What I know about tulips

There is nothing I get more questions about than tulips. I did a Q&A all about tulips on Instagram and was asked some great questions so I thought it would be a good idea to answer them here on the blog as well where I can expand on some of the answers. So here we go – here is what I know about tulips!

Do you keep your tulip bulbs after flowering or get new ones every year?

This is the number one most frequent question I get asked. The answer is that I buy fresh bulbs every year. Some tulip bulbs are perennial and will flower for many years, but to achieve this you need to leave the foliage to die back before you lift and store the bulbs. Since I have such a small garden, I need to keep it tidy so I can’t have lots of scruffy looking tulip leaves hanging around. I also don’t have anywhere to store the bulbs over the winter. But the main reason is that I want a reliably gorgeous display – fresh bulbs are the only way to guarantee this. It can take three years for a tulip to flower again and I just don’t want to take the risk of ending up with just a bunch of leaves. Extravagant for sure but to me, totally worth it.

Should you cover tulips in pots?

My tulip pots all stay outside over winter with no cover. Cold weather is not a problem for tulips, in fact they need a chilly spell to flower well. People who grow tulips in mild climates have to keep them in the fridge until it is time to plant them. Rainwater is also not a problem as long as you have adequate drainage – several holes at the bottom of the pot and some crocs or grit at the base. If you think about it, the tulips that are planted in the ground get rained on just as much but they are fine.

Do you need to water your tulip pots?

Yes! Over the winter there will inevitably be some rainy days and you don’t need to worry about the tulips drying out, but as soon as the weather gets milder you need to watch them. Water the pots roughly once a week in dry weather.

When should you plant your tulips?

It depends on where you live but generally later than you think, there is no hurry. Here in London it is very mild so November or even December is perfect – I have to get mine in the ground by the end of November because after that I’ll be too busy doing Christmassy things. If you live somewhere colder then do them a little bit earlier. I am not sure if this is true but my feeling is that if you plant them early, they will flower earlier in the spring. With the mild winters we are having I find everything in the garden is happening too soon and I try to do whatever I can to delay things. Tulips for example are a May time flower for me but this year they flowered in April. If I had planted them sooner they might have come out even earlier. So that’s another reason why I try to leave the bulb planting session as late as possible – I don’t want the garden to peak to soon!

How do you plant your tulips in mixed borders without accidentally digging them up?

It happens. But my tactic is this – I do all my tidying up, moving and dividing plants, planting bare root roses and other new perennials in October/November. Once that’s done the tulip bulbs go in. So between November and April I don’t do any digging and avoid disturbing the bulbs.

How do you choose the colours?

Oh my gosh, this is really difficult because there are so many gorgeous ones to choose from! Tulips websites are like sweet shops for grown ups, all those mouth-wateringly gorgeous and tempting tulip pictures… I find them impossible to resist. My tulip buying tactic goes like this: I start by identifying my must have varieties and make sure to order these early so they don’t sell out. Then I build my colour scheme around these key tulips, adding other varieties that go nicely together. It is quite good to look at some nice websites for inspiration – Sarah Raven have the best tulip collections and you can get some great ideas from her even if you buy your bulbs elsewhere. The next step is to wait for the bulb sale. At that point I sometimes go a little bit wild. I want to have lots and lots of tulips so I LOVE the sale! Having the colour scheme clearly worked out is super helpful at this point – I know which colours I’m going for so anything that’s left in the sale that fits my palette goes in the basket. That’s it! Until the moment when the all the bulbs arrive and I realise that the person who will have to plant them all is… me.

Do you need full sun to grow tulips?

Luckily for me, you don’t. Mine are in part shade and it works very well, in fact I find it really beneficial that they are in the shade for part of the day as it prolongs flowering quite a bit. I really noticed it this spring when we had such warm weather in April. My tulips carried on for much longer than other gardener’s I know because they were not sitting in the baking hot sunshine all day. I haven’t grown tulips in full shade but have been told it works just fine if you get new bulbs each year.

Where do you get your bulbs from?

I order nearly all of mine online. That way you have such an amazing range of varieties to choose from. I have ordered from Sarah Raven, Farmer Gracy, Peter Nyssen and Crocus. Am bound to pick some up at a garden centre or DIY store too if I see something gorgeous.

I hope these tips are helpful, feel free to ask any additional questions in the comments below and I will add them too. Happy tulip shopping and good luck with the planting, it can be a bit of a mammoth job if you like to have lots of them like me. Only six months until tulip time 2021 – can’t wait!

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