Planting Instructions:
What, When, Where, and How

IMPORTANT: If you live in a warm region (Zone 8-11) Read these Instructions

Welcome to the Journey North Tulip Project
These instructions must be followed carefully so that all Journey North gardens are planted in the same way. Remember, when your tulips bloom you will proclaim the arrival of spring in your community. Therefore, your garden must be planted in a place that best represents the general climate of your region.
Plant New Bulbs Each Year
New bulbs must be planted each year for the Journey North study. This is because many variables affect tulip growth in the bulb's second year. If people were to reuse bulbs, these variables could not be controlled so the experiment would not be reliable. Therefore, you must plant at least a dozen new bulbs each fall for your "official" Journey North garden.
Plant Red Emperor Tulip Bulbs
All Journey North gardens must be planted with the same variety of tulips, the Red Emperor variety. Red Emperor tulips are an "early" blooming variety. They were selected because they are easy to find in most areas and are easy to grow. Since Journey North classrooms will announce the first tulips to bloom in the spring, an "early" blooming variety was needed. (Ordering Information for Red Emperor Bulbs)
When to Plant Your Tulips
Planting must take place before deep frost hardens the ground. As a rule of thumb, tulips should be planted when the soil 6 inches down is 60 degrees F or lower. This is usually during September and October in the North, and October and November in the South. (See map.) Gardens planted in warm climates should all be planted the first week in January.
Suggested Planting Dates
Zones 2 and 3
(Canada and far north): Plant in September
Zones 4 and 5: Plant in October
Zones 6 and 7: Plant in November
Zone 8, 9 and 10: Plant in early January after "pre-chilling" bulbs
Where To Plant Your Garden
Use this checklist and rubric: Deciding Where to Plant the Garden
  • Exposure: For consistency, Journey North tulip gardens must NOT be planted near the foundation of a building, in heavy shade, or on steeply sloped ground. This is because areas near buildings or on south-facing slopes warm up more quickly than do the surrounding areas. This would cause your bulbs to bloom earlier than they should in your region. Similarly, north-facing or heavily shaded areas would cause a delay in booming. Tulip bulbs can be planted in full sun or partial shade, but should not be planted in heavily-shaded areas.
  • Drainage: Bulbs need good drainage because they will rot if they sit in moisture. As a rule of thumb, avoid planting bulbs where water stands after a rain. A good loam soil is best. If the soil is heavy clay, add organic matter such as compost or peat moss to loosen it.
How to Plant Your Bulbs
For simplicity, tulip bulbs can be planted in a bed rather than individually. The entire bed should be planted at the proper depth, as specified below. It is a good idea to fertilize bulbs by adding bone meal and mixing it well with the soil. If you choose to plant bulbs individually, use a garden trowel or bulb-plating tool to make holes.
  • Depth & Spacing: Bulbs in all Journey North gardens should buried so that the base of each bulb is exactly 7 inches underground. (Blooming time can vary by a week or two if bulbs are not planted at the same depth.) Bulbs should be spaced 4 inches apart.
  • Placement of Bulb: Set bulbs firmly in place with the POINTED END UP. The hole should be flat on the bottom so that the FLAT BASE of the bulb is in contact with the ground. Cover with soil and water thoroughly. If dry weather persists after planting, water thoroughly and deeply before winter. However, do not keep the soil soggy or the bulbs could rot.
  • Mulch: After the ground freezes, apply about a six inch mulch of clean straw or leaves. Do not cover the bulbs before the ground freezes. The wet mulch could cause the bulbs to rot, and the mulch could also delay the freezing of the ground
Predator Control:
Squirrels are the most common tulip bulb predators in urban and suburban areas. They are attracted to the smell of fresh bulbs and are most likely to destroy gardens within the first weeks after planting. For inexpensive and effective protection, cover your newly planted bulbs immediately with chicken wire. (Remove it before bulbs emerge too far in the spring.)
May We Use This Year's Bulbs Again Next Year?
Unfortunately, no!
As mentioned above,
new bulbs must be planted each year for the Journey North study. This is because too many variables affect tulip growth in the second year for the experiment to be fair.
However, you can save your older bulbs for experimental purposes! Students can compare the growth of the experimental bulbs from year to year and vary such things as the amount of sun, heat, water, and fertilizer received, the effect of cutting the leaves, etc. Next fall, purchase at least a dozen or more new bulbs for your "Official" Journey North garden. Then dig up this year's bulbs prior to planting your new bulbs. Have students weigh & inspect them before replanting. Remember, however, for the Journey North experiment you may only report on the growth and blooming of the new, "Official" bulbs.