While considered a perennial, most tulip bulbs that have been planted in US gardens are only vital for one year. Native to Eastern Turkey and the high foothills of the Himalayas, tulips generally only perennialize in climates that mimic the hot dry summers and cold winters of their native lands. For this reason, most tulip growers find they have to replant yearly. Because tulips require a period of cold winter weather to bloom, they must be planted before the first frost of the winter.
Tulips come in early, late, and mid-season blooming varieties. For the best spring display, intersperse varieties of all three. Start your tulip bulbs when the fall ground is still moist. If you live in an area with mild winters, put the bulbs in the paper bags in the refrigerator for six to eight weeks before planting. Keep the bags of bulbs away from fruits as fruits give off cases that will destroy the flower within the bulb.
In USDA zone 4 and 5 you can plant tulips in September or early October. In zones 6 and 7, plant in October or early November. In zones 8 and 9, plant in November or early December, and in zone 10 plant in late December or early January. You'll know it's time to plant when soil temperatures six inches below the surface are 60 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
Choose tulip bulbs that are firm and not mushy. Avoid bulbs that have cuts, bruises, mold, or other blemishes and defects. The best bulbs are ordered from Holland via catalog or online, as The Netherlands regulate their tulip growers and monitor them closely.