Gardening No-No: Planting tulips in rows.

Mar 27, 2014

I've decided I have to start a blog series called "Gardening No-No". I'm witness to far, far too many hijackings of horticulture by those who obviously know not of what they do. First up in my series of "please don't do its" is THIS hot mess:

Tulip row

Don't do this.

Ok...really? And this is not an isolated incident. First off, don't plant tulips in rows. It's a Gardening No-No. Because LOOK AT IT. Next, please plant some color, like pansies or violas, on top or in front of your tulip bulbs. Or at least put down some mulch if you're not going to plant any color.

I assume that most people invest in tulips because they want them to look like this:

Tulip lightningsun

Do this: Tulip 'Lightning Sun' in my garden today

If that's what you want, then you're going to need to plant about 5x the tulip bulbs than you think you need. Always plant more than you think you need. Cluster them in clumps or large swaths for a more natural look.

Also, for anyone who isn't having a good tulip year....meaning they are blasting (blooming way too short), then the bottom line is you're probably not planting them deep enough. I've never had a bad tulip year in Dallas, or a bad year in any of the years I programmed all the display tuilps for the Dallas Arboretum. There are three main tricks to having beautiful tulips here in Texas:

1. You must purchase pre-vernalized (chilled) bulbs. Tulips require a vernalization to develop a flower bud. Most years, our soil never gets cold enough for long enough to acheive this chilling naturally. (This year, we got pretty chilly...I have 3 leftover tulips in the ground from last year that actually managed to bloom).

2. Don't plant them too early, or too late. If you're in N. Texas, that means optimal planting time is in December. Usually after Thansksgiving, but before the end of December. My "golden window" is right around the week of Christmas. Plant in January and you risk blasting or overall poor bloom vigor.

3. You must plant them DEEP.  3-4" is not deep enough. I plant mine a good 8" deep, sometimes 10" deep. They always bloom perfectly and on time. This is probably where most people slip up with tulips in warm climates.

There are 6 comments for this entry

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Jul 07, 2014
8:41 am

Yes you should not plant the tulip in a row they must be planted in group then only they will be able to utilize the sunlight completely otherwise they may get burned out completely due to excess amount of heat. Thank you fot his valuable tip.

Jordan Kards
Jul 13, 2015
1:31 am

I have seen your pictures and also read your article which will be helpful for people who want to plant a tulip bulbs. But I have to say that you don’t plant a tulip bulbs alone. You must be plant in a group which will be good for tulip bulbs. I hope this information will be helpful.

Katherine LaRue
May 14, 2017
12:24 am

My apologies if this is received a rude but I disagree with your opinion that tulips should be planted in clumps. If designed properly, tulips are simply stunning when planted in rows and bordering hedges and fences. While you say it is a gardening “no no” to plant in rows, there are several editors from well known gardening/landscaping magazines who strongly encourage their readers to plant tulips in rows, and even do so at their own homes.

Of course, it is a matter of opinion, and I am sure many would rather display his/her tulips in clumps, but I personally think clumps appear skimpy and scattered.

Leslie Halleck
May 14, 2017
6:10 am

Katherine- not rude at all! I totally understand your point.

My recommendation relates specifically to the row- method you see employed in that photo. Wimpy single or double rows- often by themselves. I see tulips planted this way far too often at homes and business in my area. So clearly, there needs to better instruction on good and bad ways to plant in rows. It just looks awful done as above and is really just a waste of money.

I think it’s fine for magazine editors to recommend certain planting styles- I suppose though when it comes to planting bulbs in rows, perhaps they might showcase examples of how not to do it along with that recommendation. Just so folks understand that it will take many more bulbs than they might think to accomplish a lush tulip row planting. When you’re combining several types and filling large areas, then yes the layout will end up being in a row format- but you end up with a layered look.

My “no-no” applies to this look (in the photo), which I’m sure you agree just looks sad!

Katherine LaRue
May 14, 2017
3:13 pm

Thank you, Leslie, for the clarification. I suppose I should have better grasped your point by simply looking at your initial photo (the singular line of tulips), which is pathetic. I can’t imagine why someone didn’t at least install some sort of mulch.  I also don’t like it when something as delicate and elegant as a tulip is planted singularly and situated in pure isolation, away from the other tulips. That is just an eyesore and better left blank.

Yes, I agree that planting tulips in a single row (and even two rows) appears unsightly. And frankly, when I hear “clumps,” I envision clumps of tulips, sparingly planted throughout, rather than in “clumps” within multiple rows, which I just love! Even when using a monochromatic color scheme, there is nothing more gorgeous than multiple rows of tulips bordering a hedge or stone wall.

I now understand that you were advising against the singular line (row) of tulips; I became confused, I suppose, when reading the title, “planting in rows.”

Thank you for the article! grin I think you’re Lighting Suns in the photo are vibrantly beautiful.

Derek Dewitt
Jul 07, 2017
8:38 am

My wife wants to plant some tulips soon and almost made this same mistake! I think putting them in large clumps looks much more natural than putting them in a single row. I had no idea that it was ideal to plant them 8-10 inches into the ground in warmer climates like you mentioned. I’ll keep this in mind when we start planting. Thanks for the tips!

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