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Growing species tulips

by Timber Press on June 10, 2015

in Gardening

Four or five months after planting, the bulbs of Tulipa clusiana will be flowering. All images: Richard Wilford

Four or five months after planting, the bulbs of Tulipa clusiana will be flowering. All images: Richard Wilford

The Plant Lover’s Guide to Tulips author Edward Lyon describes what it takes to grow tulip species in the home garden.

Growing tulip species is a little different from growing the garden cultivars. Most need free-draining soil, good air movement, and a sunny position, even more so than the cultivars. There are a few exceptions, such as Tulipa sprengeri, that can be grown in a more shaded position and in soil that does retain moisture in the summer, but the vast majority need a dry summer rest and many of them should not have any water at all at this time.

Most tulip species are not suited to bedding, due to their smaller size and relatively short flowering period, but there are some wonderful plants among them, including several good garden plants. In the right position they will build up a small colony over time. The bulbs of these species are better not lifted for this reason, as disturbing them every year will interrupt their natural inclination to increase.

Tulipa clusiana on a small rock garden built on a low, sunny slope.

Tulipa clusiana on a small rock garden built on a low, sunny slope.

Plant tulip species at least 10 cm (4 inches) deep, more for larger bulbs like Tulipa fosteriana, with a layer of sharp sand at the bottom of the planting hole to aid drainage around the base of the bulb. The better the drainage, the more tulips you should be able to grow successfully outside. That is important, as their ability to live for many years without being disturbed is part of their appeal.

Tulipa kaufmanniana growing on the Rock Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Tulipa kaufmanniana growing on the Rock Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Although tulip species are very hardy, some of them, like Tulipa biflora, flower early in the season and their flowers can be damaged by cold wind and rain. Once you have found the right position outdoors, they can be left to do their thing except for some feed scattered over the soil or watered in, to promote vigorous, healthy growth, especially in well-established clumps that have become congested.

1) Planting the small bulbs of Tulips clusiana in late autumn on a layer of sand in a pot of gritty soil. 2) Cover the planted bulbs with more soil. 3) The pot filled with soil. 4) Cover the surface of the soil with a mulch of grit to protect the soil surface and keep the leaves of the tulip away from the wet soil.

1) Planting the small bulbs of Tulips clusiana in late autumn on a layer of sand in a pot of gritty soil. 2) Cover the planted bulbs with more soil. 3) The pot filled with soil. 4) Cover the surface of the soil with a mulch of grit to protect the soil surface and keep the leaves of the tulip away from the wet soil.

Even if you can’t accommodate tulip species in your garden, they are worth growing in pots and they won’t take up much room. Planting in pots is also the way to grow species that need a completely dry summer, as once they have died down they can be moved to where they are sheltered from the rain—in a well-ventilated cool glasshouse or cold frame—before repotting them in late summer or autumn. The smaller tulip species can be grown in relatively small pots, making them ideal if space is limited. Keep them in the sun but make sure you water often when the tulips are growing because smaller pots will dry out quickly. The critical point is when the leaves start to brown. This is when to reduce watering so the soil is just moist. Once dormant, the pot should be left to dry out completely.

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wilford_rRichard Wilford is the collections manager for the hardy display section at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. He has a particular interest in bulbs and is a member of the Royal Horticultural Society’s bulb committee (formally the Daffodil and Tulip Committee). He writes for Kew Magazine and Garden Illustrated among others, and serves on the publications committee for Kew Publishing and the editorial committees of Kew Magazine and Curtis’s Botanical Magazine.

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Click on image for a look inside this book.

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One hundred of the best of these popular spring bulbs, from white to near-black and everything in between.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

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