To your list of fall preparations for spring don’t forget about tulips. They are an ideal compliment to azaleas and a colorful addition to your beds. They make cheerful borders and beautiful mass plantings. They are perfect accents to early-flowering perennials and mix very well with pansies. Mass plantings of single colors give a bold, majestic look to large areas, and blending colors of two or three shades can offer beautiful contrasts in any garden. Plan the desired look you want your tulips to have prior to planting.
There are hundreds of tulip varieties. They are classified by their bloom time; i.e., early spring, early to mid-spring, mid-spring and late spring blooming. Packaged tulips have this information on the package label. Bin bulbs have this information on the pictured example.
Although tulips are bulbs, it is best to consider them as annuals here in Texas. Successive year’s blooms will be inferior, if present at all. Texas winters are too mild to give them the chilling they
need to flower properly, so refrigerate the bulbs for at least six weeks prior to planting.
Generally planted in Texas around Christmas or the first two weeks of January, tulips should be planted in sun or part shade six inches deep and four to six inches apart. Tulips look better when planted in clumps of three, five or seven. They require well-drained, fertilized soil. There are several “bulb boosters” or fertilizers available as well as the traditional bone meal. Mix any of these with soil in the bottom of the planting hole. For bigger, brighter blooms, use a liquid plant food in early spring.
Carole Shearer, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
What a shame tulip bulbs are good for only one season in our planting zone. They are beautiful that first year, but our mild winters do not provide the cold temperatures necessary for healthy blooms the following year. However, many East Texas gardeners believe that the one year of bloom is worth the cost and effort.
The tulip has a history unrivaled by any other plant. Most people associate the tulip with Holland and assume that is where the plant originated. History tells us that tulips were cultivated by the Turks as early as AD 1000. It was so prized that there were laws prohibiting its export outside of Turkey. It is said that the name “tulip” came from the Turkish word for “turban.”
The tulip reached Holland in 1593 and, because of its scarcity, became the symbol of wealth and status. It gained such popularity that in the 1630s there was a tulip mania, so to speak. The bulbs became a trading product with one bulb being worth the price of a house. Traders in bulbs were making fortunes, and a futures market developed on bulbs still in the ground. The frenzy became so great that when new hybrids came onto the market and the supply increased, the market crashed, bankrupting many dealers and investors. The financial impact was devastating across Holland. The government was forced to enact legislation establishing trading restrictions on the bulbs.
Give tulips about 60days of chilling in the refrigerator (not freezer) before planting. To those who do plant the bulb, treat it tenderly because you are holding in your hand the bulb that was once revered by sultans, emperors, kings, and princes.
George Weisser, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
In April of 2010 I took a trip along with my husband and close friends from Whitehouse to Amsterdam, Holland. The highlight of the excursion came at the end of our river cruise when we visited Keukenhof Gardens located outside of Amsterdam. The 65 acre park boasts a spectacular array of more than six million tulips and other spring flowering plants. There are 10 miles of paths that lead the visitors through some of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. While touring the gardens you can also see the fields of tulips, hyacinths and narcissus that surround the area. The tulips are the main flower attraction and the array of colors is fantastic. The beauty of such tulip displays is so alluring that bulbs have to be purchased. My traveling companion and I purchased tulip bulbs. We consulted with the vendors and choose varieties that were recommended for Texas. We both chose an array of colors including reds, yellows, and a combination of red and yellow varieties.
We returned home and eagerly awaited the arrival of the bulbs. The tulips arrived as promised the latter part of October. Following the instructions provided, the bulbs were immediately placed in the refrigerator at a temperature of 40 to 45 degrees for the next six to eight weeks. Tulip bulbs must be chilled in order to bloom. The tulip bulbs were planted in mid-December in a well drained, mulched, and fertilized flower bed that receives sun the greater part of the day. In general it is recommended to plant tulips at a depth of 2-1/2 to 3 times their diameter. The bulbs were nestled between the pansies that were serving as the winter color for our yard. Nothing was left but to wait and watch for the bulbs to emerge in early spring and bloom. Water was supplied to the bed when needed. As expected the tulips bloomed in the early spring of 2011 were quite colorful and were enjoyed by all.
After the tulips bloomed I decided that I would like to dig the bulbs and try to repeat the process for 2012. Before digging there is a waiting period to allow the foliage to wither. The green leaves produce food for the plant to grow the next year. Also, remember when you dig the bulbs, remove the withered foliage from the flower bed and destroy the dead foliage. Dead foliage left on the ground may carry disease to new growth the following year. In early June the bulbs were removed. Since the soil was loose and easy to work I managed to extract the majority of the bulbs. I rather enjoyed the process as I felt that I was harvesting potatoes. The bulbs seemed to have multiplied. When finished digging I cleaned the bulbs of the excess soil, let them dry in the garage a few days and stored them in a single layer in box lids under a bed. The idea is to keep them away from sunlight in the cool of the home. Ideally the temperature should be 60 to 65 degrees but not below 50 or above 70 degrees F. The next step was to place the bulbs in the refrigerator in late October which I did. The winter was so mild that I did not plant the bulbs until January when the weather was fairly cold. The bulbs were returned to the same bed and I am happy the bulbs sprouted and bloomed again but not as well as their first year. When I planted the bulbs I had enough to plant in containers on my front step as well as the patio containers. The bulbs in the containers performed the best. The colors were just as bright as last year and complimented the pansies I had in the containers.
My traveling companion from the trip followed the same regimen that I did and was also successful in having tulip blooms the second year. Even though I enjoyed the entire process I have to agree with the gardening experts that, in reality, Dutch tulips need to be treated as annuals in east Texas.
Deanna Olson, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.