It’s been a bit of a short spring this year; all that ice and snow took its toll on early-flowerers, but it hasn’t stopped tulips from putting on a stunning show.
But now many are past their best and it’s decision time – leave them in situ or dig them up and store them until November when they can be replanted?
Whatever your choice, dead-head them to stop them setting seed. Many tulips are happy to live in the ground all year round, just as long as summer is reasonably dry and warm; many more, however, will do much better if they are lifted and stored for a few months. Dig them up when the flowers have faded and lay them in a trench somewhere warm and sunny. When the foliage has died completely, lift the bulbs, clean them and let them dry for a while before storing them somewhere dry before the autumn planting season.
Most gardeners tend to grow tulips that flower in March and April because they provide strong colour early on in the spring. This year, however, many have flowered a bit later than normal, but they are nothing if not reliable.
Just remember to always plant bulbs in well-drained soil – in the wild they are bulbs of cold, windswept, dry areas. Wet soil promotes fungus and disease and can rot bulbs.
Help the drainage by sitting each bulb on sand and adding organic matter.
Plant tulip bulbs deep – eight inches is about right. And water after planting. They may like a well-drained soil, but they need a good drink to get them going.
The big favourites among tulips are the Greigii types which have mottled foliage. They have short stems (about 15cm long) and come in many colours – “Red Riding Hood” (red, obviously), “Stresa” (yellow with red flash) and “Pinocchio” with a red base to petals edged in white.
For an April/May tulip reminiscent of old Dutch oil paintings, try the double bedding tulip called “Carnival de Nice”. It produces large, fragrant double white blooms with strong bright red flares that set it well apart from single colours.
Very fashionable of late are fringed tulips that have heavily serrated petal edges. They bloom from late April to May on tall stems and provide extra interest with their flashy bi-colours and fascinating petal forms.