Tulip - Garden Basics - Flower - Bulb



Tulips are hardy spring-blooming bulbs that rival the daffodil in popularity. Most of the commercially grown tulips sold in the US come from Holland. Varieties range in height form short to very tall (Darwin) and bloom generally from mid-spring (species and early tulips) to early summer (gardeners' tulips.) In a sunny, protected spot some of the species bloom as early as February. Tulips come in all colors except blue. Blotched and striped varieties are known as "broken" tulips.


Tulips are beautiful planted in clumps of at least ten of one variety in spring borders and among foundation plantings, but they are most often massed in formal beds. The compact kaufmanniana tulips are often used in rock gardens. All varieties are good for cutting. The long stemmed lily-flowered tulips, feathery-flowered parrot tulips, and multiflowering tulips are favorites for the cutting beds.

Tulip fanciers treat the bulbs as annuals, digging and discarding the current season's bulbs and replanting new stock each fall. This guarantees top-quality blooms each year. The beds are filled with annuals in the summer.

Cutting and Forcing

Tulips make great cutting flowers. Darwin hybrids can be harvested when half the bud is colored and half is green. Harvest other varieties when the bud is fully colored.

The best types of tulip for forcing and container growing are triumphs, doubles and semi-doubles. See Forcing Bulbs for more information. Containers should be protected from freezing.


Plant the bulbs in mid- to late fall for blooms in spring. Set the bulbs in the ground with the flat or root side down. They should be planted 4-5 inches deep, or 8 inches deep for taller varieties. If rodents are a problem, try planting them up to 3 inches deeper, but expect the shoots to take a little longer to appear. Space tulips about 6 inches apart. Rich soil, well amended with compost and containing enough sand for good drainage is required. This good soil should be available well below the bulb so that the extending roots will find good drainage and adequate nourishment. Avoid fresh or only partly decomposed manure. Bone meal scattered at the rate of one cup per square yard is a good source of nourishment. Side dress when shoots are 1 to 2 inches tall.

Special Treatment in Warm Climates

If bulbs are to bloom south of zone eight, where winters are nearly frost-free, tulip bulbs must be stored in a refrigerator for 4-6 weeks before planting. They must not be frozen. Pre-cooled bulbs can be purchased at many garden-supply centers. In southern areas, bulbs should be planted in November.

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