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Growing, Cutting & Arranging Tulips

Find expert tips on growing, cutting, and arranging tulips from gardeners and floral designers featured in FLOWER magazine, plus browse our favorite tulip arrangements
A simple tulip arrangement by floral designer Mimi Brown in a tole cachepot

Whether it’s time to plant tulips in the fall or harvest them for floral arrangements in the spring, these tips gathered from gardeners and floral designers featured in Flower magazine will help you get the best results. To inspire your creativity, we begin with our favorite tulip arrangements, from cheerful bunches of single-color tulips to glorious combinations with other spring blossoms. Then we move on to tips for growing, harvesting, and designing your own creations with tulips.

Favorite Tulip Arrangements

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cut tulips arrangement by Tom Mathieu
Palm Beach floral designer Tom Mathieu created a blaze of orange by combining Dutch parrot tulips and ‘Ad Rem’ tulips. Photo by Jessica Glynn
dark purple, feathered tulips in a small tulipiere, from CHARLOTTE MOSS FLOWERS
Renowned interior designer Charlotte Moss displays deep purple tulip blooms in a tulipiere. Originally designed as a vessel for forcing bulbs in the 17th century, tulipieres are popularly used in modern times as vases for all sorts of cut flowers. Photo © Charlotte Moss from her book Charlotte Moss Flowers © Rizzoli New York, 2021. See an excerpt from the book.
multicolored tulip arrangement by Sandra Sigman with pink, yellow, and white blooms
Sandra Sigman grounded her “totally tulip” arrangement, created for The Stevens-Coolidge Place's 2020 Tulip Festival, in a pedestal container, letting the various double, French, and lily-flowered forms of tulips express depth. Photo by Kindra Clineff
Lilacs mingle with several varieties of tulips clipped from Carolyne Roehm’s garden in an elegant centerpiece for a purple-themed table. See more from A Garden Home with Carolyne Roehm.
flower magazine
Willow Crossley favors big bunches of tulips in vintage jugs and old ceramic cachepots, not a few singular stems dotted around. Photo by Emma Mitchell
Dining room featuring deep blue velvet chairs around a circular table, a geometric print rug, a convex gold-framed circular mirror above the side board, and Gracie’s ‘Ming Village' wall covering
Simple bouquets of white tulips nestled in blue-and-white chinoiserie complement a dramatic dining room designed by Frank Webb and Matthew White. The designers wrapped the room in Gracie’s Ming Village scenic wallpaper—a design in the style of panels produced in the 18th and 19th centuries—and punctuated the space with plush blue velvet chairs. Courtesy of White Webb
Tom Mathieu's green and white "garden in a box" arrangement features white tulips along with ‘Green Eyed Beauty’ garden roses, hyacinths, hellebores, variegated ivy, and moss. Photo by Jessica Glynn
In Lewis Miller’s book, Styling Nature (Rizzoli New York, 2016), the floral designer breaks down his method of arranging. These parrot tulips remind us "that the silhouette of an arrangement will change over time. An arrangement is a living thing; by day three the flowers will have taken on a new shape." Photo by Don Freeman
A simple tulip arrangement by floral designer Mimi Brown in a tole cachepot
Designer Mimi Brown shares an easy-to-assemble tulip arrangement to dress up your home in an excerpt from Living Floral by Margot Shaw. See step-by-step instructions. Tulip varieties: Residence, Crossfire, Jan Buis, Apricot Parrot, Cerise Parrot⁠. Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner
New Orleans antiquarian, decorator, and all-around bon vivant, Patrick Dunne has to look no further than his shop, Lucullus, for interesting floral containers, including this 19th-century pitcher that holds French tulips. Photo by Stephen Young

Parrot tulips and fringed tulips dance among ranunculus, Japanese sweet peas, California lilacs, honeysuckle vine, and Pieris japonica in a pink flower arrangement by floral designer Kate Holt. “Layers, lines, shapes—all of it to me is like a soft, sculptural, breathing puzzle,” she says. Photo by Elizabeth Messina

favorite tulip arrangements
For one of her house guests, Carolyne Roehm presented a spread of fruit and shortbread cookies next to an arrangement of red and yellow 'Flair' tulips. Explore the gardens at Weatherstone, Roehm's Connecticut home in A Garden Home with Carolyne Roehm.

 

orange tulips in pink lusterware by Butter Wakefield. Photographed by Clive Nichols
Celebrated garden designer Butter Wakefield opts for nontraditional Christmas colors when decorating her West London home for the season. Here, she filled a pink lusterware vessel with orange tulips from the flower market. Photo by Clive Nichols

Rustic clay pots filled with tulips, lavender, roses, hellebores, and bay leaves are at home on a wooden “trattoria” table. Photo by Sheila Goode. Floral design by Nouveau Flowers

monogrammed linens
In New Orleans, hostess Jane Scott Hodges sets the stage for an afternoon with friends at her home in the Garden District. Each place setting includes flowers in sun-drenched hues. This plate gets a glass of simple, showy tulips. Don't miss Hodges' table linen tips. Photo by Kerry McCaffety
Interior designer Alex Papachristidis snapped this vase of red tulips to share on his Instagram profile, @alexsviewpoint. "Tulips from Zezé—a sign that spring is coming," he wrote.
favorite tulip arrangements
For a wedding where he used only yellow flowers, Steve Bales suspended tulips above a 16-foot-long dining table covered in a mirror, which reflected the blooms hanging overhead.

