Outdoor

How to grow tulips and bring their “effortlessly chic” style indoors

A stunning bloom that gives heart and soul to the home and garden.
Photographer: Simon Whitbread | Styling: Nonci Nyoni

When masses of tulips burst into life in springtime, it’s easy to understand how – with their elegant form, vivid colour and graceful movement – this flower has captured the imagination for centuries. “Once spring comes, they always bring smiles, oohs and aahs,” says third-generation flower farmer, Paul Tesselaar of Tesselaar Tulip Festival

“They are one of the most exuberant flowers out there and will steal the show wherever they are grown. They come in an almost endless selection of shapes and colours to delight and add spectacle,” he says. If you too have fallen under the spell of this flower, which has inspired countless paintings, films and books, then planting your own tulip bulbs, either in the garden bed or pots, is a must.

But first, rethink everything you’ve heard about growing tulips. “Tulips may have a reputation for being ‘Prima Donnas’ but in most cases this is undeserved,” says Paul. “All you need to do is plant them into well drained soil in a sunny spot, water and enjoy the show.”

Here, Paul shares his expert tips for planting tulips, caring for them during winter and even how to make ‘bulb lasagne’ to enjoy an extended display of flowers in spring. Plus, we speak to Home Beautiful stylist Nonci Nyoni who shares her tips for turning your tulips into a stunning flower arrangement to enjoy indoors.

White tulips planted en masse. (Credit: Getty)

With sunny spring days on the horizon, the annual Tesselaar Tulip Festival will also shine again from 16 September to 15 October 2023. Immerse yourself in a breathtaking display of over a million tulip flowers at the festival, which will take place in Silvan, VIC. For more information, visit the Tesselaar Tulip Festival website.

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2023

Best growing conditions for tulips

Tulips grow best in a sunny location in free-draining soil. “Tulips originate in the mountains of Turkey and Central Asia, where they live in poor soils and harsh conditions,” says Paul. “In Australia, they grow best in the cool to Mediterranean climates with cold winters and dry summers.” 

When do tulips flower in Australia?

Tulips flower in spring, says Paul, adding, “There are early, mid and late-flowering varieties of tulips. They an flower earlier in warmer climates and a little later in the cooler zones.”

When is the best time to harvest tulip flowers?

To ensure you have the longest vase life for tulips, Paul recommends picking the flowers early in the morning, “when the moisture content is high and the buds are still closed and blushing green.” 

Cut flower stems at a 45 degree angle (so they have a larger surface area to hydrate from). 

“Tulips are one of the only flowers that keep growing after they are picked,” says Paul, which means tulips can sometimes ‘flop over’ when placed in a vase. 

Light living room with blue and white sofa and sisal rug
(Credit: Photography: Lisa Cohen / Styling: Amy Spargo)

How to make tulips stand straight

While we love the look of a vase of droopy tulips, if you prefer them to stand straight, Paul reccomends “Wrapping them in newspaper and popping them in a dark, cool room overnight. Or you can prick the stem just below the bud and they will soon stand to attention.”

Tulips’ beguiling beauty caused a socio-economic phenomenon known as ‘Tulipmania’ in the 1600s that had flower growers scrambling desperately to get their hands on rare bulbs that would unfurl into multicoloured flowers.

Tulipmania

How to care for tulip bulbs in summer

“Ensure bulbs are shaded through the hot summer months,” says Paul. To do this, “combine your planting with perennials (these usually grow up and flower from summer to autumn, so you can make the most of your garden display) or add some mulch.” 

Do tulip bulbs multiply?

It is possible for tulip bulbs to multiply in the garden, but to achieve this, you may need to cut back the flowers early on to ensure the plant’s energy is focused on bulb growth, rather than seed production. “If tulip bulbs are well nourished they will produce offsets or baby bulbs that can reach flowering size in a year or two,” says Paul.

Pink and white Rembrandt tulip.
Pink and white tulip Rembrandt with terry petals. (Credit: Getty)

How to grow tulips in pots

Tulips are a wonderful flower to grow in pots, and can even be layered with other bulbs and perennials to create an extended flowering display. To grow tulips in a pot, start with a tall pot (“Blooms can grow up to 30-70cm tall and can look out of proportion in a squat pot,” says Paul). As for pot diameter, look for a pot that is 14cm in diameter if you plan to plant 3 bulbs, and a pot that is 25cm if you plan to plant 9 bulbs.

Any good quality potting mix is sufficient for growing tulips and it’s a good idea to add liquid fertiliser once the tulips have emerged and are actively growing.

“Tulips look best en masse,” says Paul. “When planting, keep this in mind, and plant them quite densely rather than one or two here or there. By using a triangular planting formation you can create a nice full display.”

How many tulip bulbs should I grow?

Layering tulip bulbs

With annuals

“We always recommend planting winter flowering annuals on top, such as pansies, violas or Primulas,” says Paul. “This has two main benefits: the first being you’ll have a bigger, longer lasting display of blooms (the tulips will push right past and won’t be affected by all the other plants) and the second is you remember to water over winter.” 

With other bulbs

“You can also layer your bulbs like a lasagne!” says Paul. “Spring star flowers, miniature daffodils or grape hyacinths will flower from winter onward to extend  the show, soften the edges of t he container and add to the colour.”

How to arrange tulips like a professional stylist

Home Beautiful stylist Nonci Nyoni often reaches for bunches of tulips when preparing homes for photo shoots. “I love them particularly for their bright bursts of colour and the freshness they add to a room, without being too … showy! I think they are simple, elegant and they make a space look effortlessly chic.” 

Navy blue kitchen island with red tulips
(Credit: Photo: Simon Whitbread / Styling: Nonci Nyoni)

Tulips come in an endless array of colours, but Nonci has a soft spot for the soft peach blooms. “The beauty is in both the shape and simplicity of the flower and the subtlety of the colour,” she says. 

Best vase for arranging tulips

Nonci says it’s hard to make tulips look bad, and that any type of vase will work. But, if you’re picking at straws, the best vase for arranging tulips is one with a wide opening. “The wider the top of the vase, the more you can let the tulip achieve the perfect ‘droop’ when they’ve drunk a lot of water,” she says.

coastal-hamptons-family-living-room-tulips
(Credit: Photography: Simon Whitbread / Styling: Heliconia)

So there you have it: everything you need to know to grow your own gorgeous tulips, how to harvest them at just the right time and how to arrange them in a vase like a professional stylist. “What’s not to love? They are so simple to grow and give so much to the heart and soul,” says Paul.

Related stories