2018 has been named The Year of the Tulip by the National Garden Bureau. It won’t be long before tulips are the bright and shining stars of the spring landscape. Tulips, once the most coveted flower in the world and a symbol of power and prestige, are no longer considered a sign of great wealth but are still a welcome signal that spring has arrived.
Beginning with small botanical tulips and ending with late-flowering types, they paint our gardens with bold colors and pastel shades for several weeks. Species tulips, Tulipa greigii, Tulipa kaufmanniana and Tulipa fosteriana bloom from late March to mid-April. Single Early and Double Early tulips bloom from mid-April to early May. In late April to mid-May, the Triumph and Darwin hybrids bloom and the Fringed and Lily Flowered follow close behind. Finally, the Parrot and Double Late varieties bring the tulip show to a close in mid to late May.
I wish everyone would remember how much joy tulips bring them in spring when it’s time to plant them in fall. Planting bulbs requires faith and patience. The payoff for time spent planting them is months away, and many gardeners have put their shovels away before tulip-planting time – what a shame! Planting bulbs is such a pleasant way to spend time in the fall garden.
Tulips are best planted in October. They must be planted in well-drained soil; they quickly rot in wet, heavy clay soil. Plant tulips 6 to 8 inches deep and add bulb fertilizer when planting to get them off to a good start. Plant them in beds with sun-loving, drought-tolerant perennials so little supplemental watering will be needed in summer. Bulbs live longer in dry soil after they have finished blooming.
Plant tulips at the bases of spring-flowering shrubs. Plant them among perennials where their yellowing leaves will be hidden by the emerging foliage of the perennials. Plant bulbs in beds of dark green groundcovers like ivy or vinca. Plant tulips in garden bouquets with daffodils, hyacinths and grape hyacinths. Be sure to plant plenty so you will have extra to cut for bouquets inside, too. Just remember this fall to plant them!
There is nothing as frustrating as planting tulips only to have them dug up by squirrels, chipmunks or other garden bandits. There are a variety of methods to thwart their efforts. Placing a layer of gravel or a section of chicken wire above and below bulbs will make digging more difficult. Repellents, either homemade or purchased at your local garden center, may discourage them.
Plant tulips very deep and cover disturbed soil with mulch. Try providing alternative tasty treats. Squirrels can be satisfied with a steady diet of peanuts.
I plant allium and scilla bulbs in the same hole with tulips. Their undesirable scent seems to send rascals looking elsewhere for snacks, and I get three separate flowers from the same space. Scilla blooms first, followed closely by the tulips, and later the allium takes it turn.
It is important to care for tulips properly after flowering. Remove spent flowers to prevent them from using energy to set seeds. Wait to remove foliage until it has completely yellowed and withered. Until then, it is busy feeding bulbs for next year’s flowers.
Some tulips are more reliably perennial than others. The Emperors, Darwin hybrids and many of the species tulips come back year after year. If you adore less reliable types, enjoy them in spring and dig them up after flowering. Replant fresh bulbs in the fall. Or do like I do and plant them in pots. Most tulip bulbs are inexpensive, less than a dollar per bulb. Consider the value for 50 dollars: 50 bulbs compared to 10 annuals.
Happy tulip season everyone! If you don’t already have tulips in your yard, take notes as you walk through your neighborhood or visit botanical gardens. Jot down the names of your favorites so you’ll be ready to place your orders this summer.
Garden with me!