Tulips are the jewels of the early spring landscape, providing a welcome jolt of bright color. Tulips are hardy spring-blooming bulbs similar to daffodils that come back for several years if given proper care. Although they can be naturalized or scattered at will, a basic plan will create a more cohesive look that makes the most of your tulip investment.
The Right Location for Planting Tulips
Tulips look charming in masses along a fence or planted under deciduous trees and shrubs in a formal bed. Tulips need full sun, but deciduous trees don’t usually leaf out until after the tulips have bloomed, so they’ll receive all the sun they need. Deer love tulips, so plant them in an enclosed area if these uninvited guests frequent your yard.
Plant tulips in masses, or with a collection of other spring flowers, such as pansies, daffodils, poppies and grape hyacinths. Tulips have strap-like foliage that is rather unattractive and drab once the tulips have bloomed. Plant tulips with perennials that will hide the foliage later in the spring. Good choices include daylilies, catmint, wild geranium or lavender.
Planting Tulip Bulbs
Tulips are planted from bulbs in the fall, typically three to four weeks before the first frost. The goal is to plant them after the heat of summer is over, but soon enough that they develop an adequate root system before the ground freezes.
When choosing tulip bulbs, buy them in bulk if possible, so you can sort through the bulbs yourself for the best selection. High-quality bulbs are firm, solid and heavy for their size. Avoid bulbs with dark or soft spots, which may indicate rot.
Because a tulip bed will last for many years, it’s important to prepare the ground thoroughly. Spread the soil with 2 to 3 inches of compost and till it to a depth of 8 inches. A handful of high phosphorus fertilizer dug into the soil aids root formation. Plant bulbs 6 to 8 inches deep, with the scraggly end facing downward. Keep the soil slightly moist after planting the bulbs and water occasionally during the winter if conditions are dry. Moist soil in the spring and an application of bulb fertilizer will get the flowers off to a good start.
Mice and voles may burrow under the soil during the winter and nibble on your tulips. If tulips don’t emerge in the spring, dig them up and investigate. Rodents are often to blame. This problem can be solved by placing the bulbs in metal bulb cages prior to planting. The leaves and flowers emerge through the holes in the wire cages, but rodents can’t reach the bulbs.
Planning Tulip Colors
The colors and layout you select for your tulips will influence the overall feel of your garden. A profusion of bright red tulips is a traditional look, suitable for a variety of garden styles, while a cacophony of colors works better in a casual cottage garden.
Lay tulip bulbs out in a pattern or trail of colors. For example, cluster red and coral tulips for a simple, unified look or plant a colorful path of tulips near a front entryway. Tulips come in many sizes and shapes, which can also influence how the bed will look. Plant shorter tulips in the front of the bed; taller tulips at the back.