Tulips add a welcome blaze of color to our gardens just when we need it after winter. If you choose the right varieties you can have tulips flowering right through spring into early summer. However, many gardeners are often left disappointed with the display although they are pretty easy to grow. Here are some tips for successfully growing tulip bulbs in your garden.
Plant your tulip bulbs from early autumn. They can be planted much later than other spring flowering bulbs, even as late as the middle of winter without suffering too much damage.
Tulips come originally from hot, dry regions. They like an open, sunny aspect and don’t really do well in shade or under trees. They also like good drainage. If you’ve got a clay type soil then a couple of handfuls of grit added to the soil will help.
Improve your soil with grit and sharp sand if it is likely to be waterlogged during winter. In these conditions tulip bulbs are likely to rot and fail to flower. Otherwise growing tulip bulbs in your garden is relatively fuss-free.
Loosen the soil lightly with a fork before planting and avoid fresh manure or any nitrogen fertilizers. These encourage weak, soft growth that makes the bulbs susceptible to mildew and other fungal diseases.
Plant the bulbs 10 to 15cm (4-6in) apart. Plant them at a depth of at least 2 to 3 times their height, below the soil surface. This might seem quite deep but this helps stop rodents, particularly mice, voles and squirrels, digging them up.
Tulips look spectacular planted in large single-color drifts. They also combine well with winter flowering pansies and forget-me-not. These combinations are particularly suitable for containers. In large containers tulips bulbs planted with hyacinths works particularly well as the hyacinths provide a delightful scent early in the year.
Growing tulip bulbs in your garden in containers
If you are growing tulip bulbs in your garden in containers, make sure your potting compost is very free draining. You can mix your own from clean garden soil and grit or buy peat-free bulb compost at your local gardening store. I use old potting compost and sieved garden soil mixed with grit or vermiculite to aid drainage.
Once planted. cover the surface of the containers or pots with grit or gravel and place in an open, sunny area of your garden. There is no need to water the pots unless there is a drought. If your think birds, mice voles and squirrels might be a problem then cover the surface with wire mesh. Remove this as soon as the bulbs push through the earth. Once the bulbs are growing well you can move the containers around your garden to display them to their best advantage.
What to do with tulips after flowering
With the exception of species botanic tulips, most varieties only multiply very slowly. They often decline in quality if left in the ground. They can also suffer from viruses such as tulip fire, which cannot be cure. This is why many gardeners treat tulip as annuals discarding the bulbs and buying new each year.
However, if you want to try growing the bulbs a second year then feed after flowering and allow the leaves to die back naturally. Do not cut the leaves off or tie them up. Once the leaves have died back remove and compost them. You can then either leave the bulbs in the ground or lift and store them.
If you leave them in the ground you can use the space to grow annual flowers if you planted the tulip bulbs deep enough. If not, lift and store them in a dry, airy place such as a garage or shed. Store your lifted bulbs in a secure rodent free place. Mice in particular love them.
Discard any damaged, soft or mildewed bulbs before replanting. Plant any small bulblets with the main bulb as these will bulk up and produce full size bulbs in a couple of years. Buy some new stock just in case the replanted bulbs fail to flower.