How to Plant Your Tulip Test Garden
 Quick Guide|Detailed Guide 

What to Plant
All Journey North Test Gardens are planted with RED EMPEROR tulips. The garden must be planted with new bulbs each year. Red Emperor tulips are an early-blooming variety that can be purchased in your local garden center or through an online source.
Red Emperor Tulips

When to Plant
Plant before deep frost hardens the ground. As a rule of thumb, tulips should be planted when the soil 7 inches down is 60° F or lower.

When you plant will depend on where you live. Use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine a good planting date.

  • Zones 2 and 3: Plant in September
  • Zones 4 and 5: Plant in October
  • Zones 6 and 7: Plant in November
  • Zones 8-11: Plant 1st week of January after pre-chilling bulbs. See instructions.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
Zone Map
(click for key)

Where and How to Plant
Because this is an experiment, all gardens must be planted in the same way:

  • Depth and Spacing
    Bury bulbs 7" deep, at least 4" apart, with pointed side up.
  • Exposure
    Plant in an open area to avoid microclimate affects (avoid courtyards, foundations and pavement).

Sites must be selected according to protocol. See criteria in Garden Site Selection Checklist.

garden planting checklist
Garden Site Checklist

Report from your Garden
Report to Journey North:

  1. Date your garden is PLANTED
  2. Date your first tulip EMERGES
  3. Date your first tulip BLOOMS

Also, report and share other interesting observations from your garden.


Gardening Tips
Plant your tulip bulbs in a common garden bed, or dig individual holes. A garden trowel or a bulb-planting tool is useful for planting bulbs individually.

  • Watering
    Moisture is necessary for root development before winter. If dry weather persists, water thoroughly.

  • Fertilizing
    All bulbs benefit from mixing bone meal with the soil in the planting hole.

  • Predators
    Protect the bulbs from squirrels by securing chicken wire over newly planted gardens. Bent wire hangers will hold the wire at the edges. Deer - and moose - will eat your tulips when they emerge. Protect the growing plants with more chicken wire.

  • Mulch
    You may mulch the garden after the ground freezes. Remove in the spring as bulbs emerge.
planting depth
spacing the bulbs
Some schoolyards do not have a site that fits the planting protocol. If you plant in a courtyard, near a foundation, etc. you must include this information about your site in your planting, emergence, and bloom reports.

Plant New Bulbs Every Year

Q. Do we need to plant a garden again this year? We planted Journey North bulbs last year and they're still in the ground.

A. Yes! 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 or more new bulbs each fall for your "official" Journey North garden.

However, you can still use last year's bulbs for experimental purposes! Students can dig them up, and weigh & inspect them before replanting. They can plant the old bulbs beside this year's new bulbs and compare how each grows. Or, they can vary such things as the amount of sun, heat, water, etc. the old bulbs receive.

Remember: Next spring, you may only report on the growth and blooming of the new, "official" bulbs as part of the Journey North experiment!

Q. What if it's too expensive to buy new bulbs every year?

A. Only buy a few new bulbs for your official report. A dozen is enough. You can re-use old bulbs so that each student has his or her own.

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