Tulips: What to Buy, When and How to Plant

My listing of tulips available on my price list, are tulips that I have grown for many years and are my favorites. I have grown many which are not on that list, but these are among the most beautiful and reliable of those available that I can still obtain.

There have been few new tulips available commercially over the twenty six years that I have been in business. Many older ones which were wonderful, are no longer available. One of my very favorite tulips was expensive, had a yellow satin lining with a pale yellow cream outside was replaced with a poor substitute under the same name (and of course, same price!). Sometimes, bulb suppliers will substitute a similar “color” for one that was ordered. I have learned to avoid those suppliers.

Tulips are ordered and delivered in the fall of the year. In cold areas, they can be planted immediately and they do not need pre-chilling and it is much easier to plant them when the weather is pleasant and the ground not frozen. Pre-chilling makes them stronger and of equal height and I refrigerate all of my tulips until my customer is ready to plant them. Check and discard any bulbs with rot on the basal plate which will affect the growth of the bulb. Blue mold, nicks and missing skins do not affect the viability of the bulb as long as the basal plate in not damaged or rotting.

Dig down about nine inches, and if they are to be left in the ground, dig in a handful of bulb meal or bone meal into the soil below where the bulbs will sit being careful not to let the meal touch the bottom of the tulip bulbs, as it could burn the roots of the bulb.  Add about one inch of soil and then arrange the bulbs so that they are about 4″ apart with the points facing upward. Replace the soil and water them in if no rain is forecast.

In warm weather climates, chill the tulip bulbs for about 8 weeks before planting them in the same way as mentioned above.  As tulips will not rebloom reliably, the addition of bone meal or bulb food is not necessary.

In the photo above, daffodils and muscari are mixed into the border planting along with the tulips. They will return in the cold climates, but will not in warm climates.

Why won’t tulips rebloom in warmer climates?

There is an interesting answer to this question. In Holland where many of the tulips bulbs are grown, they are artifically made larger by mowing the tulip fields to cut off their heads just as they are about to bloom. This forces the bulb to grow larger. “French Tulips” are forced for a second year, and as a result for either group, the bulbs cannot wait to divide when they finally are allowed to bloom! Thus, the result is many small bulbs, most of which are too small to bloom and just send up green shoots.  These are replanted in Holland or in cold climates to grow on. In warm climates, only about 20% of tulips will rebloom, but they are smaller blooms with varying heights, and certainly not the showy groupings of the first year.

I treat tulips as annuals, thank them for their efforts and pull them out after blooming to make room for annuals or to leave the bed neater.

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