve that necessary cold requirement. If you're gardening at home in the South, you should absolutely buy pre-chilled. However, there are two species of tulips that do readily perennialize in this part of the country: lady tulips and woodland tulips."

Both lady tulips (Tulipa clusiana) and woodland tulips (T. sylvestris) are commonly referred to as species tulips and can be grown as perennials as far south as USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8.

03 of 06

Carve Out Time Between Halloween And Christmas To Plant

Cheekwood Estate & Gardens Tulips
Courtesy Cheekwood Estate and Gardens

"As a rule of thumb, you want to plant your spring flowering bulbs between Halloween and Christmas," Grimaldi says. "If you can't plant your bulbs immediately, store them in a cool dry place—preferably, a cool, dry, dark place."

If your bulbs aren't pre-chilled, place them in a paper bag or a mesh onion or bulb bag and put them in your fridge. However, do not store them near fruit, especially apples, which give off ethylene gas that will damage the bulbs. When you pull them from the fridge, put them in the ground immediately.

04 of 06

Good Drainage And Plenty of Sun Are Key

Cheekwood Estate & Gardens Tulips & Hyacinth
Courtesy Cheekwood Estate & Gardens

"Tulips are going to do better in full sun," Grimaldi says. "Once you've picked your site, it's best to prepare the soil just as you would when preparing to plant any other annual or perennial in your garden bed. Remember, good drainage is important. There are a number of ways to manage soil moisture, but the easiest thing to do in annual beds year over year is to build them up with organic matter to improve the soil and soil texture and break up any clay."

05 of 06

Stab, Pull, Plant

Cheekwood Estate & Gardens Tulips
Courtesy Cheekwood Estate & Gardens

"We use little 5- or 6-inch soil knives to plant," Grimaldi says. "If you're planting into a well amended, loose garden bed, you just stab [the ground], pull the soil knife back, plant, and heel it in. Your bulb should be about 3 inches below the ground—right side up. If they go in a little sideways, don't worry; they'll be fine."

If you are hoping for perennial tulips, bury the bulbs in well-drained, amended soil at 6 or 8 inches below ground where they are less susceptible to temperature fluctuations. The soil temperature at that depth must be below 60 degrees. This will increase the likelihood of your tulips returning in subsequent years.

06 of 06

Now Wait

Cheekwood Estate and Gardens Tulips Along Walkway
Courtesy Cheekwood Estate and Gardens

"Don't waste your money on fertilizer," Grimaldi says. "Once they're in the ground, there's not a lot you need to do. Just wait." Water the bulbs once at the time of planting, and then forget about them until your tulips are actively growing.

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