Q&A: planting tulip bulbs

By Val Bourne

Is it true I can still plant tulip bulbs up till Christmas?
TulipsUnlike other spring bulbs, tulips can be planted right up till late December

Tulip bulbs can be planted right up until Christmas and still flower perfectly well in the following spring because they only need a short season of growth. However daffodils, crocus and other spring bulbs take much longer and they do need to be planted in September to give them a three full months before the shortest day.

Tulips shouldn’t be planted until late October at the very earliest because they are prone to a botrytis disease commonly called tulip fire blight. As with all fungal diseases warm and damp temperatures accelerate the condition. But if you wait for lower temperatures (and hopefully two or three frosts) before planting you will almost certainly avoid tulip fire blight.

However tulips bulbs should be bought in September (when there’s a good choice) and stored in an airy cool shed. Always check that the bulbs are still plump, mould-free and firm to the touch. Never buy any affected by blue mould.

Avoid the gaudy children’s trifle look and limit yourself to three to five varieties that go together. Buy at least fifty of each if you can.

Choosing tulip varieties

The most valuable tulips are those that flower in April and May. They follow the majority of daffodils and it’s a good idea not to mix the two. Then your sumptuous tulips will not have their image tarnished by fading daffodil heads and foliage.

There are 15 different types of tulip. But if you concentrate on the following groups they will provide colour from mid-April until May.

Triumph tulips (April)

Triumph tulips have neatly formed, egg-shaped flowers poised on strong stems. More importantly the flowers come in the most vibrant, eye-catching colours of any type because tulip breeders have spent more time breeding Triumph tulip varieties for the cut flower market. Use them to form the colourful thread in your displays, they usually reach 50 cm in height.

‘Negrita’ - a beetroot-veined purple

‘Blue Champion’ - a blue-pink

‘Barcelona’ - a clear-pink

‘Shirley’ - a white tastefully suffused with purple

Single late tulips (May)

Long-stemmed, late varieties that are often taller with egg-shaped flowers in more-subdued, flatter shades.

‘Queen of Night’ - classic dark sultry tulip

‘Blue Aimable’ - shallow-cupped, fades to lilac - the latest to flower

‘Recreado’ - a rich doge-purple

‘Dillenburg’ a fragrant orange

Planting tulip bulbsLily-flowered tulips (May)

These are tall and elegant tulips with pointed petals that splay outwards from curvaceous flowers

‘White Triumphator’ - a cool classic white

‘Red Shine’ - a rich ruby-red with darker shading

‘West Point’ - a delicate shade of pristine yellow

‘Queen of Sheba’ - a brown-red edged in orange

Fringed tulips (late April - mid-May)

These have crimped petals on smaller, rounded flowers (heights vary)

‘Swan Wings’ - a classic cool white

‘Bell Flower’ - a rose-bengal

‘Fringed Elegance’ - a primrose yellow

‘Curly Sue’ - a vibrant purple-violet

Viridiflora tulips (mid-May)

Shorter stemmed with smaller flowers randomly marked in green - very good among leafy ferns.( 30 cm)

‘Spring Green’ - cool-white with green streaks

‘Greenland’ - a green-edged rose

Parrot tulips (mid-May)

Exotic blooms with feathered petals often streaked in green. Very good in containers.

‘Rococo’ carmine-edged fiery red

‘Black Parrot’ - dark glossy deep-purple with green

‘White Parrot’ - creamy white with green feathering

‘Flaming Parrot’ - frilled rhubarb and custard

Double late tulips (early-May)

Shallow-cupped double flowers on shorter stems

‘Uncle Tom’ - rich maroon-red

‘Black Hero’ - double dark tulip

‘Angelique’ - feminine pale-pink with darker markings

‘Carnaval de Nice’ - a showy, tall white-striped red

Planning a successful tulip scheme

Limit yourself to between three and five different varieties selecting a combination of Triumph and later tulips in toning or contrasting colours.

Select a variety of heights to make it your scheme look more natural and vary the flower shapes (choosing some earlier and later varieties) to get a longer blast of flower.

Invest in at least 50 of each variety if possible and look for large, firm bulbs without any blue mould. Store them somewhere cool and dry away from mice and squirrels.

Planting tulips

1. Plant between late October and late December in frost-free conditions at twice the depth of bulb. Always wear gloves when handling bulbs because they are often chemically treated.

2. Throw the bulbs down on the ground (variety by variety) to give a random sprinkling. Avoid circular blobs and straight lines.

