Show-stopping spring flowers are worth the wait.
Squirrels do not eat tulip bulbs — a surprising bit of rodent trivia, given their skill at digging up bulbs. Kelly Moody has essentially won her war against the neighborhood varmints at her Nichols Hills home, which accounts for the beautiful spray of Gentle Giant tulips that snuggle up to the house.
“We just put chicken wire over the beds after the bulbs go in, and that keeps them away,” she said. “Otherwise, they dig up the bulbs because they’re stashing their food for winter.”
Tulips are a commitment, especially in terms of effort, and the payoff is brief — a few weeks of blooms, and then they’re gone for the rest of the year. Still, their beauty and delicacy make them worth the effort for many homeowners and amateur gardeners. Moody has been planting them every year for approximately 15 years, and she always goes with annuals over perennials.
“The perennials will only come up for three years, and each year the yield is sparser,” she said. “For the best effect, we start with new bulbs each year, and I pick the color based on what I think will look best. Since they’re planted in front of red brick, I never choose red.”
Moody uses an online service called Colorblends, but local garden stores like TLC can provide similar levels of service and information. “I use them because they’re very informative about all the bulbs,” said Moody. “I always choose bulbs that are about the size of the palm of my hand; about 2 inches. They come in multiple sizes, but the bigger the bulb, the bigger the flower.”
The taller the flower, too. Moody likes them in the 22-inch range, and the smaller bulbs usually only produce tulips 12 to 16 inches tall. The idea is to plant them close together — but not in a heap, so to speak, because it’s easy for the flowers to get cramped. Issues like size, yield and density are the issues that places like TLC can help with. Given all the work involved in growing tulips successfully, it’s best to get good, professional advice so you can do it right the first time.
Moody said the process begins in late October, when she waits for a cold stretch or early frost that will cool the ground but not harden it or kill off the nutrients in the soil. She buries the bulbs at twice the depth of their size, and the good news is that when orienting the bulbs you don’t have to know up from down or sideways because “gravity will take care of that for you. Just plant them,” she said.
“The ground still has to be cold enough for the bulbs to go dormant, though,” Moody said. “If the ground is too warm, the plants will emerge too early, and you’ll lose the whole batch.”
After the brief blooming season, Moody waits for the leaves to turn yellow before she pulls the plants. At that point, she plants seasonally appropriate flowers in the beds … and waits for October to begin again.