Some complaints will never get you any sympathy, and to complain that tulips are coming up and blooming in all sorts of odd places probably ranks right up there. Truth be told it’s not a problem, but when every batch of compost seems to hold a new crop of bulbs, the spring planting in the parterre becomes a little more complicated.
For all my failures in the garden, tulips seem to be one plant which enjoys the poorly draining, heavy soil of the flower beds. It’s a surprise to see this considering many references suggest a loamy, free draining soil for your best chances at success, and even then it’s a safer bet to treat tulips as one or two year treat. Fortunately no one has whispered this little secret into the ears of my bulbs and they keep coming back and multiplying.
I think I do know the secret though. The soil may be heavy but it’s also thin and dries out relatively quickly once the heat of summer settles in, and if I do manage to drag my lazy self away from the pool to water it’s never a solid deep watering, it’s always a guilty stand around with a hose until things look less dead kind of triage. I can’t imagine much of the water ever penetrates deeper than two or three inches and for this the heavy soil works to an advantage. My tulips like a hot, dry summer similar to their ancestral haunts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia and most years (unfortunately) this is what my garden resembles.
When I was more ambitious I used to fill several of the beds each fall and then dig them again in June after the foliage died down. It was a glorious spring explosion but one bad experience soured me to the whole deal and I ended up tossing hundreds of fat promising bulbs. They really do need a good drying out over the summer and when mine all molded up and rotted one damp August I put a stop to the project. But…. I can’t promise it won’t happen again some day 🙂
So to sum it up my tulips don’t mind a nice heavy fertile soil while they’re growing, the just need to follow it up with a warm dry summer rest. Planting them in a spot which dries out and doesn’t get summertime irrigation is one option, actually digging them up and storing them in a hot, dry, ventilated area until fall planting is another. Just be prepared to have more tulips than you know what to do with since most tulips will at least double in number every growing season.
Although most people recommend species tulips and Darwin types for the best chance at perennializing, I don’t notice that much of a difference between the types. Give them all a try is my advice, but for best results regardless of type you will have to dig and divide the bulbs every three or four years when they begin to get crowded.
Alas, even plants relatively happy with their homes do not always lead perfect lives. The tulip season may be a little sparse next year for two reasons, both of which revolve around the weather. The first is our harsh April freeze which damaged many of the buds and much of the blooms for this year’s show. That in itself could be tolerable, but in the weeks since the weather has remained damp and cool, and many of the damaged plants are now falling victim to gray mold (Botrytis). Botrytis is bad news and seems to stick around for a few years even after better weather returns. I’m wondering how many of the affected plants will be going on to tulip heaven…
All is not lost though. I still love tulips and would grow a few even if they only made it a year or so before falling victim to whatever tragedies visit my garden next.
In the meantime I will keep my fingers crossed. I far prefer being spoiled for choice as far as tulips go, and if it means working around a few bulbs here and there that’s fine with me.
Have a great Sunday and happy mother’s day to the moms!