Forcing Tulips

Posted on Oct 24, 2013

Tulips on step

Tulips are the most classic and iconic of all bulbs, so popular they were even traded for goods in Holland in the 1630’s. Can you imagine?  They’re a snap to grow in cooler climates, but they can be “forced” to grow in warmer climates too, with just a little extra effort.

 “Forcing” Tulips

 

Tulips is paper

The trick with tulips is that they need a good cold  snap.  Unless you live where the ground freezes you have to refrigerate your tulips before you plant them.  Yep. It’s easy.  Simply place your bag of tulips in the refrigerator for 6-8 weeks.  I like to write the date when they will be ready to be planted directly on the bag so when I look in the fridge I don’t have to do any math to figure out how long it’s been.  I’m less likely to miss the right time to plant them that way.

tulips in fridge

“Forced” tulips need to be thought of as annuals.  Plant them, enjoy them, and then toss them when they’re done.  They won’t re-bloom once they’ve been ‘forced’. Look for the varieties that say they do well in warmer climates.  Some reliable varieties are :’Maureen’, ‘Asta Nelson’, ‘Blue Jay’, ‘Cocktail’, ‘Elizabeth Arden’, ‘Halcro’, ‘Menton’, ‘Redwood’, ‘Renown’, and ‘West Point’.  If you can’t find those, fear not!  I’ve purchased bags of tulips from nurseries and home improvement stores -even Costco- and had success with this technique. Since I’m a color person who likes some colors better than others, I just pick whatever I think is pretty.  My favorites tend to be the pinks, purples and peaches because by the time they bloom in late winter or early spring, I’m desperate for cheery color and those seem to be the most pleasing in the softer light of spring. Don’t wait too long to get your tulips chilled.  Especially if you live in the warmer areas of the South West, you’ll want to get them chilled now so you can plant by December or January so they have time to bloom before the heat comes.  If you wait too long to plant your tulips, the heat will shorten the blooming period from weeks to just days.  I don’t know about you, but I’m too stingy to put up with that!

In The Ground Or In A Pot?

Tulips can be clustered in containers and surrounded by a lovely filler or placed directly in the ground here and there to liven up the garden. The best methods are a bit different for each. In the ground, cluster tulips in odd numbered groups of at least 7  and place them here and there to make it easier to replace them when the flowers die out and the plants have to be removed. Dig a hole deep enough so you can place the bulbs at the bottom and still have about five inches of soil over the tops of the bulbs. Don’t cheat!  You’ll be happy later when your flowers are perky instead of saggy….{aren’t most things? Ahem} . For container gardening, plant tulips in containers that are at least 16″ deep.  They need lots of room in the soil to hold up their stems.  Use a good potting mix and fill it to about  6” from the top plus the depth of the bulbs.  Place the bulbs in the center so they touch and the pointy side is up (no, they won’t grow if you plant them upside down!). Cover them with four inches of soil an make sure to leave two inches of space above the soil so the container can help support the stems. Never use stakes because you will damage the bulbs!

Tulips in pots

In containers or in the garden the best look is to start by placing one bulb in the center of the pot or the area to be planted in the ground. Form  concentric circles around the first tulip bulb with the remaining bulbs, keeping them all touching at the base.  A tight grouping looks much more impactful in bloom than a onesie-twosie look. For the best impact, plant at least 5  in a pot, 9 or more in the ground  Usually its best to plant in odd numbers, but if you’re doing a large grouping over ten, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re planting in anything other than a round container, try following the shape of the pot and clustering the bulbs that way.

Alyssum in pot

To take it up a notch, surround the tulips with a low growing annual that compliments the color.   Simply place small plants from 6-packs around the rim in the soil above the bulbs.  Easy-peasy. For example, a pot with a cluster of peach tulips is lovely, but a pot of peach tulips popping up through white alyssum is stunning!  Or try a mixture of pink and purple tulips with a single colored blue pansy. These are the details that make a group of plants into a garden.. You don’t have to worry about bald spots in the garden or your containers when you remove the tulips.  Simply fill the empty spots with ranunculus already growing in color packs to take the look into early summer.  Sweet trick, right!? Back in the 1630’s in Holland tulips became so prized they were often set about the house unplanted, like a decoration.  Thank goodness they’re now affordable enough to plant so we can enjoy the beautiful flowers!

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