Now is the time to plant hyacinths and tulips so you can enjoy their flowers in your garden in springtime.

Tulip 'Angelique'. fragrant. Hyacinths

Tulip 'Angelique'. © Sakurai Midori and reused under

How to plant tulips

Tulips don’t start to grow roots until about now, and planting them in November helps to avoid the disease known as tulip fire. They will flower from early spring to early summer.

Choose somewhere in the garden with well-drained soil as tulips don’t like sogginess. Most also like full sun for most of the day.

In the garden, plant the bulbs (pointy end up) quite deeply below the soil surface. Sarah Raven suggests that planting tulip bulbs 20cm deep will encourage them to flower more reliably from year to year. Space them about 8cm between the bulbs. If your soil is heavy put a trowelful of grit into the bottom of the planting hole.

For displays in pots also plant deeply, in good potting compost in a large container with good drainage holes.

After planting, water well to settle the soil around the bulbs.

Choosing tulips

The main challenge, as I see it, is which tulips to plant. Like so many of the plants we’re fond of, they are more complicated than at first sight. Here are a few pointers to help.

Tulips are good in tubs and we’ve talked before about how you can layer them with other bulbs so flowering goes on and on.

For flamboyance, parrot and fringed tulips are the answer.

For window boxes and rockeries, choose shorter varieties. If you’d also like early flowering, go for ‘botanical’ or ‘specie’ tulips such as Kaufmanniana or Greigii.  These beautiful tulips come in variations of red and yellow, with leaves often beautifully striped or mottled with purple-brown.

Tulipa kaufmanniana 'Fashion'. Hyacinths

Tulipa kaufmanniana 'Fashion'. © cristina.sanvito and reused under

For lightness in the spring garden, choose ‘single’ tulips, either ‘early’ or ‘late’.

‘Single early tulips’ have short, strong stems so they are good for containers and garden borders in windy areas. The flowers are cup-shaped and come in a wide range of colours.

For tall stateliness, choose ‘single late’, once known as ‘cottage’, tulips which have large flowers on very strong stems which are good in the wind. There’s a great range of colour to choose from and they flower well into May.

Have a look here for some more tulip ideas from Gardeners’ World.


Hyacinths are well known as a indoor plant but they also look fantastic outdoors, especially in large drifts of one colour. Some gardeners build up their drifts, year by year, by planting out the forced bulbs they’ve had indoors, but you can also plant ordinary bulbs in autumn.

Blue hyacinths at Ventnor Botanic Garden. Choosing plants - naturalised hyacinths

"Hyacinths at Ventnor Botanic Garden" by Editor5807 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence

Hyacinths thrive in well-drained and sunny areas. Don’t despair if your soil is heavy or poor-draining. Here are two good tips:

  1. Plant at the base of a south-facing hedge or wall which will offer drainage and warmth.
  2. A trowel of grit in the hole will give the bulb good drainage.

Plant the bulbs 15cm/6in deep and they may grow to about 30cm/1ft tall.

Roll on spring!