The Tulip is second only in popularity to that of the Lily. Who says so? YOU dear visitor. For there are around 1.2 million searches each month on the keyword Tulip (1.5 million if you amalgamate the Tulip and Tulipa searches). It seems that you are intent upon planting tulip bulbs
Against that number, we have searches totalling 2.7 million for the term Lilies. 'Lily' is even greater with around 3.2 million searches each month - but this will include many pages which are not about the garden Lily, but of songs, books and names.
Enough to say now, that the Tulip is still a very popular garden bulb. Coincidence maybe, that it is of the same family as the Lily - Liliaceae.
When you consider the huge range of colours within the Tulip group, from the most flamboyant pinks to the deepest red; the palest of yellows (Cream or white if you must) to the richest gold; and the most subtle lilac through to deep blue or purple. Then you can start to appreciate why this is such a much planted bulb - especially in Europe where planting tulip bulbs is more popular than our beloved daffodils..
The truly black tulip still evades hybridisation - even if there are tulip names that suggest otherwise - 'Queen of the Night' for instance.
It is normal in UK gardens to see the main flush of tulips in May - after the daffodils have finished flowering. Whilst the daffodils are the true sign of spring, tulips in flower are the first real sign that summer is indeed just around the corner.
The tall bedding tulips with stems of up to 20in are best planted in a sheltered - but sunny - position so that they do not get battered by the slate spring winds. This is especially so as the flowers mature and open out into flat heads. Plant Tulip bulbs in a sheltered place and they will often last a few days longer than those in windy or exposed places. Once past the 'tight bud' stage, the petals are more likely to be swept off the plant by strong breezes. And this at a time of year when we want every last bit of colour.
The best time for planting tulip bulbs is in October - or even November. October being favoured, for often November is often an inhospitable month in which to do gardening of any kind. Tulips - as with most bulbs - should be planted with three times the depth of the bulb. This gives a four to five inches of soil over the top of the bulb - enough to protect it from the harshest of winters. The later planting suits tulips in that they can then start to break through the spring soil in early April - and so avoid being damaged by late hard spring frosts.
Most soils are suitable plant tulip bulbs, but well drained gritty soils are best for the dwarf rockery types such as Tulip kaufmanniana and T. greigii types. The same goes for the other tulips sold under the 'rockery' label! The dwarf exception being Tulipa tarda. This prefers a rich humus type soil - its natural habitat.
Humas Soil is nutrient rich soil, naturally made, in boggy forests and heavy wood lands. It is the top layer of decomposed leaves / pine needles and soil which remains wet / damp all year round.
Humas soil can be made orgainically in your garden, by making a leaf mould organic compost and adding organic products like unwanted fruit and vegetables, and a special ingredient, horse manure. If you can get natural horse mature, you can buy it in pellet form to mix in.
Ideal for gardeners who like to make their own compost.
Unlike Daffodils, Tulips are best 'lifted' after flowering - but not until the foliage has died back. The leaves and stems will turn yellow and then brown, as they start to turn brown, lift them out. The term 'lifted' means to dig up and take out of the ground. Once lifted, clear off the excess soil from the bulb,best to keep the stems and heads on at this time and place them in a tray.
Once lifted, store them in dry place and them and let them dry off in the sun. All the stems, leaves and heads will go golden brown and crisp to touch, then they are ready to be stripped down. If you did not 'dead head' your tulips, the flower heads will be cocooned and contain the seeds, if you shake them you should hear the seeds rattle inside and you can set them aside if you want to propagate them later. Then the bulbs and attached bulblets can be sorted into size - with the largest bulbs being re-planted in the following autumn, best time, mid October to mid November, where they will most certainly flower again, but with the smaller bulbs being grown on elsewhere to turn into large bulbs for the next lifting season - one year hence. Any stray flowers on these smaller bulbs should be cut off - as tempting as it is to leave them on the bloom.
Store the bulbs in a paper bag in a dry place until it is time to re-plant them.
They can be left in the ground to flower in same place the following year - but with a less uniform habit of growth. Not good for bedding schemes. This is because some of the bulbs will flowers, and others will not.
The dwarf tulips - or those simply grown in a well drained border - can be left to re-flower the following year in the same place. But they may not re-flower the next season for the following reason.
