Growing Tulips

Three Myths about Growing Tulips

by Sandy Swegel

We are having a beautiful tulip year despite heavy snows. Trees broke in half, but the tulip stems were just short enough when it snowed that they didn’t break. Walking around the neighborhood in wonder at tulips under broken trees, I thought about how sturdy tulips really are. There are some false myths about how you have to coddle tulips, but they are easier than you think.

The Myths:
Myth One: Tulips don’t bloom in the shade.

Once again my neighbor who loves flowers but isn’t all that interested in working in the garden has an amazing garden bed even though she didn’t follow the rules. She planted tulips along the concrete foundation of the north side of her house. These tulips never get a single ray of sun winter or summer because of the high roof. They are never fed. They are now putting on their third year of beautiful bloom because they don’t know the rules!

Now I’m not advising you to plant in full shade, but I do regularly plant in areas that seems marginal. Tulips don’t need a full day of sun. Nor do they need sun during bloom time. I’ve seen beautiful tulips under shady deciduous trees because there’s plenty of sun for the growing tulip foliage before the tree leafs out.


Myth Two. You have to leave the leaves on them until they turn brown.

I’ve tested this myth for years now and it is indeed not true. You can cut off the foliage much sooner than you think. All those people who tie the dying foliage in cute knots could just cut the foliage off. An elderly neighbor who had the most beautiful tulips each year said that as soon as the foliage looks a little limp (but still green) it is no longer photosynthesizing enough to make food for the bulb and you can cut it down.

Myth Three: Tulips are perennials. Plant them once and have years of beauty.

Some tulips are perennials. The original species bulbs are perennial. But the fancier the flower, the less likely the tulip will come back. This is especially true of multicolored tulips. The tulip color “break” is cause by a virus. So the tulip is awesomely beautiful but is weakened by the virus and often dies that year. You need to plant those every year.

Some single color tulips are perennial in perfect conditions. But tulip varieties that thrive in one garden won’t return in other gardens. This is especially true if you have heavy clay soil that doesn’t drain well. My lucky neighbor with tulips in the shade lost all of the tulips that she planted in the hard-pan lawn in the full sun. The soil was horrible after 20 years of a neglected lawn and the root competition was too much. But they were beautiful the first year so she’s happy.

Tulips are such a delight of the Spring garden. Make a note in your calendar right now for next September: Plant more tulips!

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