WHY GROW TULIPS? Nothing says “Spring” better than these diverse, colorful, elegantly simple flowers. They are truly icons of the season.
HISTORY — Tulips came to Europe from Turkey in the mid-1500s and zoomed to superstar status during the Dutch “Tulipomania” of the 1630s. Most prized then were “broken” tulips, feathered and flamed with contrasting colors by benign viruses. Every year we’re offering more of these rare jewels from our friends at the Hortus Bulborum.
In the early days, tulips were generally grown as mixed collections of choice individual specimens. Then with the rise of Victorian bedding-out in the mid-1800s, short, bright Single and Double Early tulips were massed in cookie-cutter beds in the lawn. Reacting against that style, early-twentieth-century gardeners favored taller, later-blooming, pastel tulips for their perennial borders.
SIZES, ETC. — We offer the largest bulbs available, 12+ cm, though species bulbs are naturally smaller. All are Dutch-grown (except two) and fall-shipped.
TULIP ARCHIVES — For customer raves, stories behind the bulbs, links, books, news, and more, see our Tulip Newsletter Archives.
TULIPS AS CUT FLOWERS — For tips for longer lasting bouquets, see our Bulbs as Cut Flowers page.
GETTING TULIPS TO LIVE FOREVER — Well, almost. Though they have a reputation for being short-lived, we know of tulips that have been blooming beautifully for decades. Here’s how to get the most out of yours.
For a start, you need to be in zone 7 or colder. (Gardeners in warmer zones can grow tulips as annuals, but you’ll need to chill them in the refrigerator for 8 weeks before planting.) Then most important, we’ve learned from experience, is keeping them DRY in SUMMER (as in their native homes). Try this: plant a few where you never water in summer — or near a thirsty shrub or tree — and see how well they return.
Beyond that, the basics include well-drained soil (improve heavy soil, or try raised beds), lots of sun, regular fertilizing, and — this is very important — letting the foliage ripen to yellow to feed the bulbs for next year’s bloom. Some authorities recommend deep planting, especially in the South — to 12 inches — but we say 6-8 inches is plenty.
Then there’s this age-old method: dig them up every summer, store them in a cool dry spot, and replant them in the fall. You’ll end up with more bulbs every year, guaranteed.
Some varieties just last better, too — often Single Earlies, Single Lates, Lily-flowered tulips, and species.
And there’s a good reason why OLD VARIETIES OFTEN PERENNIALIZE BETTER: they were bred for gardens, not for commercial pot-flower and cut-flower uses as most modern tulips have been.
Tulips do best when planted in mid- to late fall, after the soil has thoroughly cooled. Later is better than earlier with tulips. If necessary, store in open bags in a cool, dry spot (or the refrigerator — NOT the freezer).
Neutral to slightly alkaline soil is ideal, though tulips are very adaptable. Set bulbs about 6 inches apart from center to center (or closer for a lush look). For each, scratch a tablespoon of bulb fertilizer into the surface soil (slow-release 10-10-10 is ideal). Use no manure. Water well and make sure the bulbs have reliable moisture throughout their growing period, from planting in the fall through the ripening of their foliage the following summer.
PROTECTING TULIPS FROM ANIMALS — Tulips, unfortunately, seem to be a favorite on most animal menus.
If animals dig your newly-planted bulbs try covering with plastic bird-netting, wire-mesh, a window screen, or burlap bags for a couple of weeks till the inviting smell of freshly-dug earth disappears.
If animals burrow to your bulbs, try lining the planting hole with wire-mesh, plant in wire-mesh boxes, or plant in buried pots covered with a square of chicken-wire.
Moles often disturb bulbs as they dig for grubs. Killing the grubs (try beneficial nematodes or spraying your lawn with bitter, organic Mole-Med) will reduce the moles — and this will discourage voles and mice which often use mole tunnels to munch on bulbs.
If animals eat spring growth, cover it with chicken wire for a few weeks (while they are hungriest), sprinkle blood meal around it, fence them out, or — our most successful solution — spray it with bitter, non-toxic Ro-pel, available at many garden centers. Bulbs can be dipped in Ro-pel before planting, too.