Flowers

Tulips Guide: How to Grow & Care for these Spring-Blooming Flowers

Tulips are proof that classic beauty never gets out of style. Although they are popular all over the world and very accessible, we simply can’t get enough of them. Their timeless elegance, their vibrant colours, and their silky petals are just a few of the many reasons why we love tulips.

These flowers are the embodiment of spring and joy. They can suit any garden design, they make for great cut flowers and they are very easy to grow and care for. And as you are about to discover, they also have a fascinating history and surprising advantages that most people don’t even know. We admire tulips solely for their beauty but these fascinating plants, have so much more to offer than just aesthetics.

About Tulips

  • The scientific name for the genus that includes all tulip varieties is Tulipa. It is believed that the name comes from an old Persian word that described turbans. Workers in tulip fields used to decorate their turbans with flowers. In addition to that, the Persian word for tulip is “Laleh” and in this culture, the tulip was considered the flower of God.
  • In the Ottoman Empire, tulips were considered a symbol of power and wealth. Only the most important guests received tulips as gifts.
  • The first tulip that grew in Europe was recorded in Germany in the spring of 1559. It was noticed by a Swiss botanist who compared it to a beautiful red lily.
  • In the late 16th century, tulips were brought to the Netherlands, and from that moment on the tulip market began to develop.
  • Long before the first crashes of the stock market or the real estate market, tulips were responsible for the first speculative market. Consequently, they were also responsible for the first economic crisis. The event is known as Tulip Mania and it occurred during the Dutch Golden Age. At the time the popularity of the tulips burst overnight. Due to speculative investors, the price of a single flower ended up as high as an annual salary of a skilled worker. At one point, a single tulip cost as much as an Amsterdam house.
  • 17th-century French noblewomen used to wear tulips on their necklines instead of jewellery.
  • The popularity of tulips persists even today. Each year, tulip festivals are organized all over the world. Holland even celebrates National Tulip Day on the third Saturday of January.
  • Tulips are edible and they were used as sustenance during the Danish famine which occurred due to World War II. Nowadays, the petals are sometimes used as onion substitutes or to make wine.
  • An interesting fact about tulips is that they continue to grow, even after being cut. If they have water and natural light, they can survive in a vase for about 8-10 days, during which time they can grow as much as 8 cm in height.
  • The black tulip was a myth that inspired an Alexandre Dumas novel. A true black tulip is yet to be obtained, but the Paul Scherer variety is remarkably close, featuring an intense purple shade with black nuances.
  • The symbolism of the tulip has changed over the years. Nowadays, they mostly symbolize deep love, but depending on their colours they can also symbolize joy, rebirth, charity, or purity.
  • Tulips are not toxic, but they can trigger allergies in some people.
Tulip Field
Tulip Field

Tulip Features: An Overview

  • The size of tulips varies greatly, from one variety to another. Single Early tulips grow no taller than 15 cm, but Darwin hybrids and Single Late varieties can grow up to 70 cm.
  • Tulip flowers are large and radial. They contain both male and female parts and they usually appear as a single terminal. Pluriflor tulips are less common, but some stems can sometimes bear as many as 4 blooms. The blooms have 3 petals and 3 sepals, identical in colour and oval shape. Solid coloured tulips are known as self-coloured, and the streaked ones are known as broken.
  • Tulip flowers come in almost any colour that you can think of, from creamy whites to deep purples and shades of black. True blue is the only colour that hasn’t yet been obtained by botanists.
  • From a horticultural perspective, tulips are classified into 15 groups based on their size and shape. Over the years, botanists developed over 4000 varieties.
  • Most tulips are odourless, but some varieties have a lovely fragrance, described as a mixture of anise, citrus, and herby odours.
  • Despite their royal appearance and tumultuous history, tulips are quite low maintenance. Tulips thrive in USDA zones 3 to 8. They do well in full sun, and in hotter areas, they can also grow well in partial shade.
  • Tulips should ideally be planted outdoors. While it is not impossible to grow them in containers, it is troublesome. Temperature variations affect tulip bulbs, so if you plant them in containers, you must keep them in a cool and dark place until they sprout.
  • Once the plants bloom, some gardeners no longer see the need for the foliage and they cut it to highlight the flowers. However, tulip leaves don’t hinder the beauty of the flowers at all. In fact, plants need their leaves for the photosynthesis process. This process doesn’t only keep the plant alive. It also gathers nutrients in the bulb, to prepare the plant for the next growing season.

Planting Tulips

Like all bulb plants, tulips need to go through a cold period before sprouting. As such, you should plant them as soon as the crisp fall breeze hits your area. The long and cold winter allows the plants to gather strength, develop their roots and prepare for spring. In warmer climates, it is best to plant tulips in late fall or early winter. It helps if you cover the soil with mulch to keep it cool.

If the winters in your area are not cold enough, you can store the bulbs for 4 months in your refrigerator in a paper bag. Just be careful not to store them next to fruits or veggies as they might rot. Once the bulbs have gone through their cold, dormant period, you can plant them directly outdoors. Don’t allow them to warm up in the process. Place them in the soil as soon as you take them out of the refrigerator.

Tulips need to be planted in well-drained soil. If your soil is soggy, you can absorb some of the moisture by combining it with peat. Avoid planting the tulips after heavy rains. Plant the bulbs about 20 cm deep, with about 7 cm space between the bulbs. They don’t need too much space between them because tulips don’t spread wide and they look better when planted in clusters.

Mixed Triumph Tulips (25 Bulbs), From Amazon

Watering Tulips

Tulips only need to be watered once after being planted but they don’t need additional water during their dormant period. However, there is an exception to this rule. During an extended drought period, you should water the soil once a week to keep it reasonably moist.

In the spring, watering needs depend on the temperature and the frequency of rain. In hotter climates, it is best to water them every 3-5 days. They need about 17 mm water per week.

Propagating Tulips

Tulips are generally propagated through bulb offsets. It is also possible to propagate them from seed, but few gardeners have the patience to do this. Technically, tulip seeds germinate in a few months. Nonetheless, it takes them a few years for the seeds to grow into bulbs and be strong enough to sprout.

Propagation from bulb offsets is quite easy. The original bulb can produce a primary bud, also known as a daughter bulb, and 2-3 secondary bulblets at the base of the main bulb. The daughter bulb will bloom the next season, while the secondary bulblets might take a few years.

Tulip Flowers
Tulip Flowers

While you may think that you’ll remember where your tulips are planted, it helps if you mark the spots when they bloom. That way you don’t have to search throughout the whole garden in the fall. After dividing the bulbs, plant them 20 cm deep and add some low-nitrogen fertilizer to give the young bulbs a boost of nutrients. You should divide tulip bulbs every 2-3 years, to keep your garden tulip patch rich.

In Conclusion

If there is one sight more beautiful than a tulip, that is definitely a mass of tulips. To enjoy the beauty of these flowers, plant as many as your garden space allows. Nowadays tulips bulbs are reasonably priced and these plants have quite an impressive lifespan. Tulips usually re-emerge for a minimum of 7 years. In ideal conditions, they can live for as long as 15 years.

Tulips are great not only in gardens but also in vases and flower arrangements. You don’t need to be a very experienced gardener to grow tulips. All these attractive flowers need is sun, well-drained soil, and occasional watering. Satisfy their basic needs and they will reward you with a rainbow of blooms. Choose any of the thousands of available varieties, and turn your garden into a canvas for a tulip work of art.

What type of tulips are you growing? Let us know in the comments below!

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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