Gardeners have been growing tulips for centuries as they’ve spread across the world from their Mediterranean origins.
Tulips offer more than just a great choice of colors. Their flowers may be single or double, flamboyant like the fringed parrot varieties or subtle styles tinged with green such as the viridifloras or Spring Green.
In addition, all tulips grow well in pots. This provides flexibility for filling gaps in the garden left by herbaceous perennials that flower later in the season.
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Tulips are usually grown from bulbs, but, for the patient gardener, it’s possible to grow them from seed (it may be up to five years before seed-started tulips bloom). If you’re collecting tulip seeds from hybrids that you’ve planted, you may find colors will not come true in your new plants.
If you grow species tulips, you are more likely to have success. Species tulips are wild varieties such as Linifolia or Clusiana. They tend to be smaller than hybrids, but will grow into perennial clumps in your garden.
Wait for the seed heads to fatten and turn brown, then remove and carefully open them. Put your seeds onto a dry, flat dish and leave them out to dry out for a week. Sow seeds into a deep seed tray with sieved garden compost or an organic nutrient-rich seed starting mix. Water it very lightly. Cover with a half inch (1cm) of compost and firm down. Label your tray and put it outside in a sheltered place. Transplant into pots or modules once plants are large enough to handle.
Planting tulip bulbs allows you to plant early and late flowering varieties together so that you get longer displays. But be sure to purchase bulbs that are healthy-looking and firm to the touch.
IMPORTANT - TULIP BULB CARE: Tulip bulbs need the protection of their dry skins while they're out of the ground. Exposed, white bulbs will be vulnerable to disease. Store them in paper (never plastic) bags in a cool, dry place, until it’s time to plant them.
The best time to plant tulips from bulbs is in the late fall. Use a bulb planter to create holes at a depth equal to three times the size of the bulb itself. Drop your bulb in making sure the growing tip is pointing upwards and replace the soil that was removed. Add a mulch of well-rotted organic farmyard manure to give them a great start for the following spring.
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Standard flower watering guidelines apply. Remove the seed heads after flowering so the plant will put its energy into its bulb. This will produce better flowers the following year.
Although tulips are perennials, many gardeners lift and store them after flowering. Do this using a garden fork being careful not to damage the bulb or its roots. Remove any soil and store them in a dry place. Remember to label them if you have different varieties. Bulbs can then be replanted the following fall.
Smaller tulips and some of the hybridized tulips produced by nurseries do not need lifting, and you may find that your tulips return year after year. Over time, tulip bulbs left in the soil will develop small offsets. To prevent overcrowding, dig bulbs up every few years and remove offsets by either replanting them in the ground or by potting up separately for future plants.
Because tulips grow so well in pots, it’s always worth considering growing extra to have as cut flowers.
Tulips should last about 7 to 10 days in your vase. Cut them when color first begins to appear on their petals. Use sharp pruning shears to cut them at the base, including some foliage. Carry a bucket of water with you to drop them straight in so that they do not droop.
Cut the bottom inch (2.5cm) of the stem before adding them to the vase. When choosing a vase, keep in mind that tulips respond to the shape of their container… using a narrow upright vase will give you a formal vertical display, while using a container with a wider opening will result in a loose style.
Place out of direct sunlight and top up the water each day to keep your display fresh.
Aphids are a potentially serious tulip pest as they spread an untreatable virus that ruins petals with streaking. If you notice this distortion in your flowers, it is essential to dig up and destroy affected plants. Avoid planting tulips in the same aphid-infested area for at least the next 3 years.
The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Tulips (see Organic Garden Pest Control for information about how to prevent and address pests and diseases)...
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