Tulips are one of America’s favorite flowers. Their colorful display is one of the first heralds of spring. After a long, dreary winter, many gardeners use tulips to jumpstart the growing season and give their gardens early color. The hardy perennials can last for years with the right treatment. Even new gardeners can enjoy the showy blooms of tulips with minimal effort.
Planting tulips from seed is a long and difficult process that can take years. If you’re looking to start a tulip garden from absolute scratch and are sure you’ll be in the same home for foreseeable future, planting a tulip garden from seed can be successful. You’ll need to chill your seeds for 90 days before planting and plant them in an outdoor cold frame — a wooden mini-greenhouse partially dug into the ground, usually with a glass or plastic top to trap in heat. Let the seeds grow in the cold frame for a year and a half before planting outdoors. It may take another few years for your seeds to grow into bulbs and bloom, so be patient!
Most people use bulbs when planting tulips. Bulbs need to be planted in the fall, about six to eight weeks before a hard freeze. When placing them in the ground, make sure that the pointy tops are facing up and the larger bottoms are securely settled. Gardeners in warmer climates may want to wait until late November or December to plant if there will not be a freeze in their area.
Many gardeners soak their bulbs in warm water for about 12 hours before planting, which helps them absorb enough water to begin growing quickly. Bulbs hold many of the nutrients that plants need while they grow, so enriched soil isn’t a requirement for a good blooming season. That said, adding bulb food to your soil can also give your tulips a little boost.
Tulips enjoy cheery sunshine in the morning and a little shade during the hottest part of the day. In gardening terms, “full sun” is at least six hours per day, and tulips like full morning sun. They will grow in partial shade if that’s the only space you have available, though. Make sure the soil is well-drained and isn’t prone to standing water after rainfall.
Tulip bulbs like to be watered regularly but cannot take moist conditions, which can lead to rot. You’ll only need to water your tulips once after planting them in the fall. In the spring, water them once a week if the rain doesn’t keep the area damp. Tulip bulbs need about ⅔ of an inch of water per week.
Japanese beetles and slugs, both common pests, can plague tulips. Remove the bettles from the plants and place them in a jar of oil and water. They will devour your tulips quickly, so be sure to check regularly for these pests. If you see grubs in the garden or in your lawn in the summer, these are the Japanese beetle larve, so get rid of them.
Slugs usually make a meal of leaves close to the ground. You can use pesticides to keep them at bay or create a beer trap. Simply fill shallow bowls with beer; they will lure the slugs and drown them.
Tulips are fairly disease resistant, but some problems that can inhibit their growth and flower production. One of the more common tulip diseases is botrytis blight, a fungus that will affect the bulb, leaves, and stems. Other bulb and root rot diseases can be harmful and spread from flower to flower. Inspecting bulbs before planting is one way to reduce the risk of a diseased display. Fungicide also keeps various ailments at bay.
Before you plant your bulbs, make sure to feel them and examine their exteriors. Discard any bulbs that are soft, since they’ve likely rotted and reached the end of their life cycle. Moldy bulbs can infect the other bulbs nearby, so they should also be destroyed. Also get rid of any bulbs with holes or lesions.
Tulip bulbs shouldn’t be planted over, since the process of watering another plant above the tulip can cause the bulbs to rot. If you’re stuck with an empty space after you cut back your tulips in the spring, consider lifting them out of the ground and storing them until the fall. Fill a wooden box with wood shavings or peat moss and sandwich the bulbs between the filling. Leave it in a cool and dark place that’s not moist until you’re ready to replant them.
Make sure that your planting area isn’t too wet. Sandy soil is usually a good fit for tulip bulbs. Gardeners in an area with an abundance of wildlife that includes squirrels and mice may want to protect their bulbs from these critters with wire mesh. This is especially true if you’re planting in pots. Also remember that tulip bulbs can die if their leaves and stalks are cut or broken prematurely, so leave the leaves alone until they begin to turn brown or yellow. Once they start to wilt and die, you can cut them back.
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