Tuberose Planting Guide

Delight your nose. That’s the real reason to plant tuberose. Oh, yes, don’t get it wrong, tuberose are pretty. Lots of waxy white blooms progressively opening up a 30” stem; very nice. But the fragrance. Oh, my. Spicy, intense and exotic. And strongest in the evening. Not the sort of scent you’ll find in most backyards in Chicago, Philadelphia or Boston.

But you could.

This spring, plant tuberose . . . spice up your fall.

Planting Information

Choosing a Site

Choose a site with good strong sunlight. Tuberoses originate in warm, sunny regions and like heat and humidity. Especially in areas with cooler summers, a full sun site is needed to develop strong plants and well-budded flower stalks. Sites with hot afternoon sun are ideal.

Soil Prep

If you are planting in the ground, look for a site that drains well. Tuberose bulbs may rot in soggy soil. These plants are fairly heavy feeders and grow best in nutrient rich soil. If your soil is average or lean, dig in some compost or aged (not fresh!) manure to enrich the soil. For container planting, start with a balanced commercial mix and add pelleted slow-release fertilizer, according to package directions, to feed your plants all summer.

When to Plant Tuberose

Tuberose bulbs need a long growing season to reach the flowering stage. To grow tuberose in regions with shorter seasons, starting the bulbs indoors is recommended. Planting inside 6-8 weeks before your last frost date allows the bulbs to wake up, begin to develop roots and start sprouting before being placed outdoors. These plants need about 6 months to reach the flowering stage. For gardeners in zone 5, for example, starting the bulbs indoors in late March or early April is ideal for September blooms.

Plant outdoors in spring when frost danger has past, the soil has warmed and night temperatures are about 60 degrees. Tuberose plants come from bloodlines native to Central and South America and don’t handle frost or chill well. Roots and sprouts both grow faster and stronger in warm soil.

How to Plant Tuberose Bulb Clumps

Some sellers offer individual tuberose bulbs, which are a bit bigger than a large pearl onion. We work with a grower who allows us to buy full clumps of multiple bulbs. These produce more flower stems, more blooms and lots of killer fragrance. Good stuff.

Dig holes 6” deep and add half the loose, amended soil back in the hole. Place your tuberose clump with the growing points facing upwards into the hole. Those points will produce green sprouts. Cover with 2” of soil, pat to eliminate air pockets and water well to settle the soil around the bulb. Plant clumps 8-10” apart; tuberose don't appreciate being crowded. Water sparingly until top growth emerges and plants are actively growing.

If winter comes early to your part of the country, consider planting your tuberose in a large pot. This allows you to move the plants indoors if an early frost is expected and then move the pot back outside for a few more weeks of growing after the threat has passed.

During the Season

Tuberose need 1-1.5” of water a week from rain, irrigation or a combination of the two. Don’t let the plants dry out. Tuberose are also heavy feeders, so they need regular fertilizing when grown in a pot. Choose a fertilizer that's light on nitrogen as that prompts foliage grown. A tip for reading a fertilizer box/bag: the three numbers listed tell you the amounts of nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium or the N-P-K amounts. Phosphorous supports the development of buds and blooms, so focus there. A good balance for tuberose would be 8-8-8. Use according to package directions.

Cut those wonderful flower stems when the bottom florets start to open or move potted plants close to patios and decks.

At the Season’s End

In zones 8-10, simply leave your tuberose in the garden; they’ll overwinter successfully. In colder regions, you can treat your tuberose like annuals and replace in the spring. Or, you can wait until the grassy foliage yellows, lift the bulbs, trim off the leaves and store in peat moss in a cool (45-55 degrees), dark place. Replant in spring.

Insider Tips

  1. Cut tuberose stems last longer and more of the florets open when a floral preservative is used. This recipe works well. To 1 quart of lukewarm water, add 1 teaspoon of bleach to fight bacteria, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice to modify the pH and 2 teaspoons of sugar to feed the cut stems. Mix well and use this as your vase water.
  2. Florists hold cut flowers in coolers and tuberose don't respond well to chilling. This is why commercial tuberose often have brown bud tips and florets don't open. Grow you own and savor the real beauty of clean white, full open flowers all the way up the stem.
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Success Snapshot

Light: Full sun

Soil: Fertile

Depth: Cover with 2" of soil

Water: Average moisture

Uses: Containers, borders and walkways

Tip: Site to enjoy fragrance

GUIDE: Tuberose Planting Guide

They Start Out looking Like This: