Orange and yellow flowers delight the eye at Como Park Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota. Close up, tulips and some violas are orange and other violas and ranunculus are yellow. Yellow snapdragons and daffodils stand tall and lilies, not yet in bloom, are the backdrop.
Though the plants you see in bloom are all spring plants, in a flowerbed outdoors, they don’t ordinarily bloom at the same time. Some are staged to bloom as the tulips decline. it’s an orchestrated timing of spring indoors!
In our region, some tulips have already bloomed. Gardeners may have selected some early, mid, and late tulips for the same bed, extending the bloom. Some gardeners may have companion-planted tulips with other kinds of flowers to bloom as tulips die back. Daffodils are a common example. Skilled horticulturists can modify bloom timing so that flowers display together.
Tulips are flowers more for the organized gardener than the procrastinator. Dashing about to find tulip bulbs to chill ten weeks in the refrigerator before forcing them to bloom indoors is one option left to have tulips in spring. Another is to grow tulips in containers.
If you try growing tulips in a container, the bulbs need the cool (35 — 48 degrees F) treatment over ten weeks. Putting the planted bulbs container in a garage that doesn’t freeze is one way. Time may still be a problem, because it takes about sixteen weeks from planting bulbs in pots to bloom.
If you are motivated to have early blooms in your yard, the easiest way is let nature cool the bulbs by planting between the first and the hard frost in the fall. Choose a location of full sun. Avoid the flowerbed at the south or west side of a building because temperature spikes may cause the vulnerable plant to bloom before it can protect itself from freeze and thaw.
For tulips grown to last year to year, protect the plant until it dies back. This ensures the bulb has energy for next year’s bloom. Some gardeners use rubber bands to tie back tulip leaves while the next flower blooms in the bed.
Horticulturist Joe Hoffman of Yankton Federal Prison Camp has grown tulips on prison grounds for years.
“My favorite tulip is West Point, a lily flowered mid-season yellow tulip that compliments almost any other color,” Hoffman said. He gave suggestions for timing and planting tulips.
“Daffodils should be the first of fall bulbs to be planted. They need to get well rooted before real cold weather. I like to have them in by the end of the first week of October,” he said. “Then we plant hyacinths, and then tulips as late as mid-November.”
“There are a lot of planting guides for tulips, but people usually underestimate the depth they need to be planted. If instructions read six inches to plant, soil should measure six inches above the tip. The tip is upright when planting. I mulch bulbs after planting. Woodchips or other organic mulch such as foliage of mums or peonies, help keep the ground cool in the spring.”
Orange City, Iowa Tulip Festival is May 18 — 20. Perhaps seeing tulips in bloom will be a motivation to plant them in the fall.