Tulips are an ever popular spring bulb, and one that really announces the arrival of spring, like the world’s biggest and most colourful carnival, parading around your own back garden! Actually available in EVERY colour of the rainbow, and in a myriad of shapes, sizes and patterns, you just can’t be without them. But, why think about them now, when we’ve had our biggest heatwave for years?
Warmer temperatures throughout the spring and summer have been great news for some, but not for our precious Tulips. Over in Holland, fields of Tulip bulbs have struggled to reach the sizes of previous years, meaning there’s a shortage of larger sized bulbs around the marketplace, and much panic in the industry. Most retailers are having to resort to smaller sizes in the packs they are offering this autumn.
Why order your Tulips in August?
Size is everything when it comes to Tulips, and your flowering display is always dependant on the energy stores that are already in the bulb, so size really does matter! When buying packs of Tulip bulbs from a DIY store or supermarket, you can’t be sure that you’re buying top size, so flowering performance can often be disappointing. However, getting ahead with buying your Tulip bulbs from a reputable supplier, who has reserved their larger bulbs ahead of time, is much recommended! But, be quick, they won’t stay in stock for long!
What Tulips can do for you
Crocus may start off the spring, but it’s the Tulips that finish it. Their April flowering moment coincides with temperatures warming and the first of the flowering perennials. They are an excellent ‘bridging’ plant, for ensuring a continuous colourful garden. By choosing a good perennial variety, you can also ensure year after year of colour too, as they’ll re-emerge each spring.
There is nothing more grand than a large container of statuesque Tulips. There’s something about the way they hold themselves, almost hovering in the air. In the border, they’re equally as beautiful, and look almost fairytale in a woodland area, or dotted amongst your perennials in the border.
Tulips make fabulous cut blooms too, and have a lovely heritage feel to them. To help them last longer in the vase, make a small pin hole through each stem, just below the bloom.
Why Tulips are great for beginners
Tulip bulbs really are the best choice for beginners to gardening and horticulture, as all the goodness is already in the bulb, especially when you’re lucky enough to get hold of a larger size bulb, the holy grail of many a gardener. The leaves and flowers are all packed into the bulb when you receive it, folded away and ready to unfurl once spring comes. Planting couldn’t be easier either, the bulb just needs dropping into the soil and covering over. You won’t have the panic of dealing with living plant material, either!
Tulips weren’t always this cheap!
I am sure you’ve heard about how much single Tulip bulbs were worth when they were first discovered. They actually created one of the first economic bubbles – ‘tulipomania’- back in the 17th century. Bulbs were changing hands for the price of a house, and often being stolen and touted on the black markets.
Once the market crashed, trading became more normalised and Tulips were less of a luxury item, with some nice garden varieties being developed and produced in great numbers. Read the full story here.
Did you know that Tulip flowers are edible, and have a crunchy texture? Some of the fragrant varieties even have a slight flavour. During war times, Dutch people also used to pickle the bulbs, as you would onions.
Which type of Tulips can I grow?
Tulips are available in almost every colour and in every pattern you could imagine. There are varieties that look like Lilies, ones with fancy parrot blooms, ones with slender regal flower heads, ones with big blousy blooms like peonies. The list goes on. And the colour range is better than any artist’s palette too. Just imagine how you’ll colour co-ordinate your garden next spring, and now’s the time to plan it!
Top Tulip growing tips
1 The time of planting Tulips is crucial. Despite ordering ahead and getting those top size bulbs, you should wait and plant them once the weather and soil is cooler, which will mean many soil-borne pest and disease will have been chilled off. As a general rule, this is usually October into November, depending on the season.
2 Planting a bulb is easy, you just dig a hole and drop it in. But, make sure it’s the right way up if you can, with the shoot pointing upwards. As a general guide, you need to plant any bulb at 3 times it’s own depth. Drainage is essential, so perhaps incorporate a bed of gravel or sand into your hole before planting. Where it’s windy, plant them a little deeper for stability.
3 Do nothing until spring. That’s right. You bulbs won’t need any water once you’ve planted them. You just have to sit back and wait. Come springtime (March ish), they will start to produce leaves, and that’s when you can start watering them. They won’t need much though, as it’ll probably be raining lots at that time of year anyway…
4 After they bloom. Remove spent flowers and tidy up fallen petals from the ground (as this prevents the risk of disease spreading), but don’t be tempted to tidy that foliage though…! It is best to allow the foliage of your Tulips to die back naturally. It is important to keep it on the plants, in order to feed energy back into the bulbs for the following year. It’s at this moment you can feed your bulbs too, one dose of a general purpose fertiliser will suffice.
5 How many per container? I’m a big fan of maximum impact from patio containers, so would always over-plant. In a 30cm (12in) diameter container, I would actually squeeze in up to 20 bulbs, perhaps either pairing them with some spring primroses on top.
What are your favourite tulips to grow? Let me know in the comments section below!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook – and writes a plant-focused Substack called Grow This, Not That.