When to plant tulip bulbs to avoid the dreaded 'tulip fire', according to experts

Timing is everything, especially if you want to avoid tulip fire

Tulips in vases
(Image credit: Future PLC / Sophie Gale)

Planted at the perfect time, tulip bulbs will guarantee you a garden full of blooms next spring. But the wrong move could spell disaster for your bulbs.

After all, knowing when to plant your bulbs for spring is key, and that’s no different when it comes to tulips. These colourful flowers can instantly brighten up any garden and bring your own unique garden idea to life, but their planting requirements are very specific. 

Planted incorrectly, they could be at risk of the deadly ‘tulip fire’ disease. And that’s exactly why we asked our experts to share their tips and tricks on when to plant tulip bulbs and how to ensure gorgeous, healthy blooms next year. Hint: your time's almost up! 

Tulips in vases

(Image credit: Future PLC / Nicola Stocken)

When to plant tulip bulbs 

Autumn, between September and late November, is the best time to plant tulip bulbs,’ says gardening expert Harry Bodell at PriceYourJob.co.uk. In fact, the worst thing that you could do for your spring garden is to plant your bulbs while the weather is still warm and dry.

Tulip bulbs love the period between summer and winter, where the ground is cooler but not completely frozen, as this allows them to establish their root systems before the frost forms. 

Steve Chilton, garden expert at LeisureBench, explains, ‘You should always plant your tulip bulbs at least 6-8 weeks before the first hard frost is expected. This is so that the bulbs have enough time to develop strong roots before the ground freezes, which is vital if you want a good bloom in spring.’

But this colder temperature doesn’t just help tulip bulbs to establish themselves. It also helps them fight off the deadly “tulip fire” disease, which can result in soggy, withered leaves that are covered in brown spots. 

Kayleigh Dray, Ideal Home's Acting Content Editor and resident garden expert, adds, 'Whether you're using them in bulb lasagnes, pots, or garden borders, now is finally the time to start planting your tulip bulbs!'

'Waiting until November means that you avoid late autumn rainfall (hopefully, anyway - I don't think my garden can take another deluge!), which means that, in turn, your tulip bulbs are less at risk of picking up tulip fire or any other nasty fungal diseases.'

'Just be sure to make your move before the ground freezes over, that they have adequate drainage (tulips hate getting their feet wet), and that they're in a spot that'll be quite sunny come the spring.'

Tulips in vases

(Image credit: Future PLC / Polly Eltes)

Where to plant tulip bulbs

When you’ve added planting tulip bulbs to your list of garden jobs to do in November, you also need to know where to plant tulips. And while tulips are fairly hardy plants that can still thrive in a shaded area, they do prefer full sun. 

Because of this, tulips will grow best in a south-facing garden - but they could also work wonders in a pot if you make sure to move it around the garden and follow the sun. Just make sure you know how to plant tulips in a pot to ensure they thrive.

‘Make sure to choose a space that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, no matter how strong it is,’ says Steve. ‘You should also choose a well-draining location with fertile soil and plant the tulip bulbs at a depth that's around about 2-3 times the height of the bulb itself.’

Tulips in vases

(Image credit: Future PLC / Claire Lloyd Davies)

How to prevent tulip fire

The thought of a fungal disease affecting your beautiful tulip flowers may scare you, but you’ll be happy to know that it can be prevented. 

Tulip fire is affected by the fungus Botrytis tulipae, and can result in distorted leaves that look as though they’ve been scorched by fire - and nothing like the tulips we all know and love. 

However, planting your bulbs later in the year is a surefire way (no pun intended) to keep this tulip fire at bay. This disease spreads during the warmer months, which is why some experts suggest waiting until November to plant your tulip bulbs. Of course, nothing is 100% effective in keeping this disease away.

The one saving grace is that tulip fire only affects tulips, so you don’t need to worry about the rest of your plants if you discover that your tulips have been affected. 


What is the best month to plant tulip bulbs?

It’s best to plant tulip bulbs between September and November, but the exact month depends on the weather. Ideally, you want to plant your tulip bulbs around 6-8 weeks before the first hard frost of the year. 

Of course, if we have a warmer autumn, it’s best to wait until November to plant your tulip bulbs. But if we have a colder autumn, you should get them in the ground sooner rather than later.

Just keep an eye on the weather forecast and plant your tulip bulbs accordingly. 

Can you leave tulip bulbs in the ground all year UK?

Yes, you can leave tulip bulbs in the ground all year - but only if they are already established. As long as they have already flowered and have established roots, there should be no need to pull them up. 

All you need to do is leave them in the ground over the winter months, and they should come back blooming next year. 

It’s only if you’re planting bulbs for the first time that you need to plant them at a specific time of the year. And if you’re doing that, try to plant them between September and November. 

Now you can look forward to a spring garden bursting with colour.

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.