The average first day for tulips to sprout in Chicago

Chicago tulips breaking ground in Chicago
Tulips are coming out of the ground in Chicago, and it’s only February 23! Doesn’t that seem really early in the year for tulips to be sprouting?

What is the average first day for tulips to sprout in Chicago? We can find out with some historical photo research.

Every year tulips are abounding on the medians of busy downtown Michigan Avenue. When the tulips come out I take a photo of the initial buds breaking the ground. This spring tradition of photographing the tulip buds started for me in 2010. Almost every year I’ve captured the flowers coming out.

Let’s take the dates of those photos and find the average day when tulips break ground.

March 8, 2016
Growing red tulips

March 8, 2015
Bokeh behind growing red tulips

April 10, 2014
Start of spring: tulips break ground on Michigan Avenue in Chicago

April 1, 2013
Spring tulips are sprouting in Chicago

March 19, 2010
What looks like a field of hard dirt now, will soon be a garden of beautiful tulips

Excluding this unusual year with tulips in February, we have the following dates for the first tulips sprouting:

  • March 8, 2016
  • March 8, 2015
  • April 10, 2014
  • April 1, 2013
  • March 19, 2010

According to my photos, the average first day that tulips break ground in Chicago is March 21.

Thus, the tulips this year are exactly one month early. The earliest they ever came before this year was March 8th. We beat that record by two weeks.

Extended research beyond my photos

It’s too bad that I didn’t take any photos of the budding flowers in 2011 and 2012. But, we can still try to get dates for these missing years by search on Flickr.

Flickr has a great advanced search feature. You can search for photos within a specific timeframe.

The first photos of tulips in Chicago for every year from 2005 to 2012: 

Day 35 of 366 Hands
February 4, 2012
Tulips breaking ground on February 4th!!! We can’t say for certain where this photo is taken in Chicago. But by February 11, 2012 the tulips were fully grown.

tulips coming up in chicago
March 16, 2011
Budding on Michigan Avenue. Funny how this photo by photo29 looks very much like the ones I take on Michigan Avenue.

March 19, 2010
My photo shown earlier in this post.

March 24, 2009
Budding at Chicago Botanic Gardens. I have a hard time including the Botanic Gardens, because that’s quite a bit further north, and is in a very tended high-end garden. But there we go.

April tulips
April 19, 2008
Full-grown tulips in a street garden bed. Kinda looks like it’s by the Harold Washington Library.

February 27, 2007
Full flowers on Michigan Avenue

February 9, 2006
Full flowers on State Street. This date seems really REALLY early. But there are other photos of tulips in Chicago on February 12.

Chicago Spring
February 23, 2005
Full flowers somewhere downtown


Tulips have broken ground four of these seven years! Perhaps a February time for tulips in Chicago isn’t so odd after all.

If we average all the days from these 13 years from 2005 to 2017, the average first day for tulips in Chicago is March 11th. This a rough estimate, because some of the dates are when full-grown tulips were first photographed.

March 11 or March 21?

You can take the wider view of March 11th based on both my and other’s photos over 13 years. Or March 21 as the day based on just my photos from five years.

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