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Getting Started With Tulips (page 2 of 4)

by Michael MacCaskey

Where to Plant

Where to Plant
Species tulips like this Kaufmanniana hybrid make dependable perennials.

Tulips grow best in full sun in a location that has well-prepared, well-drained soil. Avoid planting in low-lying, shaded locations that might be prone to a late frost. In southern regions, however, planting in shaded areas may help keep soil cool longer, slow bulb growth and prolong bloom. Plant naturalizers, listed as "wild species," by the handfuls in rock gardens or in perennial borders.

How to Plant

Loosen and amend soil to a depth of one foot and add one pound of a low-nitrogen fertilizer, such as Bulb Booster, per 100 square feet. Minimum planting depth is twice the height of the bulb, or four inches of soil on top of the bulb. Planting deeper, to eight inches, discourages bulb multiplication and subsequent weakening and places the bulbs out of the way of pests such as voles.

Plant five tulip bulbs per square foot or 250 bulbs in 50 square feet, spacing bulbs about five inches apart. Tamp the soil and thoroughly water. Don't water again, or only sparingly so, until leaves appear.

Planting bulbs pointed end up is preferred. Only by planting all the bulbs the same way can you expect even height at bloom. Label groupings by name, and in cold climates, mulch.

Planting in Containers

Provide the maximum amount of space for root growth by placing bulbs so that tips are just covered by the soil surface. In cold climates, cover containers with about eight inches of mulch or store them in a cold garage or basement.

After four months, if you can see roots growing out of the drainage holes and top growth has emerged from the soil, you can move pots to a brighter, warmer location to force early bloom. You can also hold the pots in a cool but bright location and allow bloom to come at the natural time.

In warm climates, the process moves much faster. Store pots outdoors in the coldest location available. After eight to 10 weeks, begin checking for root growth emerging from drainage holes, then move pots to a warmer location for bloom.

When Tulips Bloom

Spring comes to different regions at different times, so when your tulips bloom will depend on where you live. All of the descriptions here are based on USDA zone 6. In regions warmer than zone 6, they bloom earlier, and in colder areas, they bloom later. In zones 8 and 9, peak tulip season is March to early April, while in zones 6 and 7 it's April. In zones 4 and 5, tulips bloom closer together, mostly in May. A case in point are the Darwin Hybrids 'Gudoshnik' or 'Parade'. They bloom in late March in San Francisco (zone 9) and six weeks later--early May--in Connecticut (zone 6).

The tulip season is longer in the South than it is in the North. Specific varieties of tulips that bloom at the same or nearly the same time in the North may bloom weeks apart in the South. But tulips don't grow as tall in these southern zones. A variety that reaches 30 inches in zone 5 may flower at a 20-inch stem height in zone 9. Microclimates play a role, too. 'Angelique' in a sunny area with a sunny exposure will bloom earlier than the same bulbs planted in a shady location.

How long the flowers last is determined by weather. In Holland, where spring is long and cool, tulip flowers last up to six weeks. Three to four weeks is more common for most of the U.S., and less than a week is the norm in the South if the flower has the temerity to open during a heat wave.

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