Tulips and springtime go hand-in-hand. Poems have been written, movies have been made and gardens have been built around them. Their beauty and wonder captivate us as we skip into spring.
The word “tulip” is thought to be a named from the Persian word “toliban,” or turban — the traditional headgear worn by many people who live in the Mid-East. When the flower is inverted, it resembles a turban. Tulips are native to the mountain ranges of central Asia near the modern-day city of Islamabad, close to the border of Russia and China. From this region tulips spread to the east, west and northwest and were widely grown by the year 1000 A.D.
In 1593, a noted botanist, Carolus Clusius, is credited with having planted the first tulips in the Netherlands. It is said he was very stingy with his tulips and was only interested in studying them. He refused to give bulbs away or sell them. The story goes, a group of frustrated would-be buyers visited Clusius’ garden and stole part of his collection. Thus began the Dutch tulip industry. No other flower is as closely associated with a country as the tulip is with the Netherlands. Each year, the Netherlands produce over three billion tulip bulbs for export and domestic use. The United States remains the top importer of tulips and receives one billion of them annually from the Dutch.
In our diocese, autumn bulb planting is suggested. At most elevations, the best time to plant tulip bulbs is mid-September to late October, so bulbs can establish roots before the soil freezes. Purchase bulbs in early September for best selection and variety. Choose bulbs that are large, plump and free from disease or decay. To ensure higher quality, pick out bulbs individually and avoid buying them in a bag or a box.
Bulbs prefer sandy or clay loam soil. In general, plant bulbs at a depth of three to four times the diameter of the bulb. If planting in sandy soil, plant two inches deeper. Select a variety of bulbs that will provide a long-lasting show in spring. Many suppliers will indicate the bloom time (early, mid or late) and mature height. Choose bulbs of varying heights and bloom time to prolong color and add interest to the spring garden.
Toward the end of May, your tulips will need additional care if you expect them to come back year after year. The goal is to maximize energy storage in the bulbs. As the blooms fade, remove them. This process — called deadheading — will minimize the energy the plant uses to produce new seed. Application of a balanced fertilizer as blooms fade will also benefit the bulbs. Once you start deadheading, use a balanced fertilizer (a product that has roughly equal percentages of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium). Do not cut back foliage until it turns brown. It may take up to 8 weeks after bloom for the foliage to fade. During that time, the leaves are manufacturing and storing carbohydrates in the bulb. Avoid the temptation to do anything with these leaves (don’t trim, braid or tie them up). Just let them be until they die back on their own.
Tulips are available in many colors, flower shapes and heights. You are sure to find one shopping at your favorite local nursery, handpicking only the healthiest bulbs!
Next time a sunrise steals your breath or
a meadow of flowers leaves you speechless,
remain that way.
Say nothing, and listen
as Heaven whispers,
“Do you like it?
I did it just for you.”
— Max Lucado
(Kerry Peetz is a master gardener and a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs.)