Will Small Tulip Bulbs Still Grow?

When choosing the tulip flower bulbs to plant, you need to consider the size. Parent tulips produce a clump of bulbs, sometimes made up of at least five tulip bulbs, some small, others large, and medium-sized. Larger bulbs always have better bloom quality, but the ideal tulip bulb size is 12cm (4.7 inches) around the broadest part of the tulip. 

Small tulip bulbs still grow, but some only get foliage with no blooms since small bulbs have less than a 5% chance of blooming. However, small tulips can also produce large bulbs even when they don’t bloom. Some tulip varieties have small tulip bulbs, and they grow small blooms.

While large bulbs are preferred because they are more likely to bloom, you shouldn’t throw away small bulbs. Instead, plant the bulbs to get larger bulbs for the next growing season. In this article, I’ll discuss more on tulip bulbs, why you need to sort them, and the benefits of small bulbs. 

How To Make Small Tulip Bulbs Bigger

Small tulip bulbs can grow bigger though they may not produce the best tulip plants, especially since they don’t bloom. However, with small bulbs, you have the opportunity to grow them and get larger bulbs which will produce large blooms and healthier foliage. 

This is how to make small tulip bulbs bigger:

  1. Place the bulbs 6-8 inches (15.24-20.32 cm) into the soil.
  2. Add mulch. You need to ensure the mulch is within the recommended depth. Otherwise, you risk planting the bulbs too deep. Bulbs planted too deep hardly ever flower, and if they do, they flower too late. Small bulbs may not flower, but it is best to plant them within the recommended depth. 
  3. Maintain routine tulip care. Water regularly, unless you have rains weekly. 
  4. Apply compost regularly to boost soil fertility.
  5. When the leaves emerge, apply tulip bulb food or bone meal
  6. When the foliage turns yellow and starts dying, prune them off. This allows the plant to focus its energy on bulb enlargement.  

This Wokape Bulb Planting Garden Tool Set (available on Amazon.com) includes a bulb planter, gloves, and depth markers. The bulb planter is sturdy, rust-resistant, and durable while the depth marker ensures you plant the bulbs at the right depth. Tulip bulbs need to be planted 6-8 inches (15.24-20.32 cm) deep and may not bloom if planted any deeper. You can use this kit to plant all types of bulbs, including tulips and daffodils. 

How Big Do Tulip Bulbs Grow?

If you opt to plant small tulip bulbs, you need to know what to expect. The smaller the bulbs, the longer it will take for you to get large bulbs. Additionally, you will need to store bulbs every year as you wait for the bulbs to get to the desired size. 

Tulip bulbs grow to an average size of 12 cm (4.7 inches) in circumference. This is the top size, but some tulips are much bigger. When they get to the top size, tulip bulbs start multiplying and split into smaller bulbs. These bulbs will not flower, but if they do, they’ll produce smaller blooms. 

Small tulip bulbs can take up to two years to get to the desired size. However, you need to ensure the bulbs are stored correctly and that the tulips are grown in the right conditions. The bulbs follow the same cycle until they get to the top size, split, and the process starts again. 

What You Should Do With Tiny Tulip Bulbs

After your tulips wither and die back, it is time to check the bulbs. Dig the tulips out, clean the soil, and then leave the tulip bulbs out to dry. While you’ll get some large bulbs, you’ll discover that most bulbs are likely to be small. 

An easy way to determine whether the bulbs are large or small is to link the tips of your index finger and thumb. Place tulip bulbs in the space between the fingers. If the bulb passes through, the bulb is small. However, if it fails to pass through, the bulb is the ideal size. 

Alternatively, you can measure the largest part of the tulip bulb. If it is 12cm (4.72 in) or more, it is a large bulb. Anything smaller is medium-sized or small. 

