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Tulips: Fall Planted for Spring Delight

By Judy Donaldson, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension,  Denver County

Cold Colorado winters and dry summers are perfect for spectacular spring blooming tulips. Our seasons mimic those of central Asia, home of native tulips. However, most tulip bulbs found in our local stores were grown in Holland. Holland is known as the bulb capital of the world. The Dutch have overcome less than an ideal climate for tulips by extensive growth manipulation. Fortunately, home gardeners in the Rocky Mountains can grow great tulips with little effort.

Tulips are defined as perennials, plants that will grow more than one year. Thoughtful selection is key for vigorous reblooming plants. Select bulbs that are closely related to native plants labeled as "species" or "botanical" cultivars or one of the hardy hybrids in the examples below. Companies may label their bulbs as good choices for "perennializing" or "naturalizing." One modest fall investment of money and planting time can result in several years of bright spring rewards.

On a recent tour of local stores good tulips for reblooming were found at every site. Greenhouses and nurseries had the greatest variety of tulip types. Grocery, discount and big box stores all had some selections worthy of consideration.

Just a few examples of local offerings include the following (types of tulip may be seen on most labels; numbers represent month of bloom):

  • Tulipa backeri Lilac Wonder - lilac yellow center, Species (3)
  • Tulipa Showwinner - cardinal red, Kaufmanniana (3/4)
  • Tulipa Red Riding Hood - bright red, Greigii (3/4)
  • Tulipa White Emperor (also named Purissima) - Fosteriana (3/4)
  • Tulipa Golden Apeldoorn - lemon yellow, Darwin Hybrid (4/5)
  • Tulipa Maytime - medium purple white edge, Lilyflowering (4/5)
  • Tulipa Don Quichotte - rose pink, Triumph (5)

Many other choices within these types are also long-lived bulbs. The early blooming tulips are short with more open-blossomed flowers while the later blooming types are taller with a more traditional cup-shaped bloom.

Virtually all tulips have a great first season success. Many are so splendid they are fun to grow even if short lived. However, the more unusual shapes and colors are not as likely to have the staying power as the types listed above.

Try a handful (or a hundred!) of several tulip types for a spring-long show. Clusters of 5, 7 or 9 bulbs of the same type planted within a few inches of each other will make an outstanding display.

Encourage long life of tulips:

  • select large bulbs (for their type) which are disease and damage free
  • plant between September and when the ground freezes in November
  • plant in an area with some spring sun and is well drained
  • plant an inch or so deeper than the package recommends
  • supplement soil in planting hole with aged manure or bulb food
  • water well right after planting and occasionally during dry winters
  • cut off the dried flower stems after bloom, let the leaves dry in place
  • sprinkle with bulb food just as plants emerge in spring after 1st season

Fall is the time for planting. Whether experimenting for the first time with tulips or refurbishing an older flower bed, enjoy!


Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010