Fall Planting, Part 2: Spring Bulbs

Tulip or not tulip? That is the question. Happens every year, as dazzlers never seen at the florist beckon from the glossy catalogs,  page after page after page.

In addition to being beautiful (and frequently fragrant), tulips are inexpensive; the more you buy the cheaper they are. They’re easy to grow – in fact almost impossible to screw up – and in spite of the general wisdom, they often come back.

These Giant Darwin hybrids have been around for so many years I no longer remember what they are. Probably ‘Parade,’ famous for returning almost as dependably as daffodils.

On the other hand

Deer. I need say no more to anyone who has tried to have tulips in deer country (i.e. anywhere outside of midtown Manhattan). So the huge downside is that you must plant them where they can be protected, a drastic reduction in design options.

This little vignette (‘Cummins’ tulip and narcissus ‘Pipit’) appears to be part of a landscape planting. It’s actually in the fenced truck garden, in the front section of a cutting peony bed so the bulbs aren’t tying up space that should be allotted to food.

Tulip Tips:

1. Given that if you like tulips at all, you’d like a few thousand dollar’s worth, it pays to start with a firm budget and write down must-haves before opening the catalog. Saves a lot of disappointed crossing out when completing the order form.

I’m allowing $75.00 this year – about 200 tulips wholesale from Van Engelen, and about what I’d spend next spring if I could find cut tulips as pretty as the ones I can plant which I can’t.

2. Keep an eye on bloom times. There’s an 8 or 9 week stretch between the first low-growing Kaufmannianas and the last big blowsy Parrots.

3. If you’ve never seen them in person, be wary of Greiggi tulips. They do have terrific foliage: broad, heavily-striped dark leaves that put other tulip leaves to shame, but (at least to me) they’re a disaster in the proportion department. Those beautiful leaves stay low to the ground, cradling stems too short for cutting topped with very big flowers. The flowers themselves are perfectly fine but the total effect is … well, clunky is putting it mildly.

4. The drier it is during the summer, the better the chances of tulip return. Try to plant them someplace that doesn’t get watered and don’t be afraid to plant them in soil that’s a little too well-drained for most other plants.

5. Tulip leaves feed tulip bulbs; seed-production depletes them. Deadhead and fertilize if you’re after longevity, and don’t expect much in the way of returns if you cut flowers with long stems.

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