As curtain of winter lifts, tulips are one of first flowers to take spring stage. As last drifts of
snow seep into soil, these bright signs of spring dance in sunlight. However, you don’t have to wait for spring to grow tulips. Whether it lies in a bed, under a shrub, in crevices of a rock garden or in a container, a tulip bulb is an underground flower factory just waiting to “spring up” from whatever soil it occupies.
The whole purpose of a tulip bulb is to flower. In fact, in center of each bulb, tiny leaves cradle a baby bud. The white, onion-like bulb that surrounds bud stores all nutrients that bud needs to sprout and grow. The only real help tulip needs to grow is a generous drink of water and some soil to keep it moist.
When selecting bulbs, a simple rule of thumb is that bigger bulb, bigger flower. Choose plump bulbs that are firm and heavy for their size. Although tunic (outer papery skin) need not be intact, avoid bulbs that are withered, overly dry, scarred, and have traces of mold, soft spots, or other blemishes. However, more difficult than selecting bulbs is first choosing from over 100 varieties of tulips which are divided into 15 divisions. Careful selection from different divisions can help you plan a tulip garden that begins in early spring and dances on through end of May!
1. Single Early Short-stemmed tulips (usually about 8-inches high) that flower in late March and early April.
2. Double Early A profusion of petals on 12 to 15 inch stems makes an attractive display when these bulbs are forced indoors. Although they usually bloom from early to mid-April, they are more delicate than some other cultivars and need protection from cold and inclement weather.
3. Triumph A standard since 1923 when they were named by Dutch breeder, N. Zandbergen, these tulips take throne at end of April as they tower to 18 inches high.
4. Darwin Hybrids One of tallest garden tulips (usually over 2-feet tall) these red and yellow beauties are perfect for naturalizing and are those you generally see returning in established gardens May after May.
5. Single Late Originally known as Cottage tulips, these hybrids inter-mingled and successfully merged with Darwin hybrids. Like Darwins, they grow well over 2-feet tall and bloom in May.
6. Lily-Flowered Another May-flowering tulip, this group was originally grouped with Cottage tulips but was reclassified in 1958. On stems that grow from 1 ˝ to 2-feet tall, long, shapely flowers have pointed petals that most closely resemble native Turkish tulips and boast first scented tulip, Ballerina, in their troupe.
7. Fringed A short (12 to 18 inches) but showy group of tulips that brightens May garden with ruffles that either mirror or add a contrasting color to rest of bloom. 8. Viridiflora
May blooms with a flash of green streaked through their petals, this group of tulips varies from one to two-feet tall.
9. Rembrandt Once highly prized by gardeners, today these tulips are nearly obsolete. Although streaked with beautiful breaks and stripes of artistic color, it was discovered that this palette was created by a virus that could spread to other tulip cultivars. Although some suppliers still offer Rembrandt, these tulips are no longer commercially grown and advertised types are generally no relation to true Rembrandt cultivars.
10. Parrot A riot of petals that curl in all directions, these blooms look like they could use some preening. However, they aren’t named for their resemblance to feathers, but rather for bud that resembles a parrot’s beak. A few of these May-blooming cultivars are scented. They generally grow from 16 to 24 inches tall.
11. Double Late (Peony Flowered) Although less resistant to poor weather, peony flowered cultivars are another excellent choice for container tulip growing. From mid to late May, these tall (1 ˝ to 2-feet) blooms bear a profusion of petals in close resemblance to their namesake.
12. Kaufmanniana If you have difficulty in pronouncing name of this group, you can also call its cultivars ‘water lily tulips’. Opening flat under mid-March sun, foliage of these flowers is characterized by deep purple or brown blotches. Shorter than some other cultivars, Kaufmanniana is only 6 to 12 inches high.
13. Fosteriana Greigii crossed with Kaufmanniana “fostered” this division. From 8 to 18 inches tall, these tulips add drama to April garden with foliage that ranges from grey-green to glossy green.