The Tips for Planting Tulips


Tulips are colorful spring flowers that are known worldwide as one of the first in a series of perennials that signal the end of winter every year. Like most flowers, it is important to learn how (and when) to plant them. Tulips are spring-flowering geophytes that use bulbs as storage, says Edwin Visser, merchandising director at Breck’s Holland. “Tulips in the wild are found in a strip stretching from southern Europe to Central Asia.”

They belong to the genus Tulipa, according to Chad Husby, Ph.D. and chief explorer in the tropical Botanical Garden of Fairchild, which includes about 75 species. “The large flowers and the variety of colors have made them popular ornamental plants for more than 1000 years since they were introduced to cultivation in Persia.”

Planting at moderate temperatures

Tulips prefer moderate temperatures: full sun in colder climates, where the sun brings more heat, and partial shade in warmer areas. “Tulip bulbs need a cooling period of about three months to bloom again,” says Husby. “In cold climates (USDA climates four to seven), this can be done in the ground or in an outdoor storage area.”In warmer climates (such as USDA zones eight to 10), they need to be refrigerated for three months before planting.

Place the bulbs deep enough in the ground

“Tulips need to be covered with at least eight inches of soil and need good drainage,” Husby adds. They are susceptible to moist soil and should not be artificially watered outside the actual drought conditions. “Excess water often causes rot.”

Use fertilizers to give tulips a leg

Although you don’t need fertilizer if you want to give your flowers a boost, Husby suggests doing it at the time of planting. “It’s better to use a low-nitrogen onion formulation,” he says. “This will help you build up reserves for the next season, although you already have what you need storing in your bulbs for the current flowering period.”

Buy “Dry” light bulbs

If you want to add tulips to your garden, Visser says that they are best grown from onions. “This is the most affordable and exciting way,” he says. “You can buy tulips in pots in the spring, but it’s expensive and you will not have a choice about what varieties the suppliers of “dry” bulbs offer in the fall.”

After a few years, you may need to buy new bulbs, Visser adds, as some varieties will only bloom for three to 10 years. If you decide to buy an already flowering plant at your local nursery, Husby suggests placing it in a container instead of the soil, which may be too cold for the non-established plant.

Plant them in the fall

Tulips are very popular with gardeners because they give a nice color screen to a border before most perennials show up; on the other hand, they sleep relatively early to make room for their favorite perennials, says Holger Winenga, horticulturist at LongHouse Reserve. To get the best results, you need to plant your tulip bulbs in the fall so that they can bloom next spring. “They drop their foliage in the summer and prefer to stay relatively dry while they sleep,” he says.

Beware of living things

If you’ve noticed that your tulips seem to bloom one season and never come back, Winenga says that an ordinary garden pest may be to blame: voles. “Some people plant them in baskets to protect them from their predators,” he says. “But it is customary to replant them every year.”Voles are not the only living things to worry about. “Unfortunately, deer and rabbits also love tulips, so you need to choose a place protected from these tulip-eating animals.”

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