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, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas 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 AgriLife Extension Service