Growing up on a bulb farm, near the world famous gardens of the Keukenhof, I have to admit that tulips are among some of my favourite plants. I am not alone as Tulips are one of the world’s most favourite flowers.
Originating in Turkey, they have been grown for centuries and are a great addition to the spring landscape, when colour is especially appreciated after a drab winter.
Tulips are easy to grow as the bulb itself already contains everything it needs to grow. The bulb is a storage unit, containing the flower, and nutrients, and only needs to be planted correctly to produce a beautiful flower next spring. The first step in growing tulips successfully is picking large, healthy, firm bulbs. Remember that the bulb is a storage unit, so the bigger the bulb the bigger the flower. Smaller bulbs can be less expensive, but they will produce a smaller flower. If you are going to put all the time and effort to plant the bulbs, you may as well spend the extra few pennies, for the larger, showier flowers.
Tulips should be planted in early Fall so that they can establish a good root system before the frost sets into the ground. Ideally they should be planted in September or early October. Plant tulip bulbs in a well drained soil. They do not do well in a wet areas, as this will cause the bulb to rot. They also do best in a sunny location, where they will receive 6 hours of daily sun. For the best display, plant tulips in groups of 5-7 bulbs per group. Dig a hole large enough to hold 5-7 bulbs. The hole should be 20-25 cm deep. If there is a problem of drainage, a good layer of coarse sand can be added to the bottom of the hole so the bulbs will not be sitting in water. The soil that was dug out can be amended by adding some compost to it before putting it back in the hole. Put 2-3 cm of the amended soil in the bottom of the hole and then sprinkle a handful of bonemeal in the hole. Bonemeal is good for root development. Place the bulbs in the hole on top of the bonemeal with the pointed end up, spacing the bulbs 10-12cm apart. When the bulbs have all been placed, fill the hole with soil and give it a good drink of water. The water will get rid of any air pockets and will get the bulbs to start growing. The soil should be moist, not wet, before the frost sets into ground, so the bulbs may need to be watered again, depending on the weather.
New shoots will appear next spring.This is a good time to fertilize the tulips with a bulb fertilizer. The blooms will last 2-3 weeks depending on the temperatures. For long lasting colour in the landscape, plant several different varieties and types of tulips with different bloom times. There are early, mid-season, and late varieties. After the tulips have finished blooming, remove the finished flower, before it can form a seed pod. The seed pod will take energy away from the bulb. The remaining stem and foliage must be left to die back naturally on its own as this is the time when the bulb is gathering nutrients and forming next years flower. Keep this in mind when planning where to plant the bulbs in the fall. Placing bulbs behind deciduous shrubs and late perennials will hide the dying foliage.
Tulips are low maintenance but every 3-4 years the bulbs will need to be dug up, separated and re-planted. This is because of overcrowding which will produce smaller flowers. If they are not divided every few years, the flowers will become smaller and eventually they will not bloom anymore. Dig the bulbs up in mid summer after the foliage has died back. When the bulbs are dug up, you will notice lots of small bulbets surrounding the main original bulb. Air dry all the bulbs for a few days and then separate the tiny bulblets from the large bulb. Sprinkle all the bulbs with bulb dust and store them in a cool, dry space for 4-5 weeks. The little bulblets can be tossed out as they are too small to form a flower. If you decide to keep them, plant them in a back corner somewhere, where the bulb can grow large and form a flower. This could take a few years. Plant all the bulbs in early September in a different location from where they were previously. When done right, tulips are a great investment for the landscape giving years of enjoyment!
Jos Van Hage owns and operates two Art Knap Home and Garden Centres in Prince George:
- Highway 16 west at Kimball Road
- Highway 97 North at Northwood Pulpmill Road