By: Sandy Feather ©2008
Penn State Extension
Q. A friend gave me some potted tulips for my February birthday. I'm afraid they won't survive very long indoors and would like to move them into my garden. How do I safely move these tulips from the flower pot into the ground?
A. You are correct that they will not survive as houseplants. Tulips are among the hardy spring-blooming bulbs typically planted outdoors in the fall in our climate. All hardy bulbs require 14 to 15 weeks of temperatures between 35 and 50 degrees in order to grow and bloom properly the following year. Bulbs that have been forced into bloom out of season, especially tulips, may never perform satisfactorily in the garden. It is generally recommended that you discard such forced spring-blooming bulbs.
Many hybrid tulips only bloom well the first year. The second year bloom might be tolerable, and in subsequent years, you may only get foliage and no flowers. When you see spectacular tulip displays at public gardens, it is because they are treated like annuals and new bulbs planted every fall. Hardy spring-blooming bulbs that naturalize well, such as daffodils, crocuses and grape hyacinths, tolerate being forced better than tulips, and usually do well after being planted out in the garden.
Potted tulips forced into bloom out of season
If you still would like to try planting your tulips in the garden, just as a challenge, remove the spent flower stalks once they are done blooming. Be careful not to damage the foliage in the process.
Just as we recommend allowing the foliage of spring-blooming bulbs to die back on its own out in the garden, it is important that you keep the foliage growing well as long as possible after your tulips finish blooming. Foliage is responsible for producing the carbohydrate reserves that nourish the bulbs through photosynthesis. Removing or damaging the foliage prematurely reduces the amount of stored carbohydrates, which results in bulbs that do not grow and bloom properly.
Tulips do best outdoors when planted as bulbs in the fall
Place the container in a cool, sunny spot and fertilize the tulips with a water-soluble fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro, Peter's 20-20-20, fish emulsion or liquid sea kelp, according to label directions. When the foliage begins to yellow and die down on its own, do not try to hasten the process.
Quit fertilizing and reduce the amount of water you give them because they are not using as much as they did when the foliage was in full growth. Once the foliage has completely died back, move the pot into your garage or other protected place where they will stay dry.
Near the end of September, remove the bulbs from the pot. Discard any bulbs that are soft, and plant those that are firm and healthy out into the garden. If they bloom again for you, great! If not, do not be disappointed.