Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why plant tulips?

Every plant, planted, is a commitment to the future. Some commitments take longer than others. Nut-bearing trees take tens of years to reach good yields. Flowering bulbs, on the other hand, represent a gardener's shortcut. Because commercial bulb growing operations produce bulbs of optimal size, all the gardener has to do is make a hole in the ground, step back, and wait until spring. 

Tulips are packaged by type to bloom in early- mid- or late-spring. The tulips at the intersection of Summer, Brooks and Maple Streets are mid-spring Darwin hybrids, in yellow, red, pink and orange. With luck and a timely bit of fertilizer they will be back in 2014 and 2015. Beyond that there will be fewer flowers each year, and not as tightly synchronized for height, flower size or timing. By the fall of 2015 they may need to be dug out and replaced.

For tulips do not last forever. The ideal soil, fertilizer and moisture conditions that Holland's commercial growers used to grow and export three billion tulip bulbs or tulips for bouquets every year are tedious to replicate at home.

Planting in well-drained soil will all but guarantee the first year's bloom. Ideally, the plant's leaves will capture enough solar energy to create a good-sized new bulb for the subsequent year. But in less than ideal conditions the new bulb will be smaller, and the next year, smaller still. These compromised bulbs either put out one large leaf and no flower, or small leaves and a stunted flower. And that is a signal to dig everything up and start over.  

Know, though, that any set of instructions beginning with "Make a hole in the ground..." is misleadingly simplistic. There are three basic strategies - make a hole for each individual bulb, digging a trench for a row of bulbs, or dig out an entire bed and put in lots of bulbs.

My preference is to go big. Because, honestly, a dozen tulips is pitiful. If you buy into making a big impact then purchase 60-75 bulbs of the same type. Next, dig a hole covering eight square feet, eight inches deep. Discard all plant matter, roots and rocks. Set aside for later examination all foreign objects: mysterious animal bones, pottery shards, coins, broken glass, etc. 

Summer and Brooks Streets, first week of May 2013
Next, put back two inches of the dirt, add an equal amount of compost (either from your compost pile or purchased) and mix. Firmly press the tulip bulbs into the loose soil about four inches apart. Avoid making rows. Cover with another two inches of dirt and then water copiously. More dirt, then walk all over it to pack it down. Add the rest of the dirt followed by an inch of mulch. All this will take many hours, and many body parts will hurt.

Tulips, as is true for many other flowers, have symbolic meanings. In general, a gift of tulips is a declaration of love. Red for true love, with the black of the inside center said to represent the heart of a lover burnt to a cinder with passion. Pink means friendship and affection without the overtones of romantic love. Orange tulip flowers symbolize warmth and happiness. Purple tulip flowers are traditionally associated with royalty - but now show up in bridal bouquets.

White tulip flowers are a means of asking for forgiveness, but also represent purity, innocence and respect. So again, brides. Cream-colored tulips confer commitment. Variegated/multi-color tulips are thought to symbolize beautiful eyes because of their gorgeous color patterns, perhaps making the perfect date flower. Black tulips, actually, a deep violet, maroon or wine-dark color, symbolize farewell, or perhaps not-that-into-you, so are NOT the perfect date flower.

And then, they are gone. The tulips that maxed out the first few days of May were mostly depetaled stems by the 10th. These are being deadheaded to minimize any waste of plant energy. The leaves will be left alone until they turn brown and wither. By then it will be easy to pull the stems out of the ground, leaving the newly formed bulb to wait until next spring. Expectations are that most of the planting will reappear next year, just not as tightly synchronized for height and timing.

May 2014: About 90% of these tulip plantings returned in good health. As expected, there were a few laggards, stunted tulips and no-shows. Timing was two weeks later than the first year, due to prolonged cold weather all Spring. Both years there was one red tulip among the sea of yellow tulips. This was not the result of an accidental planting. In 2014, just before the flowers opened, someone took it upon themselves to remove the red tulip. So sad.  

1 comment:

  1. You can say that tulips are the king of flowers and they looks beautiful in garden area. Colourful tulips attracts lots of people and if you have garden at your home side then you can grow it.