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TULIP TALK

Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore

Gardeners around the world share a love and fascination of tulips. Spring is not the time to plant tulips. Spring is the time to enjoy tulips. However, since our collective memories are short come fall, when we should be ordering our tulip bulbs, now is the time to see what holes tulips might fill in your garden. Add a list to your August calendar page. Then you will be ready to order when the time is right and the tulip bulbs are ripe.

Tulips can be tall or short, with large or small blooms. The blossom shapes can be wide and fringed, like the parrot tulips, or have laid back pointed petals, like the lily-flowered tulips, or have many rows of petals, like the peony-flowered. Then there’s just the plain old tulip shape, an elegant goblet.

‘Angelique’, a pale pink loosely ruffled peony flowered tulip is one of the most popular tulips in the world. One of the best for the Southern garden is ‘Monsella,’ a red and yellow late blooming double tulip. Remember the rhyme, “Red and yellow sure to catch a fellow?” This one catches everyone’s attention not just because of its red flames on yellow. It is very fragrant also.

Blending tulip colors might seem easy. Just put together colors that complement or play off each other. Trouble is many tulips just don’t cooperate. They bloom at different times so that the lovely pallet you envisioned might become a succession of bloom rather than a knockout in the landscape. Succession is OK too. It might take you a few tries (Years) to come up with the right blend. There is a company that blends tulips so that they will bloom all at the same time, called easy to remember Colorblends.

Some quick tips on tulips:
Tulips like well-drained soil. They respond to over wet soil by rotting.
Squirrels like tulip bulbs, as do voles and other critters. Plant them in wire cages or sink wire around the top of containers.
Most bloom times listed by retailers are for northern growers.
One of my favorite color combo’s is the pink ‘Minton’ tulip combined with the almost black ‘Queen of the Night’ tulip.
You might not choose to wear this color combination, but pink and orange tulips show off together in the garden.
White tulips light up the evening hours when many gardeners who work can unwind in the garden. The whites glow in the moonlight and whiffs of perfume help to melt away the cares of the day. One of my favorites for containers is ‘Maureen’ a creamy white.

Tulips are considered a rarity in southern states but they needn’t be. With some planning and a little refrigerator room, tulips will brighten southern early spring gardens just as completely as in the cold climates. Some southern gardeners try to stick with early flowering tulips, thinking that they will bloom before the weather heats up. I have found that late flowering tulips do equally as well, since they will stand up to more heat than those classified as early bloomers.

Most tulips today just don’t come back. They grow as annuals, especially in the south where they don’t get the required chilling hours outdoors. Tulip bulbs today are so inexpensive that using them as annuals and pulling them out at the end of the season is as easy as pulling up any other spent flowers. I have been pleasantly surprised though by a white tulip I ordered from Brent and Becky’s bulbs called ‘Purissima’ that appears to have perennialized. This is the third year it has come back in my garden and is showing buds again.  

Two things account for large tulip blossoms: the size of the bulb and seasoning with cold temperatures, called chilling or cooling. Look for bulbs suitable for your area. In the Southern states, put your tulip bulbs in the refrigerator for 8-10 weeks before you plant them out in December. Make sure there isn’t any fruit in the same drawer with your tulip bulbs or you will get deformed flowers, foliage, or no flowers at all. If you are a warm climate gardener, be sure to order your tulips early enough to give them a good chill before you plant.


Posted March 29, 2013


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