Now is the time to GET your tulip bulbs. But, now is not yet the time to plant them. Here in Central Illinois, we do that any time from mid October to mid November. But, if you wait until then to purchase the bulbs, it’s an almost certain bet that you won’t find much selection left.
Garden centers and discount drug stores are traditional retailers, but even lumber supply and hardware stores sell them now. I have three basic recommendations for your tulip garden.
First: select varieties which will come into bloom in successive weeks. There are enough different types of tulips that even if this is your first year of tulip gardening, you may be able to have tulips in bloom from late March to May.
Second: plant masses of tulips which are all of one color, and I mean big masses ‑‑‑ three to four yards across. This makes a spectacular display with high visual impact. So, don’t buy packages of bulbs of many different colors. The mixed color display just isn’t any where near as effective as one color. And, don’t plant them in rows along the drive or across the front of the house. This single‑file order creates a spotty and dinky display of low visual consequence.
Third: Avoid buying varieties any smaller than 1.5 inches in diameter because they may flower only poorly. The label may give the figure “11 cm”. This means the circumference is 11 centimeters (about 1.5 inches in diameter).
Here’s a flowering time guide to the major tulip types and a few of their varieties. There are dozens of named varieties within any one type. Usually, the label identifies the variety as to which type it belongs. A few classic varieties are named for each group, but use the group name for your selection.
Late March to mid April (before daffodils): Kaufmanniana: 6 ‑ 8″. Called waterlily tulips because petals open wide, and close at night. Good for rock gardens. Varieties: Heart’s Delight; Gold Coin.
April (in flower with daffodils): Fosteriana: 16‑18″. Satiny blooms. Tend to be longer‑lived than most. Varieties: Red Emperor; White Emperor.
April (two weeks before Cottage and straight species Darwin types): Single Early: 6‑15″. Single flowered but 3‑5″ across. Many are fragrant. Varieties: Yokohama; Apricot Beauty.
April ( a little later than Single Early): Double Early: 12‑15″. Flowers have extra petals. Last very well in vase arrangements. Varieties: Baby Doll; Peach Blossom.
April into May: Greigii: 9‑12″. Many with pointed petals. Especially noted for handsome leaves: wavy, striped, marbled, colorful veins. Varieties: Red Riding Hood; Sweet Lady.
April into May ( a few weeks earlier than straight species Darwins): Darwin Hybrids: 24‑28″. Strongest growing with huge flowers 7″ across. Most brilliantly colored of all tulips. They naturalize and don’t need replacing like many others. Varieties: Pink Impression; Olympic Flame; Golden Apeldoorn.
May: Cottage (or Single Late): 20‑26″ Oval flowers 4‑5″ across. Usually with long‑pointed petals. Varieties: Lemon Queen; Princess Margaret Rose.
Darwins ( the straight species, not the hybrids): 24‑30″ Round flowers 4‑5″ across. Dark colors. Varieties: Black Tulip; Eclipse.
Parrot: 18‑24″. Petals frilled and flared; often bicolored; 8″ across. Varieties: American Eagle; Fancy Frills.
Lily‑Flowered: 22‑26″. Urn‑shaped blooms. Varieties: Red Shine; West Point; Queen of Sheba.
Double Late: 20‑24″ The peony‑flowered tulips: big double flowers. Very long lasting in vase arrangements. Varieties: Mount Tacoma; Angelique.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Balbach