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Past Articles Library | A Care Guide to Growing Tulips

When the birds begin to chirp in the spring and the weather warms, it is bulb time.  Tulips are one of the bulbs that will be breaking the ground during this period.  As visitors to your garden space look on with ah, you and only you will know the secret to your beautiful crop of Tulipa.  But as every gardener knows the best secrets are those that one shares. 

The Lifecycle of a Tulip

Before one begins planting tulips, one will need to understand the lifecycle of this bulb.  Tulips are planted in the fall.  As soon as they feel the ground around their bulb, they start to form roots.  At this point, do not worry about them going hungry.  The tulip itself created all the food it will need for the upcoming year during the previous year’s growth and stored it in the tissue of the bulb. 

As the season progress from fall to winter, the cold stimulates the bulb more and come spring it begins to sprout.  At this point, the bulb grows very rapidly and finally blooms, which by this time the bulb has used up all its food reserves.  To preserve the species, the bulb at this time produces bulblets or little bulbs.  This formation occurs between the blooming and dying back cycle, which is called Grand Period of Growth.

When, Where and How to Plant Bulbs

Tulips can be planted in a variety of planting zones, which includes USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 through 10.  While this is true, there is a breakdown of when to place them in the ground per zone.  For gardeners who live in zones 4 through 5, bulbs can be planted during the months of September and October.  Bulbs in zones 6 through 7 can be planted during the months of October and November.  Zones 8 and 9 require that tulip bulbs be planted during the months of November and December while gardeners in zone 10 will need to plant their bulbs in December and January.

If you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8 through 10, you will need to artificially produce the cold environment that triggers the bulbs root growth.  To do this, count back 8 to 10 weeks from your required planting date.  Once you have this date, place your bulb in a paper bag and put them in the fridge that does not contain any fruit.  Ripening fruit is the enemy of bulbs and in the case of tulips will destroy the flower bud that is inside the bulb.

After the cold treatment, you can begin to plant but before you do you need to choose the correct location.  Tulips need a sunny spot but do not limit your area to locations that are sunny all the time.  If you have deciduous trees in your landscape, consider planting bulbs underneath.  When the bulbs break the ground and bloom the leaves will not be out on these trees.  In doing so, the bulbs will get all the light they need.  Another factor to keep in mind is that tulips need well-drained soil.  A soggy soil or valley can mean the death and/or rotting of the bulbs. 

Prior to planting, the soil will need to be prepared.  To do, one will need to break the soil up to a depth of 10 inches.  While doing this, incorporate a good amount of compost.  Once that is done, it is time to decide the pattern by which you want to plant your bulbs.  Many gardeners at this point make a design mistake and that is to plant their bulbs in little rows.  Using this approach not only takes a lot of time but reduces the impact of your flowers.  To get the biggest bang per bulb consider planting them in a mass but not in any mass.  There are two time tested designs that work well for large bulbs and this is the bouquet shape or triangle pattern.    The bouquet shape is a circular grouping of bulbs that gives the appearance of a colorful spray of flowers.   The triangular pattern is one that is created by planting the point closest to where the viewer of your garden will be standing.  From the point span out with the bulbs until you have planted what would be the base of the triangle.  Using this approach gives the viewer the illusion that there is a field of tulips.  The impact of both of these planting methods will allow you to maximize the impact of your bulbs even if you only have a few bulbs.

Once you have your design, dig down 8 inches and place your bulb in the hole with the pointed end up.  Space your bulbs 5 inches apart.  Once all the bulbs have been planted, gently push the soil down, apply a fertilizer specifically for bulbs, and water in.

After a month has passed, lay down a layer of straw.  If you have a problem with squirrels eating your bulbs, top the freshly planted area with chicken wire.  While other covers such as window screens will protect your bulbs, chicken wire has the advantage that it will never have to be removed since the bulbs will grow right through the wire. 

Tulip Care

Once your bulbs are planted, the work is not done.  After your tulips have bloomed, remove the flower stalk.  This will allow the bulb to send energy to its food stores verses supporting a dying stem.  Also, the bulb will need to be feed with a fertilizer especially designed for bulbs in the fall.  Apply according to directions.

Occasionally, you may have a pest problem beyond squirrels, mice, voles, moles, and deer.  These pests listed can be deterred with chicken wire as described above and just making sure that the garden area is clean after planting.  Skins from bulbs and packaging can be indications to the animals described above that there is a free meal below.

Other pests that attack tulip bulbs are harder to control.  Two of the most common are aphids and thrips.  While there are chemical controls for these pests, the best approach is to let nature takes its course and release beneficial insects.  These include lady bugs, lacewings, syrid flies, and damsel bugs. 

Following this simple tulip bulb guide, will help your create a traffic stopping display that will make your neighbors jealous.    But the question still remains will you share your secrets to success or just tell them it is the wonders of nature.


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Once in a while, it is nice to just step back, admire all your hard work, and the simple beauty of nature.

So this tip is to take a deep breath, take a minute, and look around and enjoy the beauty of all these wonderful plants.

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