TulipsClassic tulip recipes

  • A warm and fiery blend - a mixture of oranges, yellows and reds. Add a swirling orange-brown grass like Carex testacea to bring the colours to life.
  • Ebony and ivory contrast - a sophisticated contrast using dark purples with pale-yellow and white and you can include late white narcissi in the mix.
  • A berry sorbet - a blend of pinks with purples - use 'Shirley' (a white feathered in purple) as the mixer.
  • Pink sparklers - use several pinks with an ivory-white tulip to bond them together.

Suppliers

Avon Bulbs

01460 242177 www.avonbulbs.com

Jacques Amand

020 8420 7110 www.jacquesamand.com

Peter Nyssen

0161 747 4000 www.peternyssen.com

Related

  • Fringed tulips

    Going Dutch

    More than any other flower, tulips allow you to reinvent your garden each spring by mixing varieties and colours

    Read on

  • Bulbs in pots

    How to force your own bulbs

    Forcing bulbs is very easy, but the technique is slightly different from planting outdoors.

    Read on

  • Tulipa Ballerina

    Plant portrait: Tulipa 'Ballerina'

    Late tulips lift the garden visually. But this lily-flowered, rich-orange tulip has more than good looks, it's highly fragrant as well.

    Read on

  • Plant tulip and daffodil bulbs in autumn

    Getting your garden ready for next year

    Martyn Cox offers his advice on how to restore order to an autumn garden and get it ready for next year's splendour.

    Read on

  • Dahlia

    How to buy, plant and grow bulbs

    Spring bulbs are nature's answer to fireworks. Bury them, stand back and wait for an explosion of colour.

    Read on

  • Spring bulbs

    Lasagne-planting bulbs

    Planting spring bulbs in pots is a great way to add a dash of colour to smallest of gardens, but for maximum impact have a go at 'lasagne' planting bulbs in large containers.

    Read on

  • Muscari 'Valerie Finnis'

    How to grow little blue bulbs

    When spring arrives a whole host of diminutive bulbs in various shades of blue and lavender spring up. They go well with shorter varieties of yellow daffodil or other woodlanders

    Read on

  • Spring bulbs

    Q&A: how to naturalise bulbs

    A reader asks: I'd like to naturalise some bulbs in my lawn and I'm not sure what to plant, when to do it or how to?

    Read on

  • Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society

    The Wakefield Tulip Festival

    As you plant your bulbs for next spring, spare a thought for the members of the Wakefield Tulip Society, which this year celebrated its 178th consecutive show, despite the worst weather on record.

    Read on

  • Home thumbnail

    Home insurance

    Cover of up to £50,000 for contents and up to £500,000 for buildings as standard.

    MORE DETAILS

  • Holiday home thumbnail

    Holiday home insurance

    All the cover you need for your holiday home abroad.

    MORE DETAILS


  • Deirdre Balfe

    Posted: Friday 05 September 2014

    I like the ebony and ivory contrast. I want to plant tulips in the club colours of yellow and purple and think this variety would work. I'm not sure whether to go for natural look, just throwing and planting bulbs where they land or to plant more formally.

COMMENTS

Type your comment here


 characters remaining.

Saga Magazine app

You can now read your Saga Magazine on a huge range of mobile devices - from the Kindle Fire to an iPhone or iPad.

Win with Saga Magazine

It's our birthday, but you're getting the presents!

To celebrate Saga Magazine's 30th birthday we've pulled together 30 wonderful prize giveaways worth £30,000 in total, including a holiday to America worth £4,298.

Saga Connections

The over 50s dating website from Saga

  • Set up your FREE profile today
  • Browse more than 100,000 profiles to find your match
  • When you're ready, choose a subscription package that suits you

Home insurance

Our 5 Star rated cover for the over 50s:

  • Save up to 20% when you buy a policy online
  • Up to £500,000 buildings and up to   £50,000 contents cover as standard
  • A choice of cover levels available.

Saga Magazine

3 issues for £1

For more fascinating stories and insightful articles, why not try Saga Magazine for just £1 for 3 issues.

Saga Magazine e-newsletter

Sign up to our free newsletter today

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter for all the latest recipes, gardening tips, prize draws, interviews and more delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Saga Magazine

For more fascinating stories and insightful articles, why not try Saga Magazine for just £1 for 3 issues.

Pet insurance

A choice of cover levels for over 50s

  • Treatment for your cat or dog 
  • Affordable plans to meet your budget
  • Holiday cancellation expenses if you have to cancel your holiday due to your pet becoming ill.

GARDENS HOLIDAYS

Discover the natural world

Experience some of the world’s most magnificent horticultural locations, including South Africa, Madeira, Canary Islands, Greece and the UK.