Success With Tulips
At a time when most things in the garden are still asleep, bulbs signal the return of spring. Of all the spring bulbs, there is nothing that rivals tulips. They're easy and offer such a wide variety of colors, shapes and blooming times that you'll want to put in some of each. Tulips are true bulbs: horticulturally, that means that inside each bulb you buy is the flower, already formed. That means when you buy a quality bulb and follow a few simple guidelines, success is almost guaranteed because nature has already done most of the work for you. Don't be daunted by the task of planting lots of bulbs. Digging holes may not be you favorite hobby, but taken in small bites, the task can be finished over several weeks. With a little patience and the right tools, it may not even seem like a chore.
Are there different kinds of tulips? Tulips come in several types, each with its own characteristics and uses. Ask for the information sheet Varieties of Tulips and Daffodils for an overview of the most commonly used varieties and their characteristics and uses.
How do I choose the right type of tulip? Most important, consider where you are going to use the bulbs and select varieties that fit the setting. Small, intimate areas or rock gardens work best with species tulips. Large groupings viewed from a distance need bolder colors and larger blooms. Next, choose the varieties that look good to you. Color and bloom shape usually help you determine which tulips you want, but don't forget to check the height of the plant and when it blooms.
What makes some tulips bloom year after year and others give out after just two or three seasons? Sometimes this is just a matter of the care you give the tulips, but often it is the type of tulip you planted. Certain types of tulips, such as species, Kaufmanniana, Viridiflora and Fosteriana are longer lived than others. Darwin Hybrids tend to be perennial.
Do they bloom at different times? The bloom season is divided into very early, early, mid, or late. A tulip that blooms early should be in flower at the same time as an early daffodil. In our area, early is usually the last week of April or first week of May, but it can differ greatly from year to year.
Where will tulips grow? Tulips grow in any well-drained soil. They prefer full sun to do their best, but you can often be successful in partial shade if you choose early bulbs. The amount of spring sun is the most important.
When should I plant them? To provide adequate time for rooting, it is best to plant tulips in late September to mid-October. If you need to plant them a little later, plant them an inch or two deeper and mulch heavily.
How deep do I need to plant tulips? Plant your tulips 6-10 inches deep. Basically, the deeper you plant your tulips, the hardier they will be. Plant all of the large bulbs such as tulips and daffodils deep enough that you could stack two more bulbs on top of them and still be just below the soil level. You can vary bloom time within a grouping of the same tulip by varying the depth several inches. Deeper bulbs will bloom a little later; shallower bulbs will bloom earlier.
Do tulips need fertilizer when I plant them? Even though a true bulb has everything it needs to bloom, tulips profit from being fertilized when they are planted. Bulb food, an improvement on bone meal, works best when scratched into the surface of the soil after planting. Other good fertilizers for bulbs are Bachman's Garden Food 10-20-10 and Sustane, an organic product.
How can I protect my tulips from rodents? Squirrels may be a problem, since they love tulip bulbs and love to dig where you have just planted. In fact, you might even look up and find the squirrel digging on the other end of the row where you're working! A few handfuls of sharp gravel in with the bulb often deter squirrels.
Most gardeners have luck covering the area where tulips are planted until the ground freezes. Once tulips have made it through the few weeks when they smell like a fresh, tasty treat, squirrels leave them alone. You can cover a small grouping with a pot saucer or a board. Large areas can be covered with chicken wire.
Spreading blood meal on the surface of the ground where you have planted tulips may confuse the squirrel's sense of smell and keep them from knowing where to dig. Squirrels are a problem, and you may have to experiment until you find what works for you.
How should I care for my tulips after they bloom? Flower stems should be removed when the bloom has faded to encourage bulb development instead of seed development. Be sure to allow the leaves to grow until they naturally wither in June before you remove the foliage. Fertilize with Bachman’s garden food after flower heads are removed.
What could cause my tulips not to bloom? There are several factors in tulips failing to bloom, and often it is caused by more than one thing. If it is the first season and the bulb fails to bloom, the most common reasons are squirrels eating the bulbs, soggy soil rotting the bulbs, too shallow planting, or planting too early in the fall. When planted too early, the flower stalk will start to emerge in late fall. The winter will then destroy the flower but won't kill the bulb, resulting in leaves and no blooms. If this isn't the first season and the tulips fail to bloom, the most common reasons are too little sun, removing last season's foliage before it naturally ripened, or the tulip has reached the end of its lifespan.
Additional Bachman's Information
Bulbs in the Landscape
Naturalizing and Perennializing Bulbs
Spring Bulb Spacing and Depths
Varieties of Tulips and Daffodils
Bulb Buying Tips
Minor Spring Bulbs
Bachman's Garden Food
Sustane Organic Fertilizer
Bulb Earth Augers