Want color next spring to brighten your dull, winter-trashed garden? Now is the time to plant spring bulbs. Tulips are one the most popular bulbs because they come in such a wide range of colors and bloom times. With a little planning, you can have tulips blooming in almost any color from mid-April through the end of May.
Before you plant
Buy large, clean, firm bulbs with no nicks, breaks or mold on them. Leave the brown husk in place to keep the bulb from drying out. The price of a bulb does reflect its quality so be prepared to pay a fair price if you want a good show.
When to plant
Tulips, like all spring flowering bulbs, need to be planted before the end of October. This allows them time to send out roots while the ground is still warm. They can be planted into late November and early December as long as the ground in thawed, but they may not produce as well.
Where to plant
Pick spots that get full sun in the spring. The earliest tulips can be planted under deciduous trees and shrubs to take advantage of the sun before the plant leafs out fully. They look the best planted in masses of at least five to seven bulbs.
As a general rule, tulips should be planted at a depth of three times their height as measured from base of the bulb. The base is the flat end with a small ring where the roots will emerge.
How to plant
When planting in groups, it’s easier to dig up an entire area rather than individual holes. Amend the soil with some good compost and a little bone and blood meal. Bulbs do not need fertilizer now. Backfill the hole and tamp gently. If the soil is dry, water them in.
Mark where you planted them with sticks, Popsicle sticks or even white plastic disposable silverware so you don’t dig there later. Write with a weatherproof marker.
One challenge with planting tulips is that a number of critters think they are the next best thing to a gourmet buffet. Mice, gophers, squirrels and deer all like them. To deter the first three, bulbs can be dipped in repellents for a few minutes and then allowed to dry before planting. The repellents are supposed to make the bulbs taste and smell bad. Bulbs can be planted in baskets made of quarter-inch metal hardware cloth. To slow squirrels down from digging them up, lay chicken wire over the area after you plant. This needs to be removed in the spring before the bulbs come up.
Deer are a problem in the spring when the new growth appears. Apply deer repellents as soon as the new growth appears and then every few days through the spring to catch the whole plant as it grows. As a last resort, plant tulips behind a deer-proof fence and plant daffodils that they don’t like in the rest of the yard.