Tulips are among the most popular and widely grown garden flowers. Their emergence is a sign to many that winter has passed. They have a rich history and, at one time, were prized more than gold. They are easy to plant and care for and add a beautiful accent to any spring garden.
Tulips have been cultivated widely for more than 500 years. Originally, they were raised by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, now modern-day Turkey. In the early 1600s, tulips were imported to Europe, where they grew particularly well in the rich soils of the Netherlands.
Tulips were highly coveted during this time and became a real craze. Owning tulips rose to the level of a status symbol among the wealthy. The price of tulip bulbs became exorbitant and single bulbs of unique plants sold for the equivalent of thousands of dollars today. However, by 1637, the craze died out when prices grew so high that most people could not purchase them. Interest in the plants soon waned and the tulip market crashed.
Tulips come in a wide variety of color ranging from pure white to creams, bright yellows and oranges, brilliant reds to deep burgundies and even black. Many varieties have frilled edges along their petals. Still others display unique striped patterns, giving the blooms a "candy-cane" appearance. There are thousands of varieties that are classified in forms such as Lily-flowered, Rembrandt, Cottage and Mendel. Tulips also do well as cut flowers, lasting for up to a week in a vase.
Tulips are spring flowers, overwintering in a dormant state until they detect moisture in the soil. When this happens, they begin to sprout. They grow relatively quickly, taking advantage of the change in moisture and temperature. The plant will send out a stem with paired leaves and, once at full height, will bloom quickly. The blooms last for several weeks. As cooler winter months come on, the plant will die back to the ground in preparation for its dormant phase.
Tulips are bulbs, possessing modified stems and leaves that grow underground and serve to store food and protect the bud of the plant. This allows the plant to survive dry and dormant periods for many months. At the bottom of the bulb is the root system. When the bulb sprouts, it puts forth a single stem with large and long, floppy leaves. At the end of the stem will appear a single cup-shaped bloom with five petals that curve upward from the base of the flower. The plant grows to between 6 and 30 inches tall. Bulbs can be grown relatively closely, forming dense fields of blossoms. They will last for several weeks, eventually forming a seed head.
Tulip bulbs can be planted in the fall, when temperatures are lower and the bulbs are dormant. They can also be forced by placing them in a cold environment, such as a refrigerator, then planted in early spring. Tulips are usually planted 4 to 8 inches in the ground with the root facing downward.
Tulips need well-drained, rich soil. They prefer full sun, although they can tolerate some shade. Seed heads produced can be removed to encourage the plant to store food in the bulb, rather than in seed production.