Tips for Growing Tulips

When to plant: Plant tulips when temperatures average 60 degrees or lower. (This could be September in the North and December in the South.)

To pre-chill or not to pre-chill: Check with your local cooperative extension service to see if you need to pre-chill your bulbs prior to planting. If you pre-chill bulbs in the refrigerator, keep them away from vegetables, which release a gas that can keep bulbs from flowering.

pH: Bulbs like soil with a pH of 6 to 6.5. Have a soil test performed prior to planting in case you need to add lime or aluminum sulfate.

Sun and drainage: Be sure to plant in a sunny area with well-drained soil. Tulip bulbs rot in standing water.

Plant large bulbs a little deeper than recommended to ensure strong stalks.

a bed of tulips with red petals edged in yellow
iMoStudio/Shutterstock

For plant markers, try this tip from Wendy Walker, Horticulture Chairman of Garden Club of Virginia: “Several years ago, I started buying the sorry-looking, on-sale pansies at the end of the fall season and using them as markers for bulb plantings,” Wendy says. “Not only do these living placeholders help me avoid slicing through bulbs when I start transplanting seedlings, but they get full and glorious in the spring, creating an ideal carpet for bulbs.” For more gardening tips from Wendy, see “Southern Favorites in Springtime Gardens.”

Fertilize in fall and early spring with a bulb fertilizer to ensure stronger bulbs and a slightly longer bloom time.

Water your bulbs after planting. You should not have to water them again unless you live in a naturally dry area.

Tips for Harvesting & Arranging Tulips

Harvest the flowers to bring in your home just before the bud fully blooms.

For cool storage: Carefully dig up the bulbs with the flowers still attached, says flower farmer Natasha McCrary of 1818 Farms in Mooresville, Alabama. “With the bulbs attached, I then tuck the tulips into crates to be stored dry in our cooler. Dry means they are not placed in water. Because the tulip is still connected to its food source, they can be stored for up to one month in the cooler.” She also wraps a bungee cord around the stems in the crate to keep them upright in the cooler. “This encourages tulips to straighten and extend their stem length,” she says.

tulip flowers harvested with bulbs attached, and stored in crates
Tulip flowers harvested with the bulbs attached. Bungee cords around the tulip-filled crate keep stems upright and straight in the cooler. Photo courtesy of 1818 Farms, @1818farms

Put cut stems in water immediately. If you are purchasing tulips from a store, wrap the cut stems in wet paper towels to keep them from drying before you get them home.

Cut each tulip stem at an angle with a sharp knife or floral snips. This will make the tulips last longer and make them easier to insert into the arrangement.

Remove unwanted leaves by gently pulling them back and peeling them away from the stem.

cutting tulips
Remove unwanted tulip leaves by gently pulling them back and peeling them away from the stem.

In case you have a droopy tulip, you can wire it around the stem from top to bottom to hold it upright. (Of course, for a naturalistic or artful look, downward curving stems may be just what you are after.)

To keep tulip petals from opening up any further, take a straight pin and prick each tulip through the stem just beneath its bloom.

For more open tulips: “An insider trick I picked up is to manually open up tulips,” says New York event designer Mimi Brown. “Gently flip back the outer petals; this can be just a smidge, or it can be pulled way back. (If a petal splits, don’t worry.) Doing this can dramatically change the look of the flower.”

Mimi Brown gently opens a tulip manually
Mimi Brown gently reflexes the petals of a tulip. Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner
Purple flower arrangement
Fully open tulips make a statement. Arrangement and photo by Lauryl Lane

Experiment with letting tulips open fully for a dramatic look. California-based floral designer Lauryl Lane says, “I love letting them pop like that. Of course they don’t last very long after they’ve fully opened, but if you time it just right, they are stunning in event arrangements.”

Finally, you’re not imagining it! Your cut tulip stems will continue to grow in the vase.

Our Favorite Tulip Quote

“I love tulips better than any other spring flower; they are the embodiment of alert cheerfulness and tidy grace, and next to a hyacinth look like a wholesome, freshly tubbed young girl beside a stout lady whose every movement weighs down the air with patchouli. Their faint, delicate scent is refinement itself; and is there anything in the world more charming than the sprightly way they hold up their little faces to the sun. I have heard them called bold and flaunting, but to me they seem modest grace itself, only always on the alert to enjoy life as much as they can and not be afraid of looking the sun or anything else above them in the face.” ― Elizabeth von Arnim from Elizabeth and Her German Garden (1898)

By the editors of Flower magazine