Tips for Growing Healthy Tulips This Summer
No doubt, there are as many personal emotions associated with tulips as there are colors, hybrids and modern-day varietals. Originally from western Europe and central Asia, tulips grow best in regions characterized by cold winters and hot, dry summers. However, you can grow healthy bulbs just about anywhere by following a few standard rules of thumb. Here’s the low down.
Buy the Right Bulbs
While early, wild tulip varieties were exclusively red or yellow and produced relatively small blooms, today’s cultivars represent a vast array of colors and heights as well as blooming times. The most important thing to keep in mind when shopping for your bulbs is they represent the embryo that houses a flower inside. Look for bulbs that are plump, firm and well-hydrated. Make sure the paper-like cover is completely on. Pass over bulbs that are dry, misshapen, bruised or moldy.
Refer to garden design when choosing varieties and color hues. Are you planning on using tulips as a border? Will they line a walkway or stand in a group among other perennials? Consider purchasing bulbs with different bloom times to extend your tulip growing season.
Maintain Cold, Dark Storage
If you purchase bulbs before planting season, prepare to store them in a cold, dark place. A tightly sealed brown paper bag works well either in the crisper of your refrigerator or a chilly basement or garden shed. The idea is to keep the bulbs from sprouting leaves prematurely — which is signaled by warmth and light. On the flip side, be careful to choose a storage spot that won’t allow the bulbs to freeze.
Scout a Bright, Dry Location
Choose an area that gets plenty of sun, preferably on high ground for efficient drainage. Calculate your number of bulbs and figure one square foot for every five or six bulbs if you’re planting in a cluster, or one foot for every two or three bulbs if you’re shooting for a linear display.
Prepare the Soil
Once you’ve staked out your planting area, prepare the soil by following these steps:
- Dig the plot down 12-15 inches, remove rocks and loosen clumps.
- Add two to four inches of compost.
- Sprinkle in granular fertilizer.
- Mix together with replaced soil.
Plant and Protect
Wherever you live, the ideal time to plant is six to eight weeks before the first frost. If you’re planting in a temperate zone, be absolutely sure to chill the bulbs before placing them in the ground.
Dig holes that are the depth of three times each bulb’s height. Or, to put it another way, twice as much soil should sit over every bulb in the ground.
Set the bulb in pointy side up. Protect from rodents or pests by placing a prickly leafed plant, such as holly, in the hole or toss in some gravel or kitty litter. Cover and water thoroughly.
This initial watering triggers bulbs for growth. To prevent rot, do not water again until you see leaves peeking through next spring. Cover soil with a protective barrier of shredded leaves, bark mulch or straw for the winter.
Set the Stage for Next Year
After you’ve enjoyed a healthy season of bloom, you can leave the flowers on the plant to encourage reseeding. Also, allow the foliage to turn yellow and die on the ground. Doing so allows plant nutrients to sink back into the bulb naturally before seasonal dormancy. You may remove the entire plant once the leaves are brown and withered.
Who knows? Perhaps now you’ve cultivated a few more tulip-associated emotions — peace when tucking them in for the winter and anticipation for their beauty come spring!