Glorious tulips are one of the delights of spring. The good news is that they are so easy to grow: just plant a few bulbs and you are almost certain to have fabulous flowers a few months later. However it is worth remembering that these flowers hail from warmer climes: the Eastern Mediterranean. They need treating with a little respect to get the best from them after a cold, wet North European winter.
First and foremost: do not plant them too early. Keep the bulbs in a cool, airy place and plant in late autumn or anytime up to mid-winter. This prevents early growth which can be susceptible to cold damage and disease, especially “tulip fire” which causes marks on the foliage and shrivelled, papery flower buds.
Secondly: plant them deep enough. Whether planting in the open ground or in pots they need to be planted three or four times the depth of the bulb below the surface. Shallow planting causes short stems and stunted growth.
Planting for the best display
When planting in pots you can re-use some of the growing medium you used for summer bedding plants. Clean out any root debris and add a small handful of Vitax Q4 fertiliser. Although the bulbs have their own reserve of food they will grow stronger with the nutrients and essential trace elements in Vitax Q4. The potash in the fertiliser helps the winter hardiness of the shoots as they emerge. In the open ground mix a small handful of Vitax Q4 into the soil at the bottom of the planting hole.
Position the bulbs a couple of centimetres apart. This may sound close but planting like this in a group will give a stunning display. It also means you can fit plenty of bulbs in a limited space when growing in a pot. When planting in beds and borders groups of at least five or seven bulbs give the best impact.
In the open ground, backfill with soil. In a pot top up the pot with fresh compost. A mixture of Vitax Multi-Purpose compost and John Innes No.3 in equal parts is ideal.