The Promise of Spring
The history of tulips is as colorful as the flowers. In the 1600s, tulips were pleasures only the very wealthy could enjoy. Rare and beautiful, they were status symbols of European aristocrats. Then, a buying mania exploded. By 1624, the craze had reached such epic proportions that a single bulb fetched a whopping 4,500 guilders ($2,250 U.S.), plus a horse and carriage! Reaching its heyday in the years 1634 to 1637, the period known as Tulipomania is often compared to the stock market craze of the 1920s.
Despite their stately appearance, tulips are no longer confined to the realm of the aristocracy; instead, they have become one of the most popular of the spring-flowering bulbs. There’s a Dutch saying that every bulb holds a promise—a promise of a world alive with color and good cheer. Certainly, the exuberant colors and dependable flowering of tulips fill that promise.
Types of Tulips
Although it isn’t critical to know the various classifications of tulips, understanding how they’re categorized can help you choose the right variety for your garden. For example, tulip classes vary in height, bloom time, and best uses. Here are some common tulip classifications.
|Greigii tulips are a tough, low growing species that look great naturalized in beds, around perennials, and among trees and shrubs. They only grow 8 to 10 inches tall and tolerate part shade as well as full sun. They flower early in the season and come in a variety of colors. They also grow well in containers combined with various annuals and low growing perennials.
|Double late tulips are also known as peony-flowered tulips, alluding to their large double flowers. Plant these in a sheltered location so the huge blooms won’t be damaged by strong winds. You may want to stake individual blooms, since, like their namesake, peonies, they can be top heavy and tend to flop over. But their spectacular flowers make it worth the extra care! They product one huge flower per stem.
|Darwin hybrid tulips are notable for their large, bright flowers and long stems. Because of these qualities, they make excellent cut flowers. Although the stems are quite sturdy, it’s still best to plant them in a spot with some protection from strong winds, to prevent these tall flowers from toppling. They generally flower mid-season, producing a single flower per stem.
|‘Beauty of Apeldoorn’
|Parrot tulips have large, unusually-shaped flowers with fringed, curled and twisted petals. In full sun the flowers open wide for a very striking display, and they are available in a variety of colors and patterns. Because their heritage varies, the bloom time and height also varies among the cultivars. These large flowers do best in a sheltered location, and make striking additions to bouquets.
|‘Black Parrot’ Tulip
|Fosteriana tulips originated as a wild species found in the mountainous areas of Central Asia. These early-flowering tulips are known for their intensely-colored flowers that open wide in the sunshine. They are versatile, and can be used in mass plantings, cut for bouquets, or forced for early bloom. They are also an excellent choice for naturalizing.
Top FAQs about Tulips
Growing tulips in warm climates
I live in USDA Climate Hardiness Zone 10 and would like to grow tulips. I understand I need to chill them first. How do I do this?
Place the tulip bulbs in paper bags and store in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator (away from fruits) for at least 8 weeks. Plan ahead so they will be ready to plant in late November or December, after the soil has had time to cool down a little. Choose a sunny or partly shady spot. Spread 2 to 3 inches of organic matter over the bed and mix it in to a depth of 8 to10 inches. To keep the bulbs as cool as possible, plant them on the deep side—8 to 10 inches deep. Tulips in warm climates don’t always perform well the second year, so you might treat them as annuals.
Tulips starting to grow in the fall
In September, I planted some tulips. In mid-October I noticed that some of them were starting to grow. Should I be protecting them from cold?
As long as they have been planted properly, tulips are very cold tolerant. Generally, they should be set so that there is 4 to 6 inches of soil on top of the bulb. Although occasionally they may sprout in the fall, when the weather turns cold they’ll stop growing until it warms up again next spring.
What does “layering” bulbs mean?
Layering a bulb planting allows you to plant lots of bulbs in a small space, but it takes some thought to make it work well. Basically it means planting different kinds of bulbs at different depths in the soil. For example, you might layer tulips and crocus to provide an early bloom of crocus followed by a later bloom of the larger tulips, which will hide the ripening crocus foliage. To create this effect, plant the tulip bulbs about 5 inches deep and the crocus bulbs about 3 inches deep.
Planting forced tulips outdoors
I received some forced tulips as a gift. After they have finished blooming, can I plant them outside?
Generally, forced tulip bulbs do not perform well in the ground after having been forced. However, you can give it a try; here’s how: Keep the pot in a cool, bright spot and let the foliage die down naturally. Then lift the bulbs and allow them to dry. Store them in a cool, dry, dark, and airy place where they are not accessible to mice, squirrels, and other rodents. In fall, it’s best to plant the bulbs about six weeks before the ground freezes, so they will have time to settle in and begin developing roots.
Perennial tulip beds
I would like to plant an informal bed of tulips that will keep coming back year after year. What is the best type of tulip bulb to plant?
The Darwins will last for several years, especially if they are planted at the deeper end of their suggested planting depth. However, the longest-lived types are the smaller and earlier-blooming fosteriana, kaufmanniana and greigii types. These will last longest if planted in full sun and well-drained soil. Deadheading, or removing the spent flowers, helps the bulbs conserve energy by preventing them from setting seed.
Tulips droop in vase
Several days ago, I received an arrangement of tulips from a florist. The flowers are lovely, but they are drooping. Am I doing something wrong?
Interestingly, tulips continue growing in the vase, sometimes gaining up to an inch in height. As they grow, they naturally bend and twist toward sources of light. The effect of gravity on the flowers also contributes to the bending. Professional floral designers expect this movement and create their arrangements accordingly. Check out the bending tulips in the still-life paintings of 17th-century Dutch painters, and you’ll see that you haven’t done anything wrong!
Credit: National Gardening Association