Tulips…how can you not love them? Any bulb is somewhat of a miracle given its incredible potential. Its color, its leaves, its scent, its beauty is trapped inside a papery brown covered onion-like receptacle that looks more like a trick than a treat.
The tulip is even more special than the average springtime bulb when you realize that it was once considered currency…an investment…worthy of “selling the farm”. You might call it a runaway stock. It was most certainly traded as a “future”.
Tulips are from Turkey. The name means turban…easy to see when you look at the single tulips we have today. Tulips began as a medicinal experiment in the 16th century but by the 17th century they became a popular home decoration, especially in Holland.
They were hybridized and distributed, loved and coveted. Then the esoteric tulip became profitable. Tulips were used in trade. Money was the bottom line even then and tulips were as good as stocks or bonds. People invested in tulips and saw dollar signs (Guilder signs?) instead of just the tulip’s inherent beauty.
These beautiful, decorative, solid color flowers with their sleek “turban-like” blooms were the 17th century’s hot commodities. The wealthy bought tulips to impress, investors put money in the “wind trade” i.e., tulips that were still in the ground. Tulip businesses thrived. There was no stopping “tulipmania”. Then came the inevitable devil, “supply and demand”; too much of the former and not enough of the latter. Tulips “crashed”.
Tulips only “crashed” for their greedy investors though. The tulip hybridizers left behind some of the most beautiful of nature’s progeny. Beginning in February and continuing until May, we reap the benefits of “tulipmania”.
Tulips are beautiful landscape plants outside but can also be enjoyed inside. To keep them beautiful as cut flowers, when you bring them inside, re-cut the stems at an angle removing at least half an inch of stem and plunge cut stems into a vase of warm water. If you take this simple step the flowers will last inside for about 7 to 10 days. And it’s true…they can keep growing up to an inch after they are put in the vase. If you don’t have a “frog” to help hold up the stems, carefully put a handful of marbles in the bottom of the vase to help keep the stems upright.
Plant largest bulbs available in full sun to a depth of 4 or more times the diameter of the bulb, pointed side up. Prepare the planting area with about a tablespoon of bone meal per bulb. Planting tulips in clusters rather than lines makes a bigger, bolder show. Five or more bulbs together is best.
Tulips are the heaviest feeders of any bulbs. Side-dress in early spring when foliage is a few inches tall with 5-10-10 fertilizer. Then fertilize again when the flowers are blooming. Careful fertilizing and planting will keep hybrid tulips coming back for up to five years. Now, for the hard part. After tulips have bloomed and start dieing back, do the practically impossible and… leave them alone. It’s necessary for tulips to go through their entire life cycle. Remove the foliage when it easily pulls away from the bulb, possibly as late as June. Surround your tulips with groundcovers like violets, pansies or forget-me-nots to hide the withering tulip foliage.
Top ten tulips for cutting
- Apricot Beauty-early flowering, strong 18” stems, sweetly scented, apricot pink, taking the place of Angeliques
- Flaming Parrot-early spring, long lasting, largest parrot flower, bright red and yellow stripes with fringe, showstopper
- Red Dynasty- mid-spring Darwin, largest red on strong 24” stems, taking the place of Red Emperor
- Pink Impression,-mid-spring Darwin, largest pink, sturdy 24” stems, medium pink
- Mount Tacoma-late spring parrot flowered, strong 16” stems, most popular double white
- Praestens “Fusilier”- small, 6”-10” species, built-in bouquet since it has 5 or 6 flowers per stem, bright orange-red, reliable to return
- Elegant Lady-mid-spring, 22” stems, lily flowered, creamy ivory blossoms edged with lavender pink age to rich pink with a pure white base
- Tulipa kaufmanniana-waterlily tulip, species, very early spring, sturdy 6” stems, miniature bouquet tulip, returns year after year and multiplies
- Red Riding Hood-flower 6” wide when open, 10” strong stem, early spring, variegated foliage with red and cream stripes makes it an unusual cut tulip
- Orange Princess-very full peony-like bloom, stately 14” stems, nasturtium orange with a pink glow and blue green foliage, fragrant, late spring