How to Grow Tulips

yellow and red tulipsWhen I was just a 12 year old girl my dear Grandmother said to me “It is time to teach you the secrets on “how to grow tulips”.  I was very enthusiastic as my Grandma was very talented, people would come from all over town to see her garden and get tips on how to grow tulips as well as her. I loved visiting my Grandma, she lived in a small row of  houses in the city with a postage stamp yard that was bordered by an alley behind her house. Every spring I looked forward to seeing the stunning blaze of color that transformed her tiny yard. The highlight for me was to be amongst her bright colored tulips  . Over the years, I have followed her loving instructions on how to plant tulip bulbs and the best time to plant them. Each spring I have never been disappointed.

 Top tips on how to grow tulips

 1. Choosing your bulbs

Purchase your bulbs in late August or in early September. These bulbs have the small beginnings of a flower hidden inside, waiting patiently until spring to emerge. Choose bulbs that are firm. Stay away from those that are soft, moldy or those missing their delicate papery cover. Choose bulbs that will reflect your personal tastes. Tulips come in many colors and shapes. They may be single, double, ruffled or fringed, ranging from simple to intricate.

2. Storing your bulbs before planting 

Once you have selected your bulbs, store them in a paper bag in a cool location. My grandmother always stored them in paper bags, but I have heard that you can also keep bulbs in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator…just don’t put them with apples or other fruit. Fruit can emit ethylene gas, which can kill your bulbs. Growing tulips successfully requires treating the bulbs with care at every stage of their growth.

3. How to plant tulip bulbs

Growing tulips is not complicated, but they need to be planted correctly. The best time to plant tulips is October or November when temperatures dip down to around 50 degrees…or even in early December in milder climates. Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 are the best locations for growing tulips. And they especially love areas that have cold winters and dry summers. Just be sure to plant your tulip bulbs 5 or 6 weeks before the first frost. Bulbs are eager to grow, and if it is too warm, their leaves will shoot up too early and could freeze in the winter. Plant them in a wide hole, 6 to 8 inches deep and 3 to 5 inches apart. You may want to add some sand if the drainage is poor. You don’t want those precious bulbs to rot! Some people plant their bulbs 2 to 3 inches deeper than recommended so that they come back year after year. Place your bulbs in the holes with some bone meal, making sure that its tip is pointing up. Some people mix 5-10-5 or 5-10-10 granular fertilizer with the soil, but my grandmother always advised bone meal. Cover the bulbs with soil, pressing firmly but not shifting their placement. Then water and cover them with 2 inches of mulch.

4. Arranging your bulbs in your garden

Plant your tulips in borders or beds. Groups of ten seem to showcase them most effectively. You can also pair them with other flowers, perhaps having the tulips standing tall behind smaller, more delicate flowers. Growing tulips under deciduous trees is possible, but they do not do well with too much shade. Make sure that they have enough sun.  Check out this easy to watch video on planting tulip bulbs.

5 Caring for your bulbs

Bulbs do not need a great deal of continual care. They just need watering from time to time. You may also want to lightly fertilize them once in the spring just as the tulip leaves poke out of the earth. After they have bloomed, carefully “deadhead” the flowers, and then later, when the foliage also dies (this takes about 6 weeks), you can dig up the tulip bulbs and store them in a dry location to replant in the fall. Although tulips are classified as perennials, many people treat them as annuals in North America.

6. Pest control

Once the tulips’ foliage emerges, you may want to spray with an animal repellent or build a barrier around them. Talk to an expert` at a garden center to help you protect both the bulbs and the flowers.

7. Tulips as cut flowers

Growing tulips outdoors doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy them inside! Tulips cut from your garden make a lovely display in your home. If you cut the stems diagonally and then place your tulips in cool water, they should stay lovely for several weeks. Choose tulips that have not quite opened. First bundle 6 or 8 tulips together and tie them loosely with twine or place them in a paper cone to carry inside. Then immediately put them in cold water (32 t0 35 degrees F). Leave them there for at least a half hour or up to two days. When you are ready to display them, remove the tulips from the water and re-cut the stems about ½ to 1 inch off the bottom at a 45 degree angle. Arrange in a vase and fill with lukewarm water and flower preservative. Place out of direct sunshine in a cool location.

8. How to grow tulips in containers

My grandmother never taught me how to grow tulips indoors, but I have tried it on my own as an experiment, and it’s quite simple (if you have enough refrigerator space). The beauty of growing them inside is that you can grow them any time of the year. Just fill attractive flowerpots halfway with potting soil. Place the bulbs pointing upward. Then cover the bulbs with potting soil. Water well and let the excess water drain out. Refrigerate the bulbs for 8 to 12 weeks. Then remove the flowerpots from the refrigerator and put them in a bright location. Begin to water when the leaves begin to emerge and keep the soil evenly moist. Then just wait until they bloom!  For more information please go to How to grow tulips in containers.

9. Send messages with tulips

Growing tulips give you a means of communication to someone you love. Tulips have a language of their own. When you give someone a bouquet of tulips, you are communicating a personal message. For the most part, tulips signify “love.” Red tulips represent “perfect love,” or “believe me.” Yellow tulips signify cheerfulness or “there’s sunshine in your eyes.” White tulips mean forgiveness and purity. Cream colored tulips say, “I will love you forever.” Pink tulips signal affection; and orange tulips symbolize desire and passion.

10. Pass it on

Just as my grandmother shared her special tips with me, I have now shared them with you. She taught me that flowers belong to everyone. So with that in mind, once you have grown your own tulips successfully, share your success with others. Teach other would-be gardeners how to grow tulips. The world can never have too many of these glorious blooms!!

This was a guest post from my friend Justine who lives in Australia. Thanks Justine!

Tulip Care Tips

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