By Melissa Conroy
With the arrival of spring, tulips appear in grocery stores, flower shops and any place decorated for Easter. These vibrant, cup-shaped beauties are a glorious reminder that cold winter days have finally given way to spring showers and warm skies.
Although most of us know that Holland is famous for its tulips, the flower actually originated elsewhere. Europeans learned of this flower through their contact with the Turkish empire, where tulips had been cultivated as early as 1000 AD. But tulips did not remain a secret treasure of the Turkish empire; the rest of the world was soon to experience these lovely flowers. Tulips were thought to be introduced to Holland in 1593. This was the year the well-traveled and renown botanist Carolus Clusius came to the University of Holland to be its head botanist. He was the one who planted the first tulip bulbs in Holland, and from his effort, a “tulip mania” quickly spread. Due to the popularity of these new flowers, the prices for tulips soared to extravagant levels at times. February 1637 was the peak of this mania, and during this time, the bulb of a particularly prized variety of tulip could fetch as much as a house! A book written in 1847 by author Charles Mackay claims that during the tulip mania, one devoted tulip connoisseur offered 12 acres of land for a single bulb!
Today, the Netherlands is practically synonymous with “tulip,” but tulips grow cheerfully in other countries. The U.S. is certainly no exception. These glorious flowers are not particularly challenging to grow and are so pretty that they are irresistible!
Tulips, like all flowers, need a little love and informed care in order to bloom successfully. Here are some helpful tips for planting and growing tulips.
Tulips like it cold, and they usually need a cold cycle in order to grow properly. So tulips are usually planted in the fall. However, some growers “force” their bulbs by placing them in cold storage for several weeks. This tricks the bulbs into growing, and therefore they can be planted in the spring. If you didn’t plant tulips last fall, you can buy some pre-chilled ones for this spring.
Buy bulbs that are firm and avoid ones that are soft or moldy.
Tulips are perennials, but don’t be surprised if they don’t bloom well after the first year. They are not strong perennials by nature, and they require special care and the right conditions to bloom strongly year after year. Most of us don’t have perfect garden conditions and can’t monitor our tulips as well as professionals. However, if you select bulbs that are specifically marked “naturalizing” or “perennializing,” you will probably have better luck with them blooming heartily more than once.
Tulips need to be planted in well-drained soil as too much water can cause them to rot.
Fertilizer is important for tulips. Working some compost, bone meal, or manure into the soil before planting will help produce gorgeous blooms.
Unfortunately, burrowing rodents love tulips, and if you have a mole in your yard, he may munch his way through your tulip bed. While I remember my mother planting each tulip bulb with a stick of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, this is not a very effective way of warding off hungry rodents: I think our pests ended up eating the gum along with the bulb.
Other herbivores will go for tulips too, so planting depth is important. A good rule of thumb is that the hole should be three times the height of the bulb, so a bulb that is three inches tall should have a nine inch hole. However, if the hole is too deep, the tulips won’t bloom properly.
You can plant tulips closely together: smaller bulbs can be just an inch or so from each other. Tulips look best when planted in a close cluster.
Once the blooming cycle is over, cut the flowers from the stem. This keeps the plant from trying to produce more flowers and increases your chances that it will re-bloom next year.
You can successfully plant tulips in pots for indoor or outdoor beauty. Make sure to plant them in soil-based potting mix — not peat-moss based — and to keep them watered.
For this year, you can order some pre-chilled tulips that are ready to be placed in the ground in order to enjoy their cheery color later in the spring. When fall rolls around, it will be the perfect time to plant a garden full of lovely tulips to brighten your heart and your landscape next year. Who knows? You might start a “tulip mania” in your neighborhood.