How to plant tulips in pots, for anyone who has bulb overwhelm

It's finally time to plant your tulips... so, how do you go about doing so?

White tulips and hyacinths growing in a pot
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you know how to plant tulips in pots? From the depth you should be planting your bulbs, to the type of compost you should be using, there's a lot more to planting tulip bulbs in containers than meets the eye.

Don't worry, though, because we're here to help make this garden idea (or dream, if you prefer) a reality. We've consulted the experts, and pooled together all of our extensive gardening knowledge, to bring you the ultimate how-to guide.

With that in mind, then, let's dive on into the wonderful world of tulips.

How to plant tulips in pots

Once you've sussed out when to plant tulip bulbs, it's important to master how to do it, too. Because, unfortunately, it's not a case of bish-bash-boshing those bulbs into pots and leaving them to it.

That being said, though, it's one of the easier garden trends to master – do it once, and you'll basically have it in your muscle memory going forward.

A selection of tulip bulbs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

'Tulips are very easy bulbs to grow,' promises Morris Hankinson, director of Hopes Grove Nurseries.

Morris Hankinson of Hopes Grove Nurseries
Morris Hankinson

Morris Hankinson is the founder and managing director of Hopes Grove Nurseries Ltd, the UK’s only specialist grower-retailer of hedging plants, which he established after graduating with a Commercial Horticulture Degree from Writtle College, Essex in 1992.

With those reassuring words ringing in our ears, then, let's get started.

What you will need:

As ever, it's best to get everything you need to plant tulips ready before you get started. There's nothing worse, after all, than having to pause halfway through a task  to go and get a few missing bits and bobs.

Step-by-step guide:

Now that you've gathered all your tools and equipment, it's time to learn how to plant tulip bulbs in pots.

Ready, steady... plant.

1. Choose a generous pot or container

Bigger really is better when it comes to planting tulips in pots!

'Tulips can be quite prolific in the growth that they make so always go larger than smaller,' says Morris. 'As a guide, a 30cm diameter pot will take around 10 bulbs.'

Christopher O'Donoghue, one of the co-directors of Gardens Revived, agrees, adding: 'Use a pot with good drainage to prevent waterlogged soil, and remember that a larger pot will allow for a more attractive display.'

Christopher O'Donoghue, one of the directors of Gardens Revived
Christopher O'Donoghue

A gardener with over a decade of experience under his belt, Christopher set up Gardens Revived with his brother, Andrew, in 2018  to create a thriving family business. Together, they have worked on residential gardens, listed buildings and gardens, flower shows and large estates with some exceeding 70 acres – many with historical significance.

To help keep your tulip bulbs from getting soggy, both experts advise adding some crocks (pieces of broken tile or clay pot) to the bottom of your pot.

This, they say, should help drain away water from heavy winter rains.

2. Pay attention to depth

It's all about depth when it comes to successfully planting tulip bulbs, whether you're popping them in a pot or directly into soil.

'They should be planted around 20cm deep, so fill the base of your container to within 20cm of the top using a good quality multipurpose compost, says Morris. 

A find display of tulips in a pot

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Christopher adds that you should 'plant the bulbs with the pointed end up' or sideways, if you aren't sure which way is up. 'They should right themselves in the soil as they grow,' he says.

Make sure you leave about 5cm between your bulbs, to give them space. And 'push them in gently, so they don’t move,' adds Morris.

Of course, you can mix-and-match your tulip bulbs with other flowers to create a bulb lasagne if you like: just be sure to layer them properly and avoid overcrowding.

3. Give them a moment to settle

Once you've finished planting your tulip bulbs, Morris says you should fill the rest of the pot with compost and firm it gently.

'Thoroughly water the bulbs to settle the soil and remove any air pockets,' advises Christopher. 'And be sure to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.'

Then, place the pots in a location that receives full sun to partial shade (somewhere they will receive at least 6 hours of sunlight per day).

4. And... wait

A beautiful garden filled with potted tulips

(Image credit: Getty Images)

All you have to do now is wait until spring for your tulip bulbs to bloom. Although, if temperatures drop dramatically over winter, you might fancy popping your pots in a greenhouse with a little fleece around them to keep them warm.


What is the best month to plant tulip bulbs?

The best time for planting tulip bulbs is from mid-October until the end of November. So you'd best get a wriggle on if you fancy a springtime display of your own next year!

Do you water bulbs after planting in pots?

Morris says you should 'water the pot if the compost is dry and look forward to a beautiful display of flowers next spring', although Christopher adds that you'll want to keep the soil moist (not wet) over winter.

Can I leave tulip bulbs in pots for next year?

If you want to get another round from your tulips, you'll want to remove them from their pots and transplant them into the soil after flowering. 'You can fertilise with a balanced, slow-release fertiliser to support the bulbs for the next year's growth,' says Christopher.

Remember: tulip bulbs tend to perform poorly if you keep them in pots for two years on the trot, so it's best to start fresh if you want pots filled with blooms again.

Do tulips grow well in pots?

'Tulips planted in pots often require more attention to moisture and cold protection compared to those planted in the ground,' says Christopher. 

'They may also need to be replaced or replanted every few years, as they tend to become less vigorous in containers. But, with proper care, your potted tulips can provide a stunning display of spring colour!'

As we said, it's pretty simple to grow tulip bulbs in pots once you know how. So, get planting! It'll cost some energy, sure, but it gives us so much to look forward to when the winter thaws out next spring...

Kayleigh Dray
Acting Content Editor

Kayleigh Dray became Ideal Home’s Acting Content Editor in the spring of 2023, and is very excited to get to work. She joins the team after a decade-long career working as a journalist and editor across a number of leading lifestyle brands, both in-house and as a freelancer.