Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tulips! A Spring Rainbow Of Colors.


Tulip is a plant in the genus, Tulipa, that is native to southern Europe and north Africa around the Mediterranean, parts of Turkey and Iran to western China. Tulips are in the Lily family. The plants are perennials and grown from bulbs. Tulips are indigenous to dry mountainous regions with cold winters, long and cool spring seasons, and temperate summers. The word, Tulipa, is derived from the Turkish word for "turban", and somewhat describes the shape of the flower.

It is unclear how tulips were introduced to Europe in the 16th century, but they became a sensation. So desirable were they that by the 17th century values were highly inflated and bulbs were even used as currency. When the speculative bubble burst, many lost fortunes. It was their beauty and ease of cultivation that captivated the public then as it does today. There are over 150 species and over 3000 varieties, and each one has its enthusiasts.

Tulips are grown commercially in bulb-producing regions of the Netherlands and Kashmir where the climate somewhat approximates that of their native lands. Though few places in North America are so favored, tulips can still be grown successfully in most zones, though sometimes only as annuals. They grow best in full sun and very well-drained soil. Recommended pH is 5.6 to 7.5. Hardiness zones given below are conventional; some gardeners may report otherwise.

To keep them organized, The Royal Horticultural Society of Holland has divided tulips into 16 "classes" based upon shape, habit, origin and size.

Class 1: Single Early Tulips. These bloom early in the season on strong stems. Size is from 8" to 20" tall. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 8, and are good for perennial gardens, mass plantings and indoor forcing.

Class 2: Double Early Tulips. These bloom early in the season on short, strong stems. Flowers have more than 6 petals each, thus the name "double." Size is from 8" to 16" tall. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 7, and are good for perennial gardens, mass plantings, container gardens.

Class 3: Triumph Tulips. These bloom mid-spring, 1 to 2 weeks before Darwin Hybrids, on strong stems. Flowers are large and display the typical teardrop shape. More tulips are included in this class than any other. Size is from 8" to 26" tall. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 7, and are good for perennial gardens, mass plantings, container gardens, cut flowers and indoor forcing.

Class 4: Darwin Hybrid Tulips. These bloom mid- to late spring. Flowers are typical pyramid-shaped, very large, up to 6" across when fully open. Size is from 12" to 34" tall. Due to longer stems and larger flowers, they are best planted out of the wind. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 7 or 8. Use them for perennial gardens, mass plantings, cut flowers, and indoor forcing.

Class 5: Single Late Tulips. Sometimes called "Mayflowering" Tulips, these bloom very late spring. Flowers are oval shaped. Size is from 9" to 32" tall. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 7. They are good for perennial borders, mass planting, and cut flowers.

Class 6: Lily-flowered Tulips. These bloom late spring. Flower petals are long, pointed and reflexed, and resemble lilies. Size is from 9" to 32" tall. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 7. The are useful in bulb beds, perennial borders, and as cut flowers. Having long stems, they are best planted out of the wind.

Class 7: Fringed Tulips. Sometimes called "Crispa" Tulips, these can bloom at different times during the spring, but many bloom late spring. Flowers are cup-shaped and the edges of petals are fringed. Size ranges from 8" to 30" tall. Fringed tulips are hardy from USDA climate zones 3 to 7. They are very good for bulb beds, mass plantings and cut flowers.

Class 8: Viridiflora Tulips. All characterized by a streak of green on each petal, these are mutations from other classes of tulips. The bloom times vary according to cultivar. Size ranges from 10" to 30" tall. They are hardy from USDA climate zones 3 to 7. Viridiflora tulips are good for bulb beds, mass plantings and cut flowers.

Class 9: Rembrandt Tulips. These are mutations from other classes of tulips, that resemble the varied color varieties with flames and stripes so popular during the 16th and 17th century. They are named after the Dutch painter. Bloom season and stem height vary. They are hardy from USDA climate zones 3 to 7. Good for bulb beds, mass plantings and cut flowers.

Class 10: Parrot Tulips. Season for these is mid- to late spring. Petals may be multi-colored, flamed and twisted, and flowers are very large. Height ranges from 12" to 28". They are hardy from USDA climate zones 4 to 7. For tulips with exotic appearance, these can't be beat.

Class 11: Double Late Tulips. These bloom late spring. Flowers have many petals, so are often called Peony Tulips. Height ranges from 12" to 24". They are hardy from USDA climate zones 3 to 7. Double Late Tulips are suitable for mixed bulb beds, mass plantings, cut flowers and indoor forcing.

Class 12: Kaufmanniana Tulips. Kaufmanniana tulips are named for K. von Kaufmann, the first Governor General of Tashkent after the 19th century conquest. These are among the earliest to bloom. Flowers resemble water lilies. Height ranges from 4" to 12". Hardy from USDA climate zones 3 to 8, Kaufmanniana tulips may perennialize and multiply for several years. They are suitable for rock gardens, bulb borders and container gardens.

Class 13: Fosteriana Tulips. Fosteriana tulips, commonly called Emperor tulips, originate from a species native to Turkestan and named for Dr. Michael Foster, professor of physiology at Cambridge University during the late 1800s. Dr. Foster became an avid gardener and plant hybridizer. These bloom early spring. Height ranges from 10" to 20". Hardy from USDA climate zones 3 through 8, T. fosteriana tulips perennialize very well. They are good for perennial borders, bulb gardens, mass planting and cut flowers.

Class 14: Greigii Tulips. Greigii tulips originate from a species native to Uzbekistan and discovered by P.L. Graeber. Another horticulturalist, Eduard von Regel, named the group after S.A. Greig, a botanist in St. Petersburg. Greig was also the president of the Russian Imperial Horticultural Society. They bloom early spring. Height ranges from 6" to 16". T. greigii tulips are hardy from USDA climate zones 3 through 7. They are good for borders, bulb gardens, rock gardens, container gardens, mass planting and indoor forcing.

Class 15: Other Botanical Tulips. As the name suggests, this class contains other tulip species cultivated and wild. Because they are so diverse, a description of size, bloom time and recommended hardiness zones will not suffice. Refer to individual species for descriptions. Tulip species in this class include T. bakeri, T. batalini, T. clusiana, T. dasystemon, T. hageri, T. humilis, T. linifolia, T. sylvestris, T. turkestanica.

Class 16: Multi-flowering Tulips. These are also called Bunch-flowering tulips, mutations of tulips from other classes that produce more than one flower stem per plant. Main stems divide and bear multiple blooms. Because they come from other classes, size, flower descriptions and bloom times vary. They tend to be hardy from USDA climate zones 3 through 8.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. They often provide collection bags. With each soil sample, indicate the type of bulb you intend to grow in it. For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee. For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more. Follow the recommendations.

Bulb planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area. Your Cooperative Extension office can advise you. Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds. Common soil amendments include sulfur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for bulbs. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. Your local Cooperative Extension Service should be helpful.

Your soil sample report from your local Cooperative Extension Service will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test. Following its instruction should be a good bet. A fine all-around practice for Spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden. Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.

The proper depth may differ according to the type of bulb. But as a rule of thumb, bulbs should be planted three times as deep as the bulbs are wide. For example, if the bulb is 2" wide, plant it 6" deep. That means the bottom of the hole should be 6" deep. Plant tulips about 6" apart. Cover the bulbs with soil and add a top-dressing of mulch about 2" deep to suppress weeds. Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Though tulips are lovely to behold, the bulbs are toxic to mammals, therefore caution must be taken to prevent dogs, cats and young children from ingesting them.

Return to Tulips at goGardenNow.com.

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