Wednesday, May 22, 2013

For the love of Tulips

I love tulips. They add a nice pop to the garden mixed in with daffodils in the springtime. Everyone recognizes the flower and it's an easy choice with lots of variety.  Thank you to breeders out there making lots of hybrids!  Tulips can be simple, large, showy, charming - dramatic in mass, or just a pop with a few.   I'm a bit of a lazy gardener - so tulips have always posed a challenge for me. I've amassed a large selection and learned a few tips to ongoing success.
I like that I'm planting flowers that originated in Persia and Turkey. There was a tradition of wearing a this flower in your turban - so  Europeans named tulips using the Persian word for turban. At one point in the 17th century bulbs sold for exorbitant prices. Would you think of paying $150,000 for a bulb? Well that's what they were doing during the Dutch Golden Age - during Tulipomania!  While all "new" flowers command a premium for some period of time, this mania was dramatic and historic. Luckily prices came down! 
Ten years ago I decided that I "needed" a spring display of daffodils and tulips. Today I still have a great set of daffodils that have multiplied from the original planting - and  I've replaced the tulips several times.  I didn't realize how much deer and rabbits love tulips! Also I guess there is a reason that commercial buildings and park systems use tulips once and then rip them out as trash. Although Tulips are a perennial, they can be a challenge to keep year after year. Each subsequent year the flowers diminish even with care. Large varieties, those really interesting sexy tulips that I love, need replanting every few years. However, small types usually multiply and spread on their own. Well this brings me to my first lesson learned. 

A distinctive tulip shape - colored edged, melded tones, single color beauties

My #1 tip for success with tulips is a process I fondly call "Tulip Rescue."  Several times during late spring I stop by shopping malls and even Michigan Ave to rescue the tulips as they are being removed.  I can easily make a deal for the bulbs with the grounds crew.  In some cases, spent tulips are given away for free. Garfield Park Conservatory has often been the site of their own "Tulipmania" - in 2012 they had two days of giving away free tulips from all the Chicago Park planting and a great variety. 

Second interesting thing I've learned is that tulips do best were there are very dry summers - in the picture at the right are some red tulips that have bloomed steadily for many years. These are up against the house, and under the eaves. There are no other plants in this bed other than spring bulbs (and weeds :)  ). So I never water here plus no fertilizer; no nothing. I have found it very hard to grow anything here at all - yet the tulips love it. For tulips that remain in the ground after blooming, do not place annuals or perennials planted over the tulip bulbs; expecially plants that are very thirsty. All that water reduces tulip life. Since I have only a few places for flowers I mix it all up which  this means that I'm choosing to reduce the lifetime of the tulips. Too much water during summer and fall can lead to fungus, disease, and rotting. Hence another plus to having a tulip rescue process to replenish the bulbs each year.  

Early in the spring I apply bulb fertilizer when I see the plants emerge.  I also spray with a deer/rabbit repellent product.  I'll use deer repellent 2-3 times more than is recommended on the label in the springtime. If I don't the deer nibble off the tulip buds with precision!  Once feed and protected, I sit back and wait for the blooming to begin!  I am most fond of the appearance of the inside of the tulip! Scroll down and just take a look at the symmetry and beauty of these tulips. 

I put on an application of bulb fertilizer as the flowers start to fade.  After the tulips have finished flowering, I cut back the flower stalks but allow the leaves to die back naturally.  For rescued tulips, I cut off the old bloom/seed pod and plant in the ground with a little fertilizer and then allow leaves to die like others. Cutting off the bloom puts more energy back into the bulb. It gets a bit messy with the dying leaves, but with continual flowering in the garden there are other focal points. I let the old leaves stay until they are really yellow - about 5-6 weeks. Finally I cut those off too.  

In the fall, I mulch the whole garden which I think helps the tulips. In the spring, as the tulips begin to emerge I hit them with bulb food again. With this process - I have been able to get  3-4 years of blooms from bulbs.  Alternatively it is recommended to dig up bulbs each season and keep them in a dry cool space until the next season. I've never had enough energy for that...

I'm closing with a shot of a little garden. This is under a large oak tree and is shady most of the year. However, in the springtime I can get a few tulips and daffodil to bloom adding a nice pop!

Happy Gardening;

Today I'm singing "Tip-toe Through the Tulips"

Teresa Marie