Tulips: annuals or perennials?

Understanding tulip physiology is helpful to the home gardener

There’s still time to plant tulips for spring. Pictured here: Lily flowering tulips with Euphorbia polychroma and Ligularia ‘Britte Marie Crawford’ in the rear.

Last year, I tried to treat my tulips right. I fed them bonemeal and compost. I deadheaded them after they bloomed, so they wouldn’t set seed. I let the leaves linger in the garden, soaking in summer light. When the leaves yellowed, I lifted the bulbs, dried them, then stored them in a cool place. All this and you’d think I’d have some decent stock for this fall. But no: my tulip bulbs are so small I’m reluctant to re-plant.

What did I do wrong?

Understanding tulip physiology is helpful to the gardener and also explains why tulips cost so much to replace.

Tulips flower using the energy stored in their bulbs. In the wild (a mountainside in Kazakhstan, for example), the plant would be naturalized in grass. The bulb-to-bloom technique is an adaptation, much in the way our native camas has adapted to our summer droughts: store carbohydrates one year, in order to flower with the spring rains of the next.

A single ‘mother’ tulip bulb may produce only two or four daughter ‘bulblets’. The main bulb, after flowering, often dies. Given a healthy environment, these daughters will bloom. Without enough nutrients, drainage, cold, or space, a tulip bulb may only send up a leaf or fizzle out altogether.

To better perennialize tulips, plant the bulbs deeper than the packet recommends, approximately 8-10 inches, in well-drained soil, sun to part-sun. In our soils drainage can be difficult, so think creatively – a hillside, a sloped bed, or an area beyond irrigation could work. Also, look for tulip varieties that are intended to be naturalized, such a the small species tulips. The large Darwins and Triumph tulips also have a good reputation for repeat bloom.

There’s still time to plant tulips this year. Garden centres tend to offer discounts on bulbs once their Christmas stock arrives and they’re pressed for space. Try not to balk at the price of specialty tulips: A tulip grown from seed can take a full seven years to produce one flowering bulb. A new variety may take 20 years to develop as a result.

I’m growing tulips as annuals this season as I’ll be using them as cut flowers. I planted my bulbs egg-carton style, densely packed, and not very deep. (Dense planting works in pots as well, but only for a season.) I’ll be harvesting the blooms with the bulbs so I can plant summer annuals in their place.

Christin Geall is an Oak Bay gardener and UVic  creative non-fiction writing professor

 

Just Posted

Belgian man searches for family of fallen First World War soldier from Victoria

Mark Edward Berton attended Victoria High School and has his grave in Flanders Field

Oak Bay artist co-op highlights autobiographical Snapshots showcase

Snapshots runs from June 4 to 22 at Gage Gallery, 2031 Oak Bay Ave.

Saanich preschool celebrates 30 years with reunion event

Thousands invited RSVP for Carrot Seed Preschool 30-year celebration

Sidney Museum’s Chief Dan George exhibition sees surge of interest

Four mayors, federal Green leader, Tsartlip reps to attend June 21 opening ceremony

Federal government actions hurt Sooke hatchery fundraising efforts

Funding denial comes on the heels of fishing closures

REPLAY: The best videos from across B.C. this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at the replay-worth highlights from this week in the province

Mistrial declared in B.C. gangster Jamie Bacon’s trial

Bacon was on trial for counselling to commit the murder of Person X

Canadian homebuyers escaping high housing costs by moving to secondary cities

In British Columbia, exurbs have grown in the Hope Valley and Kamloops

Feds lay out proposed new rules for voice, video recorders in locomotives

Transport Canada wants to limit use of recorders to if a crew’s actions led to a crash

Raptors beat Bucks 100-94 to advance to franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals

Leonard has 27 points, 17 boards to lead Toronto past Milwaukee

Third person charged in death of B.C. teen found in torched SUV

Inderdeep Kaur Deo facing charge of accessory after the fact to murder

Kamloops girl, 9, recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning now out of ICU

Her mother who was sleeping in the same tent with her did not survive

‘I think he’s still alive’: B.C. mom pleads for help finding son last seen a month ago

Family offering $5,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Tim Delahaye

New poll suggests one-third don’t want politicians to wear religious symbols

Local politicians shouldn’t be allowed to wear hijabs, crucifixes or turbans on the job, survey suggests

Most Read