I know…it’s getting chilly outside and you’re probably wondering what I’m doing talking about tulips. But, now is the time to select your favorite varieties and begin planning your spring bulb display. Bulb shipments usually start arriving at your local nursery around mid-September and continue through November. Planting bulbs is a great way to add color and beauty to your garden at a time when most plants are still dormant. There are many types to choose from, some which return each year (perennialize), and others that are annuals. Most tulips are annuals in our area; they must be replanted each year but are always worth the effort! Some of my favorite reliable varieties include ‘Maureen’, ‘Menton’, ‘Blushing Beauty’, ‘Passionale’ and ‘Big Smile’.
You’ve probably heard that you need to “pre-chill” tulip bulbs to get them to bloom. This is true in our climate. Storage at the right temperature, about 50°F, for 60 to 70 days is the key to getting your tulips, hyacinth and some other spring flowering bulbs to bloom. In our area, we simply don’t experience the consistently cool temperatures required to induce reliable flowering in these bulbs. Ask your favorite garden center if they’ve pre-chilled their Tulips before you buy.
When exactly is the right time to plant? It’s all about soil temperature. The optimal time to plant your tulip bulbs is when the soil temperature reaches about 50°F. If the soil is too warm, your bulbs may sprout foliage before they’ve put down adequate roots, resulting in major disappointment! Warm weather after planting is also a problem for tulips. This is often a challenge in our area where we can experience spring like days in the middle of December and January. The best way to have a great tulip display is to plant deep! When planting tulips, you must plant 6-8” deep for optimal results. If you plant too shallow, plants will emerge much too early, especially if it warms up, and you’ll miss out on the blooms. A top-dressing of 2” of mulch will also help insulate your bulbs. The basic guidelines are: Don’t plant your tulips before Thanksgiving and try to get them in the ground by the end of December – New Year’s at the latest. Planting tulips at this depth also allows you to over-plant them with seasonal color. A few good options are Iceland poppies, diascia, snapdragons, nemesia, alyssum, pansies and violas.
Make sure to plant enough bulbs to make a good show. Plant tulips and daffodils in clumps, rather than rows, and space 5” on center for the best visual impact. Too few bulbs will result in a less than impressive display. Don’t forget to feed your bulbs at planting time with a bloom boosting fertilizer. Fertilize established bulbs after they’ve finished flowering to give them a head start on next year’s blooms.
Bulbs also make great holiday gifts for teachers, neighbors and friends. Bundle up a bag of tulip bulbs in a festive container and make a gardener happy this holiday season. Happy Gardening!
Leslie Finical Halleck is currently the General Manager for North Haven Gardens in Dallas, Texas. She was formerly the Director of Horticulture Research at the Dallas Arboretum. She earned her Master’s in Horticulture from Michigan State and a B.S in Biology & Botany from the University of North Texas. She writes regularly for regional and trade publications and provides lectures on a variety of horticultural topics. Leslie is an avid organic gardener and grows most of her own vegetables as well as plenty of perennials, bulbs and roses.