This is the time to start thinking about planting tulips. What??? But it's July! It's hot! Well, this is the perfect time of year for planning and dreaming. Plus the earlier you plan and place your order, the better chance of not being disappointed because the most popular Tulips are already sold out.
Is there anything that shouts spring more than Tulips? Tulips were once the world's most popular bulb and perhaps still are today. In Holland in the 1600's, tulips were such a rage that a single bulb might be worth about $44,000. The most popular tulips were rare, and the flowers greatly coveted. The hysteria surrounding the buying and selling of tulips is known as Tulipomania. Aren't we fortunate that we can plant even more beautiful examples of tulips than they had then for a tiny fraction of the price?
Tulips bloom from early spring to early summer and come in virtually every color, including a deep purple that looks almost black. Tulips are excellent planted in your borders or flower beds or in masses for spectacular displays. Most are good as cut flowers and some you can even force into bloom (see below).
Tulips are a true bulb; that is, they are a complete plant in miniature. In the center of the bulb is the embryonic flower surrounded by the undeveloped shoot surrounded by fleshy scales (modified leaves). The scales hold the nutrients which sustain the bulb through its dormant period.
Tulips are a perennial; however many gardeners know to treat them as annuals, planting them newly each year. Although tulips are relatively easy to grow, since they are native to the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains, they do best in areas with cold winters and dry, hot summers. That doesn't mean you can't grow them in the South -- you just need to select the right varieties or give them the cold the need to bloom.
Tulips are divided into 15 divisions. I won't go into them all - you can see some of the divisions on our website: www.marysgardenpatch.com.
When, Where and How to plant:
Be sure to plant your tulip bulbs within a week of receiving. Ideally, they should be planted in late fall, before the first frost, but if you can still work the ground it is safe to plant. The bulbs lie dormant during the winter.
As a rough rule, Tulips are planted in September and October in Zones 4 and 5; October or November in zones 6 and 7; November to early December in zones 8 and 9; and as late as January in zone 10. - See more information at: http://www.hgtvgardens.com/tulips/dutch-treat-when-should-i-plant-tulips#sthash.fir6y3LN.dpuf. If your area has cold winters, plant them right away after receiving them. If your area has warm winters, you will need to cold-treat them first (see below). They prefer full sun (under deciduous trees are ideal). Further south (zones 7 and 8), you may need to plant in a shady site or one with morning sun only. If you choose bulbs of the same variety you are more likely to have a uniform look. The size of the bulb does make a difference. Our bulbs are top size 12+ cm in circumference, or 4¾ in.
Important: Never deliberately water a tulip bed. Irrigation systems and wet soil will quickly lead to fungus and rot. Add sand, mulch or other soil amendments to ensure good drainage of summer rains. Tulips need a dry period during the summer months.
Prepare the soil by tilling to a depth of 8 to 10 inches and amend it as stated above. Bulbs should be spaced 4 to 6 inches from each other and 6-8" deep, measuring from the base of the bulb (5 bulbs per square foot). A bulb planter can make the job much easier. Put the bulb into the hole, pointy end up, fill with soil and push down firmly on the soil..Water after planting to trigger growth, but don't forget - bulbs hate wet feet.
If you're trying to raise perennial tulips, fertilize them when you plant. Bulbs are their own complete storage system and contain all of the nutrients they need for one year. After the first year, the critical time to fertilize is between blooming and when the leaves fade to provide nutrients for the following year. Use organic material, compost, or a balanced time-release bulb food.
Tulips are generally not bothered by insect pests other than an occasional aphid. However, 4-legged critters can be a problem - moles, voles and mice. Here are a couple of tricks to deter them. Try putting holly or other thorny leaves in the holes when you plant or try kitty litter or crushed gravel. If rodents are a serious problem you might need to plant your bulbs in a wire cage.
Post Bloom (After Care) (Maintenance):
You should remove the dead flowers after your tulips bloom, but do not cut back the leaves or even braid them. The leaves should turn yellow and die, even if they look unsightly. Tulips use the foliage to create food for the next season, and if you interrupt that cycle they are unlikely to come back again. The bulbs of Species Tulips, Darwins and a few other types may be left in the ground for several years; others may be lifted, dried and stored in a cool place like a basement or garage that does not freeze.
Next Fall replant the largest bulbs. If you don't have cold winters you will need to put the bulbs in the refrigerator for about 6 weeks.
Every few years, you need to dig up the bulbs and divide them, especially when you see that they are no longer blooming. Move the extras to new locations or give them to friends.
Questions and Tips:
What if my soil is too wet?
If, in spite of improving your drainage your soil is still too wet, you can try planting new bulbs each year, later than usual (late November or early December). That way they won't have as much time to decline.
How can I grow bulbs in the South?
Try Species Tulips. They are tougher than hybrids. 'Lilac Wonder' is a good one. Tulipa clusiana - Chrysantha and Cynthia - will even grow as far south as Central Texas.
If you live in areas where Winter temperatures seldom get below freezing, and you want to try other Tulips, you must chill before planting them. Put the bulbs in a mesh bag and place the bag in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 weeks. Be sure to keep them away from any fruits or vegetables that will produce ethylene gas, such as apples and bamanas, which will cause the flowers to abort The following site talks about cold treatment for bulbs: http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/h-412.html. In the Fall plant the bulbs in a place with morning sun and avoid the hot afternoon sun.
My tulips didn't bloom.
There are several reasons this may occur despite having planted the highest quality bulbs. Some ideas: Maybe you planted them too late for your area. Are they planted at the correct depth? In full sun? Have they had good drainage throughout the summer and fall - away from automatic irrigation? The most common reason is that you've experienced an unusually warm Winter they may not have gotten enough chilling. Most bulbs need cold freezing temperatures during the Winter to bloom. They may bloom next year. Have the squirrels or voles gotten to the bulbs? Tulips that leaf out but do not bloom usually have not gotten enough chilling or nutrients. Here is an interesting article that may help: http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/bulbs/tulips/tulips-bloom-every-year.htm
My tulips did not come back.
See the link under "My tulips didn't bloom." Tulips are naturally a perennial plant, but most part of the US cannot duplicate their original growing conditions, and they may not re-flower. If you do live in a location that allows tulips to be grown as a perennial (ideally somewhere with dry summers and cold winters), try the following:
Only water them when they start to leaf out, (be sure not to soak the soil) and continue until the leaves wither and die on their own. Then let the ground dry out.
Deadhead the flowers after they bloom. Clean up any that are caught in the leaves.
Alternatively, dig the bulbs and store them until Fall in a dark, dry place, especially if you live in an area with poor drainage or wet summers.