When the snow finally melts and the grip of winter has finally passed, the beauty of spring begins with one of the most durable, colorful and easy-to-grow flowers around-the tulip!
These iconic spring bulbs sprout up and deliver our gardens a much needed pop of color and are one of the oldest cultivated plants around. There are thousands of types of tulips in various shapes, sizes and colors all with varying blooming dates, from early spring to late summer, that allows you to enjoy tulips all growing season long. Some even have a very soft, subtle scent. With so many desirable qualities, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that tulips are one of the classic flowering bulbs of springtime gardens and one of the most popular cut flowers on the market.
Every year, these perennials are the gifts the keep on giving, with more blooms adding over time, but getting them to perform can be a challenge, but that’s ok, we’re going to discuss how to get these spring gems to bloom repeatedly throughout the years for your enjoyment and give you the tools you need to maintain your tulips, from planting to storing them for next year.
Let’s dive in and get growing!
- Planting Tulips
Tulips are blooming spring bulbs that are planted in the fall and overwintered to develop a strong root system. If you create the proper soil conditions and ensure that you choose a blemish-free tulip bulb to plant, you can enjoy these beautiful flowers when spring arrives.
Where To Grow Tulips
Tulips grow well in Zones 3 to 7, but it is still possible to grow in Zone 8 and higher. Tulips prefer a site with full or afternoon sun, but not too much heat tolerance. If you live in Zones 7 or 8, pick your planting site with some shade or one that only gets morning sun to avoid burning your tulips. These flowers typically do better in regions that have less humid climates, as frequent rain can cause bulb rot and tulips do not like too much water.
Zone 8 and warmer will have a challenge growing tulips, since the temperatures are not cold enough for the appropriate length for bulbs. If you live in Zone 8 or above and want to try to grow tulips, you need to simulate a winter season for the bulbs, so you will need to place the bulbs into a refrigerator for at least 10 weeks. This will allow your bulbs to develop a strong root system, just like they would if they were chilling underground for the winter, for when you go to plant them in the springtime.
Tulips love a sunny spot in the garden and since tulips sprout and bloom so early in the spring, they can be planted beneath trees and shrubs that are bare early on in the season before they grow their summer time leaves. Because of this, tulips make a good addition to parts of your garden that would otherwise be too shady for other flowers or plants to grow later on in the summer.
When To Plant Tulips
The ideal time to plant your tulips is in the fall, about 6 to 8 weeks before your zone’s last frost date, in order to prevent disease growth and to begin to establish the root system. Tulips need what is known as “chilling time”, a period similar to hibernation. This helps to develop stronger, healthier plants and better blooms.
If you miss your planting date, still plant your bulbs when you remember to do so. Bulbs need to be in the ground as soon as they can be!
Prepping Your Planting Site
Tulips love a well-drained, sandy soil in a sunny location with neutral to slightly acidic soil. Well-draining soil is one of the most important keys to success for your tulips, so it’s best to avoid areas in your garden that can potentially collect a lot of water. Similarly, if you have an irrigation system be mindful of when you run it and for how long, since daily watering for tulips could cause root rot.
It’s always a good practice to amend your soil before you plant any new bulbs. Adding manure or compost and topping the site off with some peat moss, sand or even a bit of gravel will be beneficial for your tulips, as they love loose soil and need lots of drainage to prevent bulb rot.
Before you plant, make sure to choose a bulb that is firm and preferably free of blemishes, with as few rips or tears in the bulb’s paper-like outer coating as possible, otherwise you’ll have a hard time getting them to grow.
Tulips should be planted around 6 to 8 inches deep, which is pretty deep for a bulb. Generally, that’s about three times as deep as the size of the bulb. When you go to plant your bulb, make sure that the pointy end faces the sky before you cover it with soil.
Plant your bulbs about 4 to 6 inches apart, so be mindful of how many bulbs you are planting and how much space you need to ensure the appropriate amount of space between the bulbs. A cluster of tulips look better together in gardens than random, individually placed tulips.
As soon as you have them covered up, water them right away and if you decide to fertilize the site, choose a slow-releasing bulb fertilizer that contains low nitrogen content or bone meal. New bulbs don’t have a developed root system yet to start soaking up water easily, so they need all the help they can get.
Mulching to a depth of 2 inches maximum with hay, wood chips, or straw after fall planting is recommended to maintain soil moisture, insulation, as this improves the overall soil quality and provides added protection from weed overgrowth.
Tulips In Containers
Yes- you can grow tulips in containers! It’s almost the exact same process as planting your bulbs in the ground in the fall, but instead you’d be putting your bulbs in containers and not in the ground.
Add a lightweight potting mix about two thirds full with soil and make sure you choose a container deep enough to plant your tulips 6 to 8 inches deep. Ignore how you would normally space the bulbs out from each other in the container, you can ignore the spacing rule. Don’t forget to water!
