11 May Tulip Tips for Long-lasting Blooms
According to my wife, I’ve got a tulip habit. Each year, I plant 1,000+ bulbs in my gardens in September and October. Tulips are harbingers of warmer weather to come. Unfortunately, tulip season is short, but there are ways to extend the blooms. I’ve compiled some tulip tips for long-lasting blooms and a few gardening tales about what I’ve seen over the years.
Tulip Time and Travel
When I travel (another favorite pastime), I like to tour tulip festivals in the U.S. and internationally, which has given me a great opportunity to learn from expert growers how to extend the life of these simple, beautiful flowers.
The clear winner is Keukenhof Gardens, known as the Garden of Europe. Each year, the national tulip park puts on a spectacular show from late March through April. More than seven million bulbs are planted annually on 80 acres. The Park is located near Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport. If you’re interested and planning a trip through there during that time of year, it’s a short bus ride from the airport’s transportation hub. The gardens were closed to visitors in 2021 due to Covid-19, but the tulips still put on a show and you can take a virtual tour of the 2021 gardens in this video (highly recommended!).
Tulip Tips for Long-lasting Blooms
Several years ago, I had the privilege of speaking with one of the Keukenhof’s experts about the secrets to beautiful and long-lasting tulip gardens.
- Build the soil. Apply manure, mulch and other compost products to augment humus. It’s important to note that all manure, mulch and organic soil amendments are not created equal. Look for organic certifications and other information relating to the sourcing of the products.
- Feed the soil. Apply organic fertilizers only. Many people don’t realize that chemical fertilizers contain salts that build up in the soil and harm bulbs. I’ve been using a wonderful organic 9-3-7 fertilizer from AminOrganiX* that contains only organic animal feed-grade plant nutrients. Translation: if your pets eat the fertilizer, they’re only getting an extra helping of food; there’s no risk they’ll get sick. I top-dress the fertilizer in the fall and then again in March before the tulips start coming up.
- Plant in early fall. This ensures the bulbs have time to develop a root structure prior to the freeze. Many people think they can plant the bulbs into December. In Zones 3 and 4, that’s clearly too late.
- Plant varieties that span the entire spring season for continuous blooms. There are early spring, mid-spring and late spring varieties. Sometimes the bloom times will be listed on the packaging. If not, google the specific variety. One of my very favorite tulip varieties is Queen of the Night. It’s a nearly black tulip with a long stem that is magnificent and adds a crescendo to my garden because it blooms towards the end of May.
- Do not remove tulip leaves after the tulips bloom. The leaves feed the bulb for next year. Don’t pull off the leaves until they shrivel. In my garden, this typically takes 6-8 weeks. For many people, this is a big ask because they’re itching to plant flowers or vegetables immediately after the tulips have finished blooming and they dislike looking at leaves without blossoms.
- Purchase only high-quality bulbs, which doesn’t mean expensive, but carefully inspected. Pay close attention to the size of the bulb. Size clearly matters. Be vigilant to identify shrivel points and or mold spots before you buy. Be sure to inspect the bulbs in the packages at the retailer or if you order online. You can check out these bulb sources for good quality bulbs. One last note: I shopped other more expensive sources until Menard’s began offering a standing 11 percent rebate. Now I’m a bargain shopper getting many of the same varieties offered by the sources in the link above, but at one-third the price.
As spring progresses, I wish everyone a joyful tulip season. Mike Reiber, firstname.lastname@example.org.
*AminOrganiX fertilizers were developed by Axiom CTO Rob Beachy.