How to Plant Tulips in a Dry Climate

How to Plant Tulips in a Dry Climate

How to Plant Tulips in a Dry Climate


Planting tulips in a dry climate like mine can seem daunting, but it is possible with some preparation and care. As an avid gardener who loves tulips, I have learned through trial and error how to successfully grow these beautiful flowers even when water is scarce. Here is my guide on how to plant tulips in a dry climate.

Choosing the Right Tulip Varieties

When selecting tulip bulbs to plant in a dry climate, it’s important to choose varieties that are drought-tolerant. Some types that do well with less water include:

  • Darwin Hybrid tulips – These large, brightly colored blooms thrive with minimal water. Some popular cultivars are Apeldoorn, Golden Apeldoorn, and Pink Impression.

  • Triumph tulips – An early blooming variety that adapts well to dry conditions. Try cultivars like Orange Princess and Pink Diamond.

  • Species tulips – Species like Tulipa kaufmanniana (waterlily tulip) and Tulipa greigii (red-flowered tulip) are naturally resilient.

  • Double Late tulips – Frilly, peony-flowered types like Angelique and Mount Tacoma perform beautifully with less moisture.

Avoid tulips that require more hydration, like Parrot, Lily-Flowered, and Single Early varieties. Stick to drought-tolerant types for the best results.

Preparing the Soil

The key to planting tulips in dry ground is preparing the soil properly. Here are some tips:

  • Loosen the soil and break up any clumps to a depth of 8-12 inches. This allows the roots to spread out and access water and nutrients deep in the soil.

  • Mix in compost – Incorporate 2-3 inches of compost into the top 6-8 inches of soil. Compost retains moisture and provides nutrients.

  • Consider slope – Plant tulips on a slope or raised bed to promote drainage and reduce pooling of water.

  • Add gypsum and sand – These amendments improve drainage in heavy or compacted soils. Follow package instructions for how much to apply.

  • Mulch well – Spread 2-3 inches of mulch like wood chips or straw over the soil after planting. This insulates the soil, reducing evaporation.

Proper soil prep gets your tulips off to the best start in dry conditions!

Planting the Bulbs

When planting tulip bulbs in dry ground, follow these tips:

  • Plant in fall – Get bulbs in the ground 6-8 weeks before your average first frost date. This allows them to establish roots before winter dormancy.

  • Plant deep – Set bulbs 6-8 inches deep. This protects them from extreme heat and cold.

  • Space properly – Leave 4-6 inches between bulbs, adjusting for mature bulb size. Crowding causes competition for water.

  • Add bone meal – Mix a handful of this phosphorus-rich fertilizer in the bottom of each planting hole. It promotes root growth and flowering.

  • Avoid amending soil in the hole – Heavily amended soil can repel water away from the bulbs’ roots.

Follow the planting depth and spacing recommendations on the bulb packaging. Place them right side up, roots down. Backfill soil and irrigate thoroughly after planting.

Watering Wisely

When it comes to watering newly planted tulip bulbs in dry conditions:

  • Water immediately after planting – Soak the soil 8-10 inches deep right after getting the bulbs in the ground. This removes air pockets and initiates root growth.

  • Water when soil is dry 2-3 inches down – Check soil moisture regularly. Water again if the top few inches become dry.

  • Prioritize fall watering – Focus irrigation in fall right after planting and in early spring after they emerge. The goal is to prevent severe stress or drought dormancy.

  • Water early morning – Watering in early morning allows the moisture to soak in fully before hot sun causes evaporation.

  • Water deeply – Applying 1-2 inches of water per irrigation session encourages deep rooting. Shallow watering results in shallow roots.

  • Mulch to retain moisture – Replenish mulch around plants as needed to prevent evaporation.

Avoid overwatering, as too much moisture can cause bulbs to rot. Pay close attention in fall and spring when plant roots are still developing.

Providing Winter Chill

Tulips require a period of cold winter temperatures in order to bloom properly. To ensure your bulbs get enough chill time in a dry climate:

  • Select early-blooming tulip varieties that need less winter chill, around 10-12 weeks below 45°F. Later varieties require 14+ weeks of cold.

  • Water your bulbs well in late fall before the ground freezes. Moisture in the soil helps regulate soil temperature.

  • Apply mulch over the bed after the ground freezes. A 2-3 inch layer insulates the soil and prevents frost heaving.

  • Avoid planting bulbs right next to structures like houses or walls that radiate heat, reducing chill time.

  • In regions with fluctuating warm spells, consider pre-chilling bulbs for 4-6 weeks in the refrigerator prior to planting.

Monitor soil moisture if winter rains are lacking, and water occasionally to keep soil from completely drying out. With proper chill time, your bulbs will bloom their best!

Caring For Plants After Emergence

Once tulip foliage emerges in spring, continue providing attentive care:

  • Water when top few inches of soil become dry – About 1-2 inches of water per week is sufficient, adjusting for rainfall.

  • Fertilize lightly – Apply a balanced fertilizer when shoots are 4-6 inches tall. This fuels growth but avoid overfeeding.

  • Watch for pests – Aphids, mites and bulb flies can attack plants stressed by dry conditions. Treat infestations promptly.

  • Deadhead spent blooms – Snip off faded flowers but leave foliage intact until it naturally yellows. This allows plants to recharge bulbs.

  • Let foliage die back naturally – Don’t cut it prematurely or braid leaves. Foliage needs to photosynthesize to store energy back in the bulb.

With attentive spring and summer care, your tulips will thrive beautifully in their dry climate!

Storing Bulbs After Bloom

To help tulip bulbs last many years in dry conditions:

  • Allow all foliage to yellow and die back completely after blooming finishes.

  • Once foliage is fully dried out, lift bulbs gently from soil and remove any remaining roots or stems.

  • Gently separate clusters into individual bulbs. Discard any bulbs that are soft, damaged, or diseased.

  • Place healthy bulbs in a single layer in a basket or crate with good air circulation.

  • Cure bulbs in a cool, dry spot out of direct sunlight for 4-6 weeks. Turn them periodically.

  • Store cured bulbs in breathable mesh bags in a cool (55°F), dry place over the summer. Check periodically for rotting.

  • In very hot climates, refrigerate bulbs through the summer until time to replant in fall.

Proper lifting, curing, and storage preserves bulbs for many years of beauty, even in hot, arid conditions!


While growing tulips in dry climates presents challenges, with the right preparation and care it is certainly achievable. Choosing drought-resistant varieties, amending soil properly, watering wisely, providing winter chill, and attentive post-bloom care will lead to success. Follow these tips for a vibrant tulip display despite limited rainfall!