Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > November 2014 > BONNIE'S GARDEN--Tulips--a Problem Child or Spring Wonder?

BONNIE'S GARDEN--Tulips--a Problem Child or Spring Wonder?

I think there is nothing any more beautiful in spring than a bed full of colorful tulips.  I have a bed in my front yard which has had tulips in it for the past twelve years—the same tulips.  What?  You can actually get tulips to come back every year?  Yes, you can.

Tulips have a bad reputation for not coming back as well as daffodils or hyacinths or many other bulbs.  And, it’s true that, in many cases, they don’t.  But it’s more a matter of us not understanding their requirements.  Tulips are native to the mountains of Turkey and Russia.  They are used to brutally cold winters and dry, dry, dry summers.  If we can come closer to approximating their native climate, they will do much better.

First, don’t plant tulips near brick foundations.  The bricks absorb heat and will keep the soil slightly warmer over the winter.  Cold is NOT the enemy.  Tulips love cold.  Second, don’t plant tulips in an area where they are going to get watered regularly over the summer.  While they like regular watering in the fall and spring (when they are actively growing), they don’t like wet feet during their summer dormancy.  Don’t plant them where they are going to get hit with in-ground sprinklers or where you are planning to tuck in impatiens for the summer and are going to have to water often--unless you're planning to use tulips as an annual and plan on replacing them every year.

Tulips are native to areas with soil rich in organics so they are hungry little bulbs.  Feed them every fall.; that’s when they are waking up after their summer rest and actively growing roots.  If you forget to feed in the fall, then feed in early spring, when the foliage first appears.

Last, tulips have the misfortune of being edible.  If a squirrel can get to a tulip bulb, they WILL eat it.  If a vole can get to it, they will eat it.  However, if you plant your tulip bulbs ten to twelve inches deep, they will be safe from burrowing/digging critters.  Squirrels only dig in the top few inches and voles tend to tunnel in the top six inches where digging is easier.  Plant deep and critters won’t get those yummy tulips.  Another advantage to planting deep is that it serves to protect bulbs from summer heat. 

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a lazy gardener.  If I’m going to dig a hole ten to twelve inches deep, that hole is going to really work for me.  So I’m going to put a layer of tulips in the bottom; cover them with soil to the six inch depth and put a layer of daffodils or hyacinths in that layer (even though the voles can reach them at that depth, daffs are poisonous so they’ll leave them alone); I’m going to cover those daffodil bulbs until I can no longer see the “noses” of the bulbs; then I’m going to plant crocus or muscari (grape hyacinths) right on top.  This is called a “Lasagna” garden—planting in layers.  You can do it in the ground or do it in containers.  Either way, tulips always go in the bottom layer.

An additional advantage to planting hyacinths or daffodils in that middle layer is that, when they bloom, they’ll also serve to protect tulips from hungry deer.

There are certain varieties of tulips that are tough and durable and will easily perennialize for years.  All of the specie and botanical tulips are strong, vigorous growers.  Look for a Latin name in small print—Greigii, Fosteriana, Kauffmannia or look for the word “specie.”  Also, look for tulips that have “Darwin Hybrid” on the box or package.  They are a hybrid of a late tulip with a Latin name parent (Fosteriana) and inherit all of that vigor.  However, if you plant tulips correctly, give them a dry summer; plenty of sun and fall-feeding, any variety will perform much better for you.

November is a great time to plant tulips.  The soil has cooled down sufficiently that they’ll start growing roots right away.  This year, I’m taking home some “peony” tulips—these are gorgeous double-flowered tulips that bloom in late April.  Angelique is a lovely soft pink, Mount Tacoma is a pure white.  I’m going to top them with Erlicheer (a mini double white daffodil,) top the whole thing with blue muscari bulbs then finish with white pansies.  I’ll get to admire the pansies all winter, then the daffodil will bloom first, followed by the muscari, finishing with those luscious double tulips.  All of these bulbs are fragrant, by the way.   

Plant tulips right and they’ll like you much better—and you’ll love them.
Posted: 11/3/2014 by Bonnie Pega | with 1 comment(s)
One of the best articles I've read on growing tulips here.
11/6/2014 9:27:20 AM

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