Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
October, 2010
Regional Report

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Tulips planted in groups of 25 or more will create a dramatic spring display.

Tulips greet those who plan ahead

When snowstorms linger into late March and April, cabin fever sets in, and we can't seem to wait any longer for the return of spring and a rainbow of colorful tulips. Now is the time to plan ahead for those flowers, while the weather is still mild and soils remain workable.

Spring flowering bulbs need to be planted now to ensure that spring color will return when our landscapes look a bit bleak. Nowadays there are hundreds of bulbs in cultivation in a greater variety of colors than ever. And don't overlook the wild and ancient species tulips that create unique displays in the garden.

Tulips are among my favorite as they appear before most shrubs and trees leaf out. You can't ignore their beauty. The challenge is to plant tulips now before the ground freezes solid. I've been known to be out in the garden in December, shivering to the bone, just to make sure I got those tulips I set in the laundry room into the ground. You won't make this mistake very often, however. Plan ahead and get the tulip beds planted early in the fall.

Our cold winters and dry summers are ideal for growing tulips, as our seasons mimic those of central Asia, the native home of tulips. Tulips you purchase locally, however, were most likely grown in Holland, the bulb capital of the world.

Sited and planted properly, tulips are perennials, returning year after year. I've become very fond of species tulips (Tulipa clusiana), such as 'Peppermint Stick' with its alternating red and white petals like the stripes on a stick of peppermint candy. It grows 8 to 10 inches tall and blooms in early spring. A dwarf species tulip 'Violacea' sports cup shaped magenta petals with a black vase inside. The leaves are edged in red and hug the ground. This species tulip grows 4 to 6 inches tall.

However, the classic long-stem Darwin tulips are hybrids that last for years. Don't forget the peony-flowering 'Angelique' with its clusters of pink petals, 'Avignon' with red and orange petals and 'La Courtine', a real eye catcher of bright yellow with red flame patterns.

To ensure long life for your investment in tulip bulbs, it is important to select large bulbs (for their type). They should be free of disease and blemishes. Locate the tulip bed in an area with well-drained soil that receives spring sun. Amend soil with compost or aged manure and add some bulb food at the time of planting. As for planting depth, I prefer to plant the bulbs an inch deeper than the general package directions indicate. This helps ensure longer survival in our frigid winter climate and delay too early spring emergence. Don't forget to label the tulip planting as to the variety and color. Metal or aluminum labels are ideal as they last longest in the garden.

Once the tulip bulbs are planted, water in well. Then cover the bed with an organic mulch to insulate the soil and keep the ground from warming up too quickly in the spring. Mulches also conserve moisture and suppress weed growth. If you want immediate fall color in the new flower bed, plant pansies over the bed. They will bloom now and again in spring. If we experience open and dry periods in late fall and throughout the winter, be sure to water the tulip bed when temperatures permit and the ground is unfrozen.

Now you can sit back and relax knowing that when spring arrives you'll be rewarded with an explosion of color. You can't ignore the beauty of tulips.

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