8 tips for planting and growing luscious tulips

Available in a huge range of colours and forms, tulips always bloom beautifully their first year and may bloom well for several seasons thereafter.

8 tips for planting and growing luscious tulips

Hybrid and botanical tulips

The stately tulips that herald spring are mostly hybrids that have resulted from 300 years of passionate plant breeding.

  • In addition to the dazzling hybrids, species (or botanical) tulips are smaller, hardy bulbs that will naturalize in informal spots for years of bloom.
  • They usually have open, starry blooms that close in wet weather, with a "wild" look that recalls their native mountain habitats.

1. Find the right bulbs

  • Good tulip bulbs are pretty, with firm, smooth flesh covered by chestnut-coloured papery skin.
  • Plant tulip bulbs with the skins intact because they help protect the bulbs from pests and disease.

Don't worry if the papery outer layer is tattered, but avoid bulbs with soft spots, bruises or nicks.

2. Find the right tulips

  • To purchase species tulips and lesser-known hybrids, seek out catalogues from specialty bulb growers, who are more likely than garden centres to carry them.
  • Be sure to order them in late summer or fall, the seasons when all spring-flowering bulbs are shipped.

3. Climate too hot for tulips?

Most tulips need a period of cold dormancy, but some will perform well in warm climates with minimal chilling, at least for one season.

  • Try Tulipa sylvestris, T. bakeri 'LilacWonder', 'Blue Parrot', 'White Triumphator' or 'Sweet Harmony'.
  • Some mail-order companies sell prechilled tulips to grow as annuals in mild winter climates.

4. Use the right soil

While tulips can usually adjust to many soil types, they grow best in rich, quick-draining loam.

5. Team tulips with mini-pansies

Small-flowered mini-pansies start blooming sooner in spring than larger-flowered types, and they are hardy enough to be planted with tulips in the fall in most areas.

  • By the time the tulips bloom, the mini-pansies will form a sea of colour at their feet.

6. Plant in the right place

The edge of a tree's shade canopy is a great place to plant tulips.

  • They will get full sun during their early stage of growth and enjoy cool shade as the flowers appear.
  • Light shade helps tulip blooms last longer, while hot weather makes them shatter quickly.
  • Be careful with too much shade, because light-starved tulips will bend and twist towards brighter light.

7. Expect a slump

A second-year slump is common for some tulips in some soils. You never know until you try!

  • If you're not happy with some tulips, lift the bulbs at season's end and replant them in an inconspicuous spot, where their less-than-perfect blooms won't matter.
  • They may surprise you by coming back better than ever.

8. Make a bouquet

For long-lasting bouquets, cut tulips in the morning.

  • Select fairly tight buds with good colour on the upper two-thirds of the petals.
  • Give tulips plenty of room in a vase because the blooms can expand by as much as 50 per cent.
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