A GROWING CONCERN: No time to tiptoe around spring bulb planting

AS YOU KNOW, I am always cheerleading just how great our weather is here on the Peninsula.

With the advent of September, it is time to think of buying and planting spring bulbs.

I hope everyone is starting to understand just how lovely spring bulbs are and how crucial this link is to your botanical success and that of the Olympic Peninsula.

If you have doubts, let me clue you in as to why bulbs are such a big deal.

Tulips have a very long history dating back 800 years.

Their history is steeped in the eastern Mediterranean area and stretches into central Asia. There about 80 different species of wild tulips on the dry mountainous slopes and upper valleys.

They first appeared in Persian poetry as early as the 12th century.

The Ottoman empire, as early as the 1500s, collected various tulips from the wilds and displayed them in gardens by the thousands.

From Istanbul to Holland

A traveling diplomat arriving back from Istanbul, Turkey, introduced the first tulips to Renaissance Europe where they took Holland by storm.

Tulip mania ensued as aristocrats soon had an out-of-control commodity market in broken tulips.

Broken tulips were created by a virus that gave petals a flamed or feathered look. But the virus weakened the plant, slowing its reproduction.

As a result, these intriguing flowers were very rare and caused much market speculation. It wasn’t until 1920 that it was discovered the virus was spread by aphids.

Although Holland had the greatest tulip fever, the royal gardens of France, Italy and Switzerland were also adorned with this magnificent flower.

Flower carpets were created for Queen Victoria using tulips.

By the 20th century, perennial and cottage gardens were in vogue as the explosion of new tulip varieties were working their way into every crack of the gardening world.

Today, knowledge in pot-forcing production and specific breeding for stem quality helps tulips enjoy a huge market share in both cut flower production and as potted plants for the home from Valentines Day through Mothers day.

So why would anyone not want a few hundred tulips around the house for three or four months of breathtaking enjoyment?

Understanding Tulips

I hope it is not because of the lack of knowledge. Many folks easily could become confused with the multitude of tulip types, characteristics and blooming times that exist.

Well, here is a road map to guide you through tulip land and make sure all special attractions are seen.

All tulips can fall into one or more of three crucial divisions based on blooming times — early-, mid- or late-season bloomers.

For me it all about having as many tulips, in varying colors, sizes and textures blooming at as many different times as possible.

From March to June

At a bare minimum, you should have tulips blooming from March to June.

To further complicate things, some tulips last only one season while others last for years or decades.

As a rule, the hybrids are spectacular for show but last only one to two years. The trick is to mix both long-lasting and short-lived tulips into new and creative displays of color and design each year.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the three big time divisions.

1. Early tulips

This grouping includes early single and early double classifications.

These tulips bloom with the earliest daffodils and many perform well for years.

Apricot Beauty, with its sensational color, is an early bloomer and the top-selling tulip in America.

Because temperatures are cooler during early spring, these flowers last exceptionally long, as long as five weeks.

Here are some to try: doubles such as Peach Blossom and ABBA; multi-flowering or bunch tulips such as the Pink Toronto or the lovely soft pink Happy Family.

2. Mid-season tulips

This is a huge group of tulips that includes many species of tulips, such as Darwin hybrids, Triumph, fringed and Greigii types.

The fringed tulips are awesome with their ice crystal-like serrated edges.

Triumphs are known for interesting colorations and mixes, as well as their suitability for pot-forcing.

Darwin hybrids are the largest blossoms you will encounter on tulips.

Along with their strong stems and vivid bright colors, they are perfect for arrangements or bold color statements in the yard.

Mid-season tulips bloom at the same time as primula, anemones, poppy and the stately fritillaria.

They should be planted among these varieties along with pansy and viola borders.

Kaufmanniana, Fosteriana and Greigii tulips are all direct descendants from early Asian species and last for many years.

They are the earliest of the mid-season tulips and last four to five weeks.

3. Late-season tulips

This is another large category that encompasses single late, double late and my favorites, the lily flower and parrot tulip.

These bloom along with allium, peony, rhododendrons and azaleas. Single late tulips offer beguiling colors, are very tall and perfect for annual displays and floral arrangements.

Ideal choices in this category are the black Queen of Night, deep red Kingsblood or the unique bluish Bleu Armable.

The late double tulips are huge, gorgeous, peony flowers that perform well for many years.

Lily tulips are splendid with their graceful tapered ends that flare outward, enhancing itself as it opens.

They have great staying power, are elegant as cut flowers and stand up fairly well as potted plants.

But the parrot tulip, despite their poor performance in pots and little ability to last even two or three years, are still the star of the tulip world.

These are the tulips of great art works and botanical drawings. They are tall, huge, vivid flowers that will be the showstoppers in a vase and are usually bi- or tri-colored.

I have planted more than 60 varieties of tulips on the Peninsula and will add to that number this year.

How about trying at least 10 varieties yourself?

I bet you will be hooked for life.


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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