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Planting late tulip bulbs

Val Bourne

It's fine to plant tulip bulbs up till Christmas and still get spring-flowering

Pink tulips growing in the garden
Unlike 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

Lily-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.

Classic 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.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.