Gardens flower beds of tulips

Tulips, a spring icon, are prized for their vast array of colors. Easily grown in borders or containers, many gardeners consider tulips a staple flower that they anxiously await each year.

Zones:
3-8; Tulips require 14 to 15 weeks of winter temperatures below 48 degrees to perform, faring best when springs are long and balmy with temperatures between 45 and 60 degrees.

Height:
Varieties 6 inches to 2 feet.

Exposure:
Full sun—in the shade, they’re weak and spindly with small flowers. But keep in mind that tulips perform before most deciduous trees leaf out.

Bloom time:
Varieties available with different bloom times from early to late spring.

Flower color:
Large variety of single and multi-colored types. Popular tulip colors include pink, white, red, orange, purple and yellow.

Types of tulips:
There are many varieties of tulips to choose from. Some have single flowers, others have double flowers, some have solid color foliage, others have variegated foliage, some bloom early, others bloom late—and the list goes on.

Tulips can be classified into 15 cultivar groups, which are as follows:

Species tulips (sometimes called wild or botanical tulips)
Parrot tulips
Fringed tulips
Rembrandt tulips (the modern, virus-free version of broken tulips)
Darwin hybrid tulips
Triumph tulips
Lily-flowered tulips
Single early tulips
Double early tulips
Single late tulips
Double late tulips
Viridiflora tulips
Kaufmanniana tulips
Fosteriana tulips (also known as Emperor tulips)
Greigii tulips

When to plant tulips:
As a general rule, tulips should be planted in the fall. More specifically, plant bulbs September to early October for zones 4 and 5; October to early November for zones 6 and 7; November to early December for zones 8 and 9; and late December to early January for zone 10. In zones 8 to 10, bulbs should be refrigerated for 6 to 8 weeks before planting.

Where to plant tulips:
Plant in a location that will receive full sun, with good drainage. If planted in the shade, they’ll be weak and spindly with small flowers. If planting taller varieties, make sure they are in an area protected from strong wind.

How to plant tulips:
Tulip bulbs should be buried 6 to 8 inches below the soil line, pointed end up, spaced 4 to 6 inches apart. To ensure that bulbs planted together will bloom at the same time, make sure they are planted at exactly the same depth.

Soil:
Because tulip bulbs are primed and ready when the bulb is planted and then whisked away after the show is over, soil isn’t a major issue. But given their druthers, tulips prefer a sandy loam soil and excellent drainage, and detest being sunk in soggy beds.

Watering:
Water when planted, but don’t water again until foliage appears. Bulbs don’t like wet feet.

Pruning:
Deadhead tulip flowers after the petals have dropped. After flowering, the plant will continue to grow and store nutrients for next year, so leave the foliage intact until it has completely died back.

Propagation:
If left in the ground, smaller varieties may multiply and spread on their own, while larger varieties may need replanting every few years.

Fertilizer:
Fertilize them in the fall when they are planted and establishing their roots and again when growth appears. Don’t fertilize after flowers have bloomed.

Digging up tulips:
The best time to lift tulip bulbs is approximately six weeks after flowering, once the leaves have turned yellow. If necessary, use a garden fork to gently loosen the bulbs from the ground. If you want to lift earlier to avoid the unsightly foliage or make room for new plants, RHS recommends placing them in trays until the leaves become yellow and straw-like.

Storing:
Any soil, old leaves or roots should be gently removed from the bulbs. Separate any new bulbs that have formed. Make sure the bulbs are totally dry before storing or they will rot. Provide good air circulation, warm temperatures, and darkness until you are ready to replant. Many gardeners use trays or mesh bags for tulip storage.

Diseases and pests:
Gray mold, slugs, snails, aphids, and bulb rot. Squirrels, rabbits, mice, and voles are frequent pests to tulip bulbs, but can be deterred by placing holly or other thorny leaves in with the bulbs.

Additional care tips:

Don’t expect all tulips to come back—hybrids should be replanted annually.
If refrigerator chilling prior to planting is necessary in your zone, don’t store bulbs in the same drawer with fruit as gases emitted from ripening fruit can cause bulbs to sprout.
Store bulbs in a cool place in a paper bag (not plastic) before planting.

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