I don't know about you, but I am absolutely in love with tulips. There's something about these flowers that makes me feel that spring has finally arrived. I'm not alone in my passion for tulips. In 1637, during the Dutch Golden Age, the price of tulips skyrocked on the open market much the same way that housing prices reached a bubble around 2007. People began speculating on the prices of tulips, driving the market prices higher and higher. Fortunes were made, then lost. But the tulip was forever embedded in Dutch history as an emblem of the nation and of the national pride in their gardens.
Today, we don't have to wait for a viral mutation, such as the first "Rembrandt" tulips experienced in the 17th century. Hybridizers have created gorgeous colors, mixed colors, frilly petals, and all the wonderful variations gardeners can choose from for their tulip beds.
Not all tulips are created equal, of course. Aside from the different flower colors, blooming times, sizes, and shapes, there are a few tricks of the trade to use when choosing your tulip bulbs. I learned these from Dutch bulb growers when I worked in the garden center industry, and have passed along these secrets ever since. They are easy to remember and will help you grow bigger, better tulips.
- First, when it comes to tulips, "bigger is better". The bigger the bulb, the larger the flowers. The bulbs store the energy for the flowers, and a larger bulb circumference hints at a large, gorgeous flower hidden beneath the coat. Choose the largest bulbs you can find.
- Don't worry about the brown skins floating about in the bag of tulips. These are called the tunic of the bulb, and like an onion skin, they simply slip off when the bulb dries out during storage and shipping. It's unimportant to the health of the bulb inside.
- Label your bulbs when you plant tulips. This way in the springtime, you won't dig them up when you want to plant other annuals.
- Leave the leaves on your tulips after flowering, and let them die back naturally. The leaves are the food factories of the plant. Through the process of photosynthesis, the plant produces food for its growth, reproduction and development. If you cut the leaves back too soon, you cut off the plant's food supply, and it might not bloom again next year.
- Bulbs like tulips are susceptible to squirrels, mice and voles. Use a spray product like Ropel, available at your garden center, to keep critters from nibbling at the bulbs. Follow package directions. While it's not harmful, it can leave an awful taste in your mouth for hours if you accidentaly get some on your hands and touch your lips.
- If deer are a big problem, keep tulips planted close to your home. Plant daffodils in open areas frequented by deer. Deer may nibble a few, but tend to leave them alone.
Now is the time to start shopping for tulips. The stores and catalogs have the best selection. Visit your local garden center for varieties suitable for your area. Store bulbs in a cool location until you are ready to plant them, which for Virginia means anytime between Columbus Day and Veteran's Day.