NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Big, Bold Tulips!


Submitted by Craig Askim, Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources   

Do you want a brilliant landscape next spring? Think tulips! No other flower in spring can match tulips for their bright and showy colors. The biggest challenge with growing tulips is they can die after a couple years. Darwin hybrids boast the big blooms on the sturdiest stems. These hybrids are extremely vigorous. With proper care, they’ll bloom for many years; longer than any other standard tulip.

The biggest bulbs will give you the most vigorous plants. For tulips, the biggest bulbs will be 12+ cm in diameter (look on the package for size). The 11/12-cm tulips are fine. Avoid the small 10/11 cm in size; these bargain bulbs produce weak plants that fade out after one year. To maximize impact, plant six or more bulbs of each cultivar. Plant bulbs in clumps or drifts, not in rows. Early autumn is the best time to plant bulbs. We can delay planting until the ground freezes, but earlier planting leads to stronger roots and healthier growth in the future.

Tulips demand a well-drained soil. I like mixing in an inch of organic matter (peat moss, compost) to the bed before planting. Set tulip bulbs about eight inches deep. Sprinkle a bulb fertilizer containing timed-release nitrogen over the soil surface and work it in. A garden fertilizer such as 5–10–10 can be used as a substitute. Bone-meal is not recommended since it is not a complete fertilizer and attracts varmints that dig up the bulbs. Water the bulbs thoroughly to start them growing, there is an amazing array of colors to choose from. The ‘Apeldoorn’ and ‘Impression’ series are popular and there are many more award winners to choose from. Go online and explore! While exploring you’ll notice many classes of tulips besides Darwin hybrids. Some look like water lilies, others look like peonies, and still others look like parrot birds. They all have their strengths and weakness.

Speaking of durability, the life span of your tulip bed will depend on how you take care of it. Clip off the flower stalks once blooms begin to fade. We don’t want plants to waste energy on producing seeds; instead we want plants to refill their bulbs for next spring. After bloom, sprinkle fertilizer over the bulbs to encourage the foliage to stay green and produce lots of food for next year’s blooms. Do not trim the foliage until it yellows.

Fertilize now. September is a good time to fertilize lawns, flower beds and trees. The boost of potash in winterize fertilizers will increase hardiness of the turf, trees and perennials flowers. Secondly, September is a good month to apply a chemical application to reduce broadleaf weeks that are present in your garden, lawn, flower bed and around tree plantings. Application of a broadleaf herbicide in the early Fall will greatly reduce weed populations of thistle, wormwood, dandelions, and crabgrass next spring! In most cases it works better than chemical application in the spring of the year!

Source:Tom Kalb – NDSU Extension Horticulturalist

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