It may be beneficial to place a wire grid or some sort of mesh on top of the soil for added protection against rodents.
If you are in Zones 3 to 7, place the planted pots in an unheated garage or basement to avoid a freeze-thaw cycle from happening and destroying your bulbs. If you don’t have a place to store your bulbs, consider insulating your containers for protection.
2. How To Grow And Care For Your Tulips
Now that your bulbs are planted and ready to sprout, how do you take care of the blooms throughout the season to ensure thriving flowers?
Tulips can be pretty simple to take care of once they get established and blooming. Watering weekly during the growing season is all you need, but not if it rains since tulips do not like wet soil. If you are having a lot of rain, you should consider adding a crop cover over the top of your tulips, like shredded bark, sand or your mulch of preference to promote faster drainage.
When Should I Fertilize My Tulips?
When the sprouts begin to emerge in the spring, fertilize your tulips using a balanced, slow releasing bulb food or bone meal to avoid burning the bulbs. As always, when you fertilize make sure you water the planting site well!
Pruning Your Tulips
After your tulips have bloomed and are looking like they’re done for the season, cut the flower stem right down. Removing the bloom once its past its prime is important, otherwise the bulb will continue to put energy into feeding the flower, which doesn’t need it anymore and can shorten the bulb’s lifespan.
Make sure you leave the green foliage though! Leaving the green foliage is important, as this will allow the plant to put its energy back into strengthening the bulb. Leave the greenery in place until it turns yellow in mid-to late summer since this is what replenishes the bulb’s energy storage for the winter months.
But once the foliage turns yellow and begins to look haggard in the late summer, prune it back.
Tulips As A Cut Flower
Tulips make a very striking flower arrangement and are a very long-lasting cut flower, where you could easily get varieties that hold up to a week in a vase. If you cut your tulips for a vase, cut on the diagonal to promote water uptake.
Tulips tend to bend and curve after harvest, but as soon as they are placed in water they straighten right back up.
Do Tulips Keep Growing Once Cut?
Sadly, no. Tulips are different from most flowering blooms and once you deadhead-or snip off- the tulip bloom it will not promote more flower growth. Cut the stem right down to the base when you’re ready to cut down the bloom, but again, make sure you leave the foliage.
Why Aren’t My Tulips Flowering?
If you’re having trouble getting your tulips to bloom and have planted them properly, there still could be a few other factors preventing your tulips from growing.
Consider how new your bulbs are. If your bulbs have been recently divided, the new, smaller bulbs can take a year or two to develop into flowering plants and reach the maturity they need to flower. Fertilizing your bulbs at springtime will help speed up their development.
Conversely, consider how old your bulbs are. If you planted hybrid tulips in particular, those varieties can be short lived since they have generally been overbred and have trouble blooming year over year. If you are dealing with older bulbs, dig them up and see if you can separate the daughter bulbs from the parent bulb for replanting, which is a method for propagation discussed later on in this book.
Next, check the amount of sunlight your tulips are getting. Tulips love full sun, so if they don’t get enough sunlight that can greatly impede their ability to grow. When you plant your tulips or replant them, place them in a spot away from fences, walls, or coniferous trees that can cast shade and block the sunlight.
Do Tulips Bloom Year After Year?
Although tulips are perennials, sometimes they don’t look all that great year after year, so many gardeners will treat them like annuals, storing their bulbs through the winter season indoors or simply purchasing new bulbs to plant in the fall for the following season. That being said, how well your tulips do will depend on many factors including your soil (type and drainage), the planting location and the quality of your bulb.
But don’t fret! Many people have success with them as perennials, where they continuously bloom beautifully and come back as healthy, sturdy plants.
If you have the ideal planting conditions and are eager to get your blooms to keep coming back, an heirloom variety is your best bet for sustainable tulip growth. The hybridized bulbs, although blooming quite well initially, are becoming more and more unreliable to bloom year over year due to over-breeding. That’s why if you want your tulips to keep coming back, picking up heirloom varieties might be your best option if you want recurring springtime flowers.
3. Tulip Heirloom Varieties
Choosing an heirloom tulip not only adds uniqueness to your garden, but the flowers also tell a story, carrying on long-standing traditions of the past. Tulips originated in what is now modern-day Turkey, but became widely cultivated in Holland in the 1600s after they were brought over through trading with the Ottoman Empire. The Dutch obsession with tulips created such fervor that a single bulb could go for as much as a mansion in Amsterdam at the time! This era in the 1630s is known as “Tulip mania” and was one of the first recorded financial asset crashes of all time.
Various types of heirloom varieties have been passed down through generations and come in different shapes and sizes and a wide range of colors and patterns.
There are over 15 classifications of tulips, with over 3,000 different varieties based on origin, shape, height and time of bloom- how will you choose!
