Is it too late to plant tulip bulbs?

We've missed the optimal time to plant them, but you might just get away with it...

tulips in garden
(Image credit: Getty)

We can't wait for our gardens and parks to burst to life this spring, after many miserable, gray days. So, is it too late to plant tulip bulbs?

We asked two gardening experts, and they had slightly different views when it comes to how to plant tulip bulbs. For the best results, you do need to do it in November or December. However, you might be able to still do it in January, providing you act quickly.

tulips in garden

(Image credit: Getty)

Is it too late to plant tulip bulbs?

We asked the gardening editor of Amateur Gardening magazine, Ruth Hayes about the ideal time to plant tulips. With a qualification from the Royal Horticultural Society and many years of gardening experience, Ruth has a wealth of knowledge. 

'Tulips are usually planted in late fall and early winter, November and December being the prime time,' she tells us. 'While you can still get them in the soil now if you have any leftover from last year, it is too late for them to perform their best this year, though they should flower the following spring.'

Evie Lane, Gardening Expert at Primrose (opens in new tab) says that it’s not necessarily too late to plant spring bulbs in January – but emphasizes that time is of the essence. 'Tulips can be very comfortable with a January planting but they’ll bloom later than usual,' she says.

tulips in garden

(Image credit: Getty)

'As a rule, tulip bulbs should be safely planted in the ground at least six weeks before there’s a risk of a freeze,' Evie explains. 'However, most plants display a high tolerance when it comes to being planted late – as long as the ground can be dug and not waterlogged then there’s a good chance your bulbs will give respectable blooms come late spring.'

If you'd rather not risk it, Ruth says that there are still plenty of opportunities in the coming months to add color to our garden later in the year. Think about which plants you'd most like to add to your garden and take a look at the latest garden trends for 2022 if you're short on ideas.

If you're feeling uninspired, you could aim to tick off a couple of January gardening jobs each week. Once you know what you're going to be doing, it feels less daunting to get out in the garden and tidy things up.

tulips in garden

(Image credit: Getty)

What happens if you plant tulip bulbs too late?

Tulips planted in spring are likely to flower next year. If the soil is frozen, you could plant your tulip bulbs in pots and store them in a garage for the rest of winter. 

Then you can move them into a sunny spot in your garden in spring. If you'd rather not risk it, Evie Lane recommends bringing color to your garden this spring by planting pansies during a dry spell. 'You’ll see them bloom before the end of spring,' she says.

What month do you plant tulips?

As Ruth Hayes says, it's best to plant tulips in winter, ideally in November and December. Something to remember for next year...

Millie joined Gardeningetc in early 2021. She loves creating a vibrant display of containers in her small urban garden and is always picking up new plants at the local garden center. She's never without some fresh flowers at home and her favorite houseplant is her variegated pothos that's currently climbing its way over her bookshelves.