My Favorite Tulips and how to plant them…

Jan 4, 2010

Hi guys...I get a lot of questions on how to successfully grow tulips in our area, so I thought I'd share this info I originally printed for the Neil Sperry e-newsletter. You still have this week to get your tulips in the ground!

Standout Tulips

This lively combination is a favorite in the author’s garden. Bright orange 'Temple of Beauty' is combined with 'Dordogne'. Photo by Leslie Finical Halleck.

While December weather can be less than inspiring when it comes to getting out and digging in the garden, there is a lot to do this next month if you want a colorful spring garden. December is the time to plant your tulips. I’ve grown many a tulip in my day, but there are a few standouts that continue to make their way into my own garden. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites.

‘Temple of Beauty’ is a true stunner in the spring garden. If you really want to go bold, this tulip is the way to go. A single, late hybrid, ‘Temple of Beauty’ has a larger bloom that most other single-lates and is a vibrant orange with salmon tones along the petals. You can mix this brightly colored cultivar with tulips in shades of pink or yellow for a cheery combination. Blooms on sturdy stems will easily reach 30 to 36 inches tall. This variety is a hybrid cross of the lily-flowering tulip ‘Mariette’ and a variety of Tulipa gregii. The result, ‘Temple of Beauty’, is a triploid bulb with excellent vigor and gigantic blooms. In fact, it’s probably one of the largest flowering cultivars of tulip in the world. Many sports of ‘Temple of Beauty’ have since been developed, and the group is often referred to as Giant Lefeber Hybrids, after Dirk W. Lefeber, who bred the original ‘Temple of Beauty’ cross.

‘Blushing Beauty’ and ‘Blushing Lady’ are two such sports and are also among my tulip favorites. If you want the size and vigor of ‘Temple of Beauty’, but would prefer something a bit subtler in color, these are your gals. ‘Blushing Beauty’ sports large blooms with a yellow-apricot blend and rose-colored base.  ‘Blushing Lady’ has a similar color pattern, but edges of petals blend to a brighter lemon yellow. Lily-flowering hybrid flowers will open up on sunny days, revealing color variations inside the flower. These hybrids can be mixed together or mixed with other single, late tulips for a stunning show.

It doesn’t get any better than ‘Maureen’ for a white tulip. This classic single-late will never disappoint. Pure white blooms are tightly formed and stand on sturdy, erect stems that grow up to 30 inches tall. ‘Maureen’ is lovely planted by itself or mixed with darker-blooming tulips for a contrasting display.

If you’re looking for something that blooms earlier, but still want a sturdy, reliable performer, you must try ‘Ollioules’. This giant-flowered Darwin Hybrid tulip is technically classified as a mid-season bloomer. In our climate, however, it is usually one of the earliest tulips to bloom. ‘Ollioules’ produces violet-rose-colored petals edged in silvery-pink. Because of its two-toned color pattern, there is no need to mix this beauty with another tulip, as it stands out all on its own.

Be sure your tulips have been pre-chilled. In order for tulips to receive a proper vernalization, and thus develop a flower bud, soil temperatures must remain at a constant between about 45 F and 50 F degrees. In our climate, that doesn’t usually happen. Because our winters are not consistently cool enough, and our summers are too hot and dry, hybrid tulips typically will not perennialize in Texas. They must be pre-chilled and re-planted each year. There are a few species tulips that will make return appearances, but they are much smaller in size than the classic “Dutch hybrids.” The best time to plant your tulips is when soil temperatures have reached 50 F or below. That is typically after Thanksgiving. I’ve found that the second and third weeks of December are usually prime time for planting tulips. I recommend getting your tulips into the ground before the end of December, and I urge you to plant them deeply! By planting your tulips 6 to 8 inches deep (from the soil surface to the top of the bulb) you will ensure that your bulbs bloom at the right time and not too early.

About the author: Leslie Finical Halleck is a horticulturist and general manager for North Haven Gardens in Dallas, Texas.

There are 5 comments for this entry

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Nell Jean
Jan 04, 2010
10:56 am

Maureen and Olluiles are two of my favorites. I have given up chilling, planting and experiencing the heartbreak of voles and tulip fire. I miss tulips. I look forward to pics of yours.

Leslie Finical Halleck
Jan 04, 2010
11:03 am

I’m not sure where you live, but we actually pre-chill all of our bulbs for customers at the garden center I run in Dallas, North Haven Gardens - I wonder if you have any good sources where you live to get pre-chilled tulips so you wouldn’t have to deal with the hassle. So many people don’t understand the technicalities involved in the process, or still insist that pre-chilling isn’t required for tulips in the South (but vernalization is required for tulips in order for them to produce a bud…some species have more or less of a requirement).

Jan 04, 2010
11:07 am

I have planted a lot that have been eaten by squirrels. I will enjoy the tulips of other now or buy some. I will find a way.

Leslie Finical Halleck
Jan 04, 2010
12:13 pm

An easy trick to keep the squirrels out of your tulips…dig your hole, put your tulips in (I always plant in groups in a community hole..rather than planting one by one). Cut a circle of chicken wire out. Put a few inches of the soil back on top of the tulips, then lay down the chicken wire, then backfill with the rest of the soil. Plant pansies or viols on top. Squirrels can’t get to the bulbs through the chicken wire.

Rose O'Donnell Mulcahy
Dec 03, 2010
12:50 pm

Nell…I recently read somewhere that if you plant tulips 8 inches deep, voles (or field mice) cannot get to them.  Planting deeply has another benefit, it helps some varieties of tulips perennialize or return year after year.

Moles are only interested in eating grubs & worms that are found in the upper reaches of the soil.  Their tunnels will damage your lawn, etc, but they’re not after your bulbs.  Voles (type of field mice) are the ones who eat the spring bulbs and roots of tender plants. They use the tunnels built by moles, which is why people think the moles are the ones eating their spring and summer bulbs.

Lilies should be planted 8 to 10 inches deep (I shoot for ten, unless it’s a variety that the recommended depth is 6 to 8 inches; then I would go for 8 inches deep.

Another trick I’ve tried with good success is lining the planting holes for lilies with narrow gauge wire screening on the bottom and sides, prior to inserting the lily bulb.  It’s lots of extra work, but when they bloom, it will be worth it.

Also, laying chicken wire on top of the planted areas (or halfway down, if you’re planting in trenches) will deter even the most determined squirrel…which is another varmint to be reckoned with, at least as far as my bird feeders are concerned!

You can’t give up on planting what you love…if you do, the varmints win!

Good luck…

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