Below are the 15 classifications that tulips fall under:
Single Early: Single Early tulips are the earliest tulips to bloom, starting in early spring in cold-winter regions. The blooms on these tulips are cup-shaped, with one flower on a short, strong stem and make excellent cut flowers.
Double Early: These tulips have a fluffy, peony-like appearance with tall stems that range from 12 to 15 inches and come in a wide range of colors. Double Early bloom a little later than Single Early, but still quite early! Because of their more delicate petals, they can be harmed by cold snaps and winds.
Triumph: This is the largest group of tulips and have the traditional cup-shaped leaves of the classic-looking tulip. This group has taller stems (15 to 18 inches) and begin to bloom in mid-late spring.
Darwin Hybrid: A very hardy, egg-shaped bloom with tall stems (24 inches). These tulips have recurring blooms that can last for up to 5 years. These make great cutting flowers and bloom in mid-late spring.
Single Late: As the name suggests, these tulips bloom one flower per stem and known for their wide range of colors, including some unusual multi-coloured varieties. These are late-season bloomers that you can enjoy when the other tulips blooms’ have been spent.
Lily-flowered: Lily-type tulips look quite different from other tulips with slender, pointed flowers and thin, delicate stems. The stems are quite tall at 18 to 24 inches in height and are late spring bloomers.
Fringed: These tulips have fringed or ruffled petal edges and come in many colors, sometimes with contrasting colors on the fringe. These are late-season bloomers with 12 to 18 inch stems.
Viridiflora: Late season bloomers with 12 to 24 inch stems, with blooms last almost three weeks. These flowers are easily identifiable and unique with their distinctive green streaks on their petals.
Rembrandt: One of the original species cultivated in Holland with distinctive, “streaky” coloured petals. This variety is no longer grown commercially because the coloring was caused by a virus that spreads to other tulips. The plants that are now advertised as ‘Rembrandt’ tulips are cultivars, or variety, that strive to achieve the look of the original tulips.
Parrot: This tulip was named for the bud’s resemblance to a parrot’s beak. The petals are a little wild-looking, with large, serrated, curling petals on tall stems ranging from 12 to 24 inches with unusual variegated color patterns. These tulips are late-season blooms.
Double Late: Similar to Double Early in blooming style, these tulips are nicknamed ‘peony tulips’ for their likeness to, you guessed it, peonies. The stems are tall at 18 to 24 inches, with massive amounts of petals that are sweetly fragrant.
Kaufmanniana: These short plants are also known as the water lily tulip and are early bloomers with wide-open flowers that are almost flat. These plants only reach about 6 to 12 inches tall.
Fosteriana: This tulip is also known as emperor tulips with large flowers that are often with pointed petals. This type is available in many colors, mid-season bloomers and grows to 8 to 15 inches tall.
Griegii: These tulips are on the shorter side, growing to 8 to 12 inches and bloom in early to mid-spring. The petals are flared, pointed petals and wavy leaves and brightly coloured with spotted and striped leaves.
Species or wild tulips: Also known as botanical tulips, these are great perennials, where single bulbs often multiply to create generous clumps that are easy to propagate. This type is pretty stocky, only getting to 4 to 12 inches in height. Most of this type has unique star or bowl-shaped petals and come in a wide range of colors.
In addition to the classifications of tulips above, below are a few heirloom varieties that are popular and could add a historical touch to your garden:
Estella Rijnveld Parrot Tulip: This is a parrot tulip with large scalloped petals, often with variegated colors in shades of pink and white.
White Triumphator Tulip: These are tall tulips with snowy white pointed petals that make this bloom an elegant addition to your garden.
Prinses Irene Tulip: One of the most popular heirloom varieties, similar to an old Rembrant-style tulip, this type blooms with gorgeous orange, pink and purple petals. This tulip type is a guaranteed show stopper for your garden and rightly so.
Tarda Botanical Tulip: An old variety originating in central Asia, this tulip grows low and has buttery-yellow star-like petals that grow very well in warmer climates.
Silver Standard Tulip: This tulip has a combination of white with boldly splashed red along its “broken” petals, giving it a variegated look.
Schoonoord Tulip: A Double Early, fluffy, creamy white tulip that closely resembles a peony.
Rococo Tulip: Another parrot type tulip, with wild red petals and streaks of purple, yellow and green.
Queen of Night Tulip: This is the popular black tulip (but it’s really dark purple). This bloom is long lasting in the garden and a late bloomer, so it adds a nice dark, dramatic contrast to the bright colors of early summer.
Peach Blossom Tulip: A double tulip in a mixture of white and pink petals.
Old Times Tulip: A cottage-style tulip in shades of brown and gold.
Mariette Tulip: A lily-style tulip that resembles a vase in shape with striking ombre-like pink petals.
Lac van Rijn Tulip: A crown shaped tulip in shades of dark pink and white.
Kingsblood Tulip: A striking, bright red and tall tulip that is a classic addition to your garden.