A GROWING CONCERN: Plant tulips for a kiss of spring color

SINCE WE ARE informed about gardening’s “miracle drug” (Bone Meal) and its importance to the continued success of your spring flowering bulbs — let’s start with spring bulbs.

Now is the time to start preparing your order for a November planting.

So let’s start with the mainstay – the tulips.

Tulips have a very long history dating back about 800 years.

Their history is rooted in the Eastern Mediterranean region and extends to Central Asia. There are about 80 different species of wild tulips on the dry mountain slopes and high valleys.

They first appeared in Persian poetry as early as the 12th century. The Ottoman Empire, as early as the 1500s, collected various tulips from the wild and displayed them in gardens by the thousands.

From Istanbul to Holland

A traveling diplomat returning from Istanbul, Turkey introduced the first tulips to Renaissance Europe, where they took Holland by storm.

Tulip mania ensued, as aristocrats soon had an out of control commodity market in broken tulips. The broken tulips were created by a virus that caused the pedals to look flamed or feathered. But the virus weakened the plant, slowing down its reproduction.

As a result, these intriguing flowers were very rare and caused much speculation in the market. It was not until 1920 that it was discovered that the virus was transmitted by aphids.

Although Holland had the greatest tulip fever, the royal gardens of France, Italy and Switzerland were also adorned with this magnificent flower.

Flower carpets were created for Queen Victoria using tulips.

In the 20th century, perennial and cottage gardens were all the rage as an explosion of new varieties of tulips forced their way into all the crevices of the gardener’s world.

Today, knowledge of pot forcing production and specific selection for stem quality allow tulips to enjoy a huge market share in the production of cut flowers and potted plants for the home. , from Valentine’s Day to Mother’s Day.

So why wouldn’t someone want a few hundred tulips around the house for three or four months of jaw-dropping enjoyment?

Understanding Tulips

I hope it’s not because of lack of knowledge.

Many people could easily be confused with the myriad of tulip types, characteristics, and bloom times that exist.

Well, here’s a roadmap to guide you through tulip country and make sure all the special attractions are seen.

All tulips can belong to one or more of three crucial divisions based on flowering times – early, mid or late bloomer. For me, it’s about having as many tulips — and in varying colors, sizes, and textures — blooming at as many different times as possible.

March to June

At a minimum, you should have tulips in bloom from March through June.

To complicate matters further, some tulips only last for one season, while others last for years or decades.

Typically, hybrids are spectacular for show, but only last a year or two. The trick is to mix both long-lived and short-lived every year in creative new displays of color and design.

So with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the three major time divisions.

1. Early tulips.

This group includes the first single rankings and the first double rankings. These tulips bloom with the first daffodils and can do well for years. Apricot Beauty, a sensational color, is an early-flowering tulip and America’s best-selling tulip. Because temperatures are cooler in early spring, these flowers last exceptionally long, up to 5 weeks.

Here are a few to try: Doubles like Peach blossom and Abba; multi-flower tulips or in bouquets such as the Toronto rose or the lovely tender pink Happy Family.

2. Mid-season tulips.

This is a large group of tulips which includes many specific tulips, Darwin hybrids, Triumph, Fringed and Griegii types. Fringe tulips are impressive with their jagged edges resembling ice crystals and Triumphs are known for their interesting coloring and blending, as well as their pot forcing ability.

Darwin hybrids are the largest flowers you will encounter on tulips. With their strong stems and bright, vibrant colors, they’re perfect for arrangements or bold color statements in the yard.

Medium-sized tulips bloom together with primroses, anemones, poppy and the majestic fritillaria. They should be planted among varieties with pansy and viola borders.

Kaufmannia, Fosteriana and Greigii tulips are all descendants of early Asian species and last for many years. These are the earliest of the mid-season tulips and last 4-5 weeks.

3. Late tulips.

This is another large category that encompasses single late tulips, double late tulips and, my favorites, lilies and parrot tulips. These bloom with allium, peony, rhododendrons and azaleas.

Single Late Tulips offer alluring color, stand very tall, and are perfect for annual and floral arrangements. Ideal choices in this category are the black “Queen of night”, the deep red “Kingsblood” or the unique bluish “Armable blue”.

Double Late Tulips are huge, beautiful peony flowers that do well for many years.

Lily Tulips look stunning with their graceful tapering tips that flare outward enhancing as they open. They have great staying power, are elegant as cut flowers and hold up quite well as potted plants.

But parrot tulips, despite their poor performance in pots and poor ability to last even two or three years, are still the star of the tulip world.

These are the tulips of great works of art and botanical designs. They are tall, huge, bright blooms that will be a star in a vase and are usually bi- or tri-colored.

Last year I planted over 40 varieties of tulips on the peninsula and hope to add more this year.

What if you tried at least 10 varieties yourself?

I bet you’ll be hooked for life, and speaking of life, please be well!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA”. Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, PO Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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