Frequently Asked Questions - Tulips

What is the tulip's natural habitat?

Tulips are originally from the mountain slopes of Turkey, where they have cold winters, plenty of water in the spring, and then bake for the rest of the year. The closer they can get to that, the better they will do. If you have good drainage and a reasonably sunny situation in July and August, your bulbs should do just fine. They need to heat to ripen next year's flower buds. In too much shade, they tend to diminish from year to year. In this case, tulips need to be lifted, stored over the summer, and replanted in the autumn.

When should I lift tulips?

Once the foliage has discoloured it can be removed and the bulbs should be lifted and allowed to dry naturally. Typically, you will get one decent sized bulb and once or two insignificant offshoots. The bulbs should then be stored somewhere cool and airy (an onion sack is ideal). It is important air can circulate around the bulb until planting next autumn. Under no circumstances should tulip foliage be allowed to die down into the soil as this can cause tulip fire and poison your soil. After flowering, your tulip petals should be removed and the foliage allowed to discolour naturally. Tulips, unlike daffodils, do not require foliar feed in order to build up the bulb. The best way to nourish your tulips is to lay down a top dressing of bone meal in the autumn to enrich the soil. The poorer your soil is, the more bulblets you will have. Likewise, the richer your soil is, the bigger the bulb you lift will be.

Do I have to lift tulips even if I have many red and yellow ones that keep coming back year on year?

Yes, unless you have very well drained soil. The reason for this is tulips root late in the year and can tend to rot if left planted in the ground. The reason we see to many red and yellow tulips everywhere is because they are Darwin Hybrids, which are a cross between Darwin tulips and fosteriana tulips - a tulip species that has the ability to grow back year after year, having inherited their parents' good traits.

When should I plant tulips?

Most modern gardening requires extensive watering during the summer months. Tulips like most other bulbs loathe sitting in water. Unlike daffodils for instance, tulips don't root until later in the year when the weather turns colder. The ideal planting time is from October until December (provided the soil is still workable).

How deep should I plant my bulbs?

Generally tulips should be planted 10-15cm deep depending on your soil type and 12-15cm apart. The key to success is good soil preparation. Although tulips like lots of moisture during the growing season they cannot tolerate having their roots standing in water. If you use a bulb planter, work the soil to make sure you haven't compacted it, which could cause water to sit in the bottom of the hole.

Why do my tulips produce foliage but no flowers?

This problem is most commonly caused by slugs. Slugs love tulips! And it's not just the large, visible slugs that cause damage to tulips, but small, black subterranean keel slugs that spend ninety-five percent of their lives underground. As the tulip begins to grow, these slugs burrow through the shoot, removing the tulip bud en-route. Thus, when the plant has fully developed it has the appearance of being 'blind'. While there may only be a minimal amount of foliage damage, you'll be able to see exactly what has occurred if you hold the leaves up together. Liquid slug killers are available from most garden centers.

Should I buy new tulips each year?

The tulip bulb already contains within itself all the essential ingredients (the embryo flower bud and the fleshy inner scales that store food) to provide next years flower. The bulbs are all graded to size to ensure a uniform flowering display. Unless you have ideal conditions and the facilities of commercial growers, your tulips will always produce their best show in the first year. Where tulips are used as a focal point in the garden we would always recommend purchasing new bulbs. Plan some sort of rotation using previous years bulbs for less prominent positions in the border or even consider setting aside part of your garden to grow the tulips for cut flowers.

What size containers or tubs should I use for tulips?

Choose a size of tulip suitable to the tub or container you are going to use. A 3 ft tulip can look out of place in a small tub, where as double and midseason tulips are typically more suitable. Bulbs should be planted at the same depth as those grown outdoors and should have at least 5cm of soil mix below them.

What compost should I use in tubs or containers?

It is important to use a soil-based compost. A peat compost can burn the roots of your tulips, while a soiless compost tends to compact and dry out far too quickly and therefore neither is recommended for use. Also consider that tulips in tubs are more susceptible to drought, since tubs can dry out from both the top downward and the sides inwards - unlike in a garden where the soil only dries from the top downwards.

Can I plant tulips in tubs or containers for indoors?

The best time to pot is September or October in fresh soil or loam mixed with sand or leaf mould. Do not use old potting material. Place the pots in a cool spot in the garden and cover with 15cm of clean soil, leave until the top growth has attained 8-10cm. At this stage transfer indoors and keep in the dark in a temperature not exceeding 60° F to allow the stems to lengthen. In a fortnight they may be removed to the light and the temperature slightly raised.

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