Tulips are spring-blooming perennials that grow from bulbs. They can be as short as 10 cm (4 inches) or as tall as 70 cm (30″). Most tulips produce only one bloom, which can be large, on each erect stem, but a few species have up to four flowers. The tulips’ leaves are strap-shaped with a waxy coating, and their colorful cup-shaped flowers have six ‘tepals’ (3 petals and three sepals that look the same), and six stamens. They come in a wide variety of colors, from an almost black purple to white, and are often darkly marked inside near the base. The name ‘tulip’ comes from the Persian word for turban.
Native to mountainous areas with temperate climates, tulips and need a period of cold every year, so they do best in climates with long, cool springs and early summers.
Plant tulips from October until December in well-drained soils, 13 cm – 15cm (5-6 inches) apart and normally from 10 cm (4 inches) to 20 cm (8 inches) deep depending on type – the depth provides some protection from the summer sun and forces them to grow one large bulb each year instead of many smaller ‘blind’ bulbs. During the growing season they like plenty of moisture but the roots must not be water-logged. Do not feed during the growing season as this will produce ‘leggy’ plants.
Slugs and snails love tulips, so apply a slug repellent immediately after planting and repeat regularly until the plants are mature. After flowering, remove flower heads and let the plant die back to allow the food supply to build up in the new bulb, ready to produce next year’s flower. Tulip plants can harbour the disease, ‘tulip fire’ as they die off in late spring, so do not compost dead foliage and petals.
Darwin Hybrids and small-flowering tulip species naturalise easily and are best grown where they can be left undisturbed from one year to another. Most of the other types of tulip are best lifted after the foliage has died back, storing them dry until the following autumn when they can be replanted.
Tulips in Containers and Pots
Tulips grow well and look sensational in containers, pots and window boxes. In winter, protect them from severe frosts and wind by moving the containers to a sheltered spot or wrap with sacking or straw and cover with plastic sacks. During dry periods in the growing season, make sure tulips are well-watered.