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Growing Tulips

Tulip 'Pink Sensation'

January 15, 2019 – Gardener’s Journal – I was amazed after hearing Hans de Barbansson from the famous tulip displays at Keunkenhof Gardens speak on the subject of growing tulips. I have been growing garlic for many years and I found his method of growing tulips very similar to growing garlic, but of course at a different time of the year. I’ll explain.

Have you experienced dwindling tulip displays? I have planted thousands of hybridized tulips and have always experienced diminishing blooms the year after the first flowering. There is one exception – only specie tulips multiply and flourish year after year and do not require the digging up method (I’ll explain…a little later).

Another issue is that rodents and deer love to eat tulip bulbs and flowers. To prevent rodents from eating our tulip bulbs and tulip flowers we use and sell Acti-Sol Multipurpose Fertilizer 5-3-2 in the hole when planting and on top of the soil every spring. To prevent deer from eating our flowers, shrubs and trees (not vegetables) we use and sell Plantskydd spray.

Tulip 'Calgary' with Muscari bulbs

In our Zone 5 botanical gardens at Plant Paradise Country Gardens tulip bulbs are planted in around October-November which allows the roots to grow and be ready to produce a flower for the coming spring.

When tulips have finished flowering in the spring you have to cut the bloom stem off at the top. When you cut the finished flower/seed head it causes the bulb to grow and store the food for next year’s flower. Leave the leaves on until they turn brown.

Some gardeners make the mistake of cutting the leaves off after the tulip has finished flowering which stops the bulb from receiving nutrients to develop the root for next year’s flower. This causes the bulb to be too small and the result is diminished or lack of flowers.

After five to six weeks or until the leaves turn brown, the bulb is then dug up. The roots are removed, dried a little and then stored in a cool location until they are replanted in the fall.

Summary:

  1. Tulip bulbs are planted in the fall.
  2. In the spring the finished flower/seed head is removed to allow the food to go back into the bulb’s root.
  3. It must stay in the ground for five to six weeks or until the leaves are brown. The nutrients from the foliage will be stored in the bulb for next year’s flower.
  4. When the leaves are brown and dried you can dig them up, dry a little, take the roots off and then store them in a cool location (not freezing). You may find smaller bulbs attached to the larger “mother” bulb. Remove those smaller bulbs so that all bulbs are separated. Discard any bulbs that are too small as they will not grow into a good sized flower the following spring.
  5. Replant the bulbs in the fall when the temperature cools down.

Unfortunately growing hybridized tulips sounds like a lot of work and you are right. If you leave your tulip bulbs in the ground after flowering they will continue to grow and it will create many small bulbs. These little bulbs many not even produce a flower and if they do it will be very small. Not too good.

Before digging them up the important thing to remember is that the foliage is the path to getting food to the bulb. If you remove the foliage when it’s still green then the energy does not make it back down to the bulb and it’s not able to grow healthy, strong flowers for the following year.

If you don’t like seeing the finished foliage of tulips and waiting for them to go brown it might be easier to dig them up after flowering and compost them. That’s what I plan on doing because I find it extremely satisfying to see something new every spring. I’m always tempted by all those large, luscious, mouth-watering, vibrant colours of something new.

You may also choose to grow the naturally petite specie tulips to avoid the “work” altogether. That sounds good too. I grow many specie tulips and Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’ (photo below) is one of my favourites. Tulips joyfully herald in spring and are an essential addition to creating a garden of continuous bloom.

Tulip 'Little Beauty'

All bulbs can be pre-ordered directly from Plant Paradise Country Gardens from June to August, with pick-up or delivery in September or October. Drop in when we are open to view the full catalog.

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Lorraine Roberts
Lorraine Roberts is a lifelong organic gardener, environmental advocate and educator for sustainable gardening methods, horticulturist, garden designer, photographer and author of two books: A Recipe for Continuous Bloom & Spectacular Plant Combinations for the Perennial Garden. Lorraine and her husband Robert are the creators and owners of the multi-award winning botanical garden and organic perennial nursery - Plant Paradise Country Gardens located in Caledon, Ontario, Canada. Every spring you'll find Lorraine in the greenhouse potting the thousands of perennials they grow and sell at Plant Paradise Country Gardens.

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