Why Do We Need to Lift Tulip bulbs? you ask: Tulip Bulbs unfortunately die back in the summer leaving the bulb in a dormant state. Once in a dormant state the bulb is seseptable to damp rotting if they are left in the ground. The dormant bulb needs to be kept dry, therefore it is best practice to lift them out and store them dry and replant them ready for the next growing season.
Tulip Seed Pod
If you want to grow some tulips from saved seed, no problem and easy to do. You are probably going to throw them away, so why not sow them?
After lifting and drying out the tulips, the seed pods will tell you when they are ready, just shake them, if they rattle in the pod, then they are ready to be extracted from the pods. Place the seeds in a paper bag and store them in a dry spot for a week, just to finish off their drying out period, they have been cacooned for a while.
Now we should be in July / August time, not too far off sowing time, for the final preparation stage, place them into a sealable plastic bag, I use the freezer bags, and pop them into the fridge until late October.
Half fill a shallow seed tray with a well draining compost, space and place the seeds about 1cm apart and cover with another layer of compost, approximately 1cm in depth. Add a feed of slow release liquid fertilizer and store them inside a greenhouse during winter and outside towards the spring, water from time to time to keep moist. The ideal tempature to store them is between 18 and 24 degrees Celsius, so you may have to move them if they get too cold or too warm.
Now thats the simple bit over, for me anyway, the real pain is waiting, and waiting and waiting.
The seeds may germinate the first spring but they may not germinate the first year, if they do not show in 18 months, unfortunately, they won't.
When they show, you will see 2 leaves sprout up, you can now transplant them into their own pots or into the ground. It is important to wait until the outside tempature is around 18 degrees celsius before planting them out into the ground.
Now just before you get too happy with yourself in sucessfully germinating your tulips please be prepared to wait for around 4, 5 or even 6 years before you see them flower.
It is sad, I know, but it is alot more fun than throwing the seed pods away.
There is an alternative method, when you lift the bulbs in the summer, you can find tiny little bulbs forming off the main bulb, if you separate them and plant them as above you will have a better and quicker chance of success.
If you are starting to grow tulips from scratch it is better to purchase established bulbs to start off your feds and boarders, then you can gradually add using the methods above.
The newly sprouted flower bulbs can be fed with a good all-purpose liquid feed, but far better to apply bonemeal at planting time in the late Autumn. Too many other things to do in early spring - so get the feeding out of the way in autumn.
Greenfly and other aphids can be a little troublesome - but rarely too much of a problem. Simply wash the little bugs (!) off with a blast of the hose, or use your favoured insect spray.
A much more sinister problem is the various virus diseases that can infect - especially with bulbs that have been saved and replanted for several years. This normally shows up in the form of colour changes in the petals - normally vivid variegation or misshaped flowers. This is not to say that the many forms of variegated tulips have virus!
Early Tulip Fire
Tulip fire is a very descriptive name for the consequences. It is rarely a problem, but if you do get it, it will be devastating.
Tulip fire is a fungal disease called Botrytis tulipae and it only affects tulips. The fungus symptons can include: brown spots and twisted, withered and distorted leaves, a grey mould can form on the leaves, spots may appear on the flowers which causes them to rot. Eventually, small black seed like spots will appear on the dead foliage, these will fall into the soil and cause cross contamination! These black spot will attach themselves onto the bulbs and then the fungus eats away at the bulbs causing them to rot and die. The fungus will remain in the soil upto 2 years after the last bulb has gone. Therefore, setting new bulbs the next season will mean it will come back.
There is a non-chemical method, its not ideal, firstly remove ALL the bulbs from the infected area, not just the infected ones, wrap them in paper and destroy them, preferably burn them. Tulip Fire only effects tulips, therefore you can either plant something else in the infected area for 3 years, or you must dig out all the infected area soil and dispose of at landfill and purchase some more topsoil.
There is no chemical cure either, only prevention.
In late winter, when the bulbs start to come through, its time to start your prevention. There are a few Plant Fungicides on the market, none I could find that are specifically for tulips, but general Plant Fungicides will do the job. Read the instructions on the lables, some are stronger etc. than others, typically, start the course when the bulbs start to sprout, spray the tulips every 10 days - 14 days until the tulips start to bloom.
Lift tulips after flowering to prevent bulb damp rot and it prevents types of fungus's and mould's from forming.
Prevention is the cure.
Iris ensata 'Sansation'
Leucojum vernum - the Snowpake