Tulips are a sign that spring has arrived. If you want to tiptoe through the tulips in your own colorful tulip patch, or just admire their beauty, tulips are easy to grow. Tulips bloom from early spring just after the crocus to late spring. There are tulips for every garden bed from rock gardens to large open beds. Tulips are also excellent cut flowers.
Tulip flowers open in the morning and close at night, and each flower lasts for several days. Tulips come every color except true blue. Tulips come in bi-colors, and streaked or flamed. Chose some early, mid and late season bloomers if you want a long color show. Species tulips usually bloom early and are shorter than other varieties. They may have several blooms on one stem. Most garden tulips, however, produce one flower per bulb. There are lily flowering tulips that have long, pointed flower petals, tulips with fringed petals, and tulips whose blooms look like peonies. There are even tulips that are fragrant. There are thousands of named varieties of tulips. A good bulb catalog will help you make decisions.
While daffodils and narcissus are long lived in the garden, tulips often fade out and disappear after a year or two, especially in warmer areas. This is because they prefer a dry area after they go dormant and our flower beds are generally kept watered. Species tulips are not as fussy as the hybrids. They may actually spread slowly in the garden if they like the site.
Look for varieties of tulips that promise perennial lifestyles. Some varieties are more likely than others to become long term garden residents. In zones 5-6 many tulips will return for years. If tulips seem to disappear in your garden, you can dig and store tulip bulbs after the tops have died, to replant in the fall, or treat them as annuals and buy new ones each fall. It’s a good practice to add new tulip bulbs each fall anyway.
When choosing tulip bulbs, look for plump, firm, clean bulbs that have most of their papery brown covering attached. Bulbs that are soft, have moldy areas or look shriveled up, should not be purchased. Species tulips generally have smaller bulbs. Economy mixes with small bulbs may have some bulbs that will not bloom the first year after planting.
To prolong the tulip blooming period pay attention to the bloom period listed in catalogs such as early, mid-season and late, and chose varieties from each blooming period.
Planting and care
Tulips come from the colder, mountainous areas of the Middle East. The bulbs need a period of cold weather to set flower buds. Gardeners in zones 3- 7 will be able to grow tulips without worrying about the chilling period. Gardeners in zones 8 and higher will have to buy pre-chilled bulbs if they want spring tulips. Tulips are planted in the fall before the ground freezes in your area. They like a well-drained area and will not do well if their winter bed is water logged. You can plant them in sunny areas or under deciduous trees. They will get enough sun in the spring before the tree leafs out to complete their life cycle.
Plant tulip bulbs with the pointed side up, in holes just big enough to fit the bulb and about twice as deep as the bulbs height. You can mix some general purpose, slow release garden fertilizer, [5-10-5] with the soil around the bulbs. Don’t add bone meal, mice and squirrels love tulip bulbs and adding bone meal may actually attract them to the spot where the bulbs are buried. In the spring, tulips are also a favorite of deer. To keep deer from eating your tulips you can apply one of the deer repellant sprays, or put up fencing. Planting tulips among allium and daffodil bulbs may help, as deer do not care for either of those bulbs.
As tulip bulbs begin to emerge from the ground, apply a slow release fertilizer formulated for flower beds. If mulch has matted down over the bulbs and they are struggling to emerge, gently remove some of the mulch.
Cold weather in spring seldom damages emerging bulbs unless the buds are fully formed and ready to open. At that time a quick covering with old sheets or newspaper might allow the flowers to bloom.
Keep flowers picked off as they fade. Don’t allow them to go to seed as this takes energy from the bulb which is forming next year’s flowers. The leaves of tulips must be allowed to yellow and dry up naturally if you wish the bulbs to produce new flowers next year. After the foliage has dried up it can be removed. Planting bulbs among other perennials that will grow up and hide the drying leaves, such as daylilies and hosta, is recommended.
Tulips are excellent for early color in perennial borders and beds. They look best when planted in drifts or clumps of one color in formal beds. In informal beds you can scatter clumps of mixed colors throughout the bed. Tulips make excellent cut flowers. Species tulips with small flowers are good for rock gardens and in naturalized areas.
Southern gardeners, of course, will have to plant pre-chilled bulbs each year. In some areas, tulips are now being offered ready to bloom in flats, and you plant them out in the garden in the spring. These are less likely to return the next year than those tulips which are planted in the fall.
A garden without tulips in the spring just lacks charm. To keep your garden charming plant some tulips each fall.
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