DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — All About Tulips

You don’t have to be Dutch to love tulips. These harbingers of spring are a delight as they poke through the mulch you probably placed over the flower bed this past autumn.

Tulips originally came from eastern Turkey. The Dutch took those wild tulips and crossbred them, creating many varieties — early, midseason and late — that are found in our gardens today. (Gardeners who like complete spring color, plant all three varieties.)

To keep tulips blooming from year to year, plant bulbs in fertile, well-drained soil to which lots of compost and mulch has been added. Tulips like a light, friable soil. Bulbs should be placed in the ground pointed end up, about 12 inches deep.

New beds should be mulched the first autumn. In the spring, once foliage appears, the mulch can be removed. Beds should be dug up every three to four years. If you leave them longer, the flowers will be fewer and smaller.

After the flowers have bloomed and petals have dropped or dried, cut off the spent stalks, leaving the foliage intact. The green foliage is needed to produce energy for next year’s blooms.

Continue to water and fertilize plants throughout the growing season, keeping them vigorous for as long as possible into late June and July. The foliage will then yellow and wilt, indicating the plants are going into their rest period. You can fill in the empty spot in your tulip bed with potted annuals.

If you received Easter or Mother’s Day potted tulips, here is what you can do after they’ve bloomed. Sink the pots in your garden up to their rims. Water and do not disturb until the foliage turns yellow, at which time you can lift the plants from the pots and separate the new offset bulbs from the mother bulb. Dust the new bulbs with fungicide and replant outdoors in late September, and you should have flowers by the next spring.

Unfortunately, the weather can have a great influence on tulips. Cool springs followed by hot summers will force dormancy before the new baby bulbs can reach flowering size. And if warm weather comes early, the tulips will have a short season as they are hurried to maturity. Regions with long, cool springs and summers are best for producing tulips.

If you like tulips but haven’t planted any, don’t worry. There are big tulip festivals across the country. Holland, Mich., for example, has the biggest tulip show in the Midwest. Another large show is held in Pella and Orange City, Iowa. (I took in the Holland show years ago. There also was a tulip farm on the tour. Great!)

And if you don’t like to travel, just check around your neighborhood. There are so many tulip beds to view around Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, you’ll think you’re in Holland!

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