Below is a step by step procedure of how to sort your tulip bulbs:

  1. Separate the tulip bulbs according to size.
  2. Check the bulbs for signs of damage. Tulips are vulnerable to pests and diseases, which affect bulbs. Some of the signs you need to look out for are discoloration, spots, and deformations.
  3. Discard damaged bulbs.
  4. Store the bulbs according to sizes in nets or paper bags. 
  5. Label them and then store them in a cool dark place, ready for planting in the fall. 

This video illustrates how you can easily tell if a tulip bulb is big or small without measuring it.

Do Small Tulip Bulbs Expand?

The decision to plant small tulip bulbs is a little complex. Yes, they grow, but they will not produce flowers for at least two years. If you aim to have tulip blooms every year, you need to get large, good-quality bulbs. However, if you are patient, the small bulblets will eventually lead to large bulbs.

Small tulip bulbs don’t expand, but they multiply every year and form clumps that grow bigger. Unfortunately, the naturalization process is a long one. The conditions have to be ideal for the tulips to grow. Soon, large tulip bulbs will emerge, and they’ll have enough energy to produce flowers. 

If you want to have tulip flowers every year, you need to plant large bulbs. The larger the bulb, the better. However, small tulips will eventually form clumps of large bulblets that produce large flowers. 

This video shows how to dig up tulip bulbs, clean them and store them for the next planting season.

Why Large Tulip Bulbs Are Better Than Small Ones

Small tulip bulbs may not be advantageous at the moment. However, they will be worth the wait when they eventually give you large bulbs. Still, if you have the option of planting either large tulip bulbs or small ones, there are several reasons why you should go for bigger bulbs.

  • Large bulbs produce larger flowers.
  • The flower stems are sturdier than those of smaller bulbs.
  • You will have more tulip flowers. 
  • Tulips grown from large bulbs are robust and more vigorous.
  • Multiple stems will sprout from a large bulb, while a small bulb will only have one stem. 

If you plan to have a colorful garden every summer, you need to be more careful when choosing bulbs to plant. Large bulbs have a better chance of survival. 

The Minimum Size of Small Tulip Bulb

Small bulblets are often considered rejects by many tulip growers. However, they are not entirely useless. You can still plant these bulbs, and they will produce large bulbs over time. Nonetheless, some small bulbs are more suitable than others. 

Bulbs that are 12cm (4.7 inches) and more are considered large. They are the best size to plant if you want greater success with tulips. The flowers will be large, and the growth rate will be higher with large bulbs than with small ones. 

Bulbs that are 10cm (3.93 inches) around the largest part of the bulb are considered medium-sized. Any bulbs with measurements lower than this are small. It may take longer for the bulbs to grow big enough to produce flowers. 

While they will produce foliage, they will be weak because the bulbs don’t have the energy to sustain the plant. The bulbs are also unable to support flower production. 

What To Look For When Buying Tulip Bulbs

If you are buying tulip bulbs for the first time, you need to ensure you get good-quality bulbs. This is the only way to have vibrant tulips with a high probability of flowering. Good bulbs will give way to healthy, strong tulips that will likely come back the following year. 

Here is what to look for when buying tulip bulbs:

  • Follow the minimum bulb size guidelines. The ideal size for tulip bulbs is 12 cm (4.7 in). Bulbs that are 10 cm (3.93 in) can still work because this is the minimum bulb size considered ideal for growing tulips. Anything smaller will take years to bloom. 
  • The bulb should be firm. If the bulbs are soft or mushy, they were improperly stored and will rot if you plant them. Again, if the bulb crackles when you press it, it is probably too old and may not give you the results you seek. 
  • Check for signs of disease, specifically fungal bulb rot. Some of the signs include patches, spots, and discoloration. Some growers sell diseased bulbs at a low price, so you need to be wary of this. A sick tulip bulb will not produce healthy tulips. 


Many growers dispose of small tulip bulbs at a low price. This might work for you or against you, depending on the quality of the bulbs and your patience. You may not get blooms in the first year or two, but you will eventually get top-size bulbs. However, you should check the bulb sizes because they will take too long to grow if they are too small.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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