How I Grow Tulips For The Wild Rose

How I Grow Tulips For The Wild Rose

I have always loved tulips – maybe it is the fact that growing up in Northland we never had them in our garden, maybe it was the spectacular public gardens I saw planted with them in Switzerland when I visited my godmother. 

When we order tulips from the flower market we usually just get tulips, we don’t often get to choose colour or type.  When I grow them I can pick from so many colours and types, the choice can become overwhelming for someone like me who loves them all.

Growing tulips is a project that covers most of the year  In January this year I have poured over the varieties and agonised over which ones to buy and how many.   I finally committed to over 2,000 bulbs with the names of each sounding like I could have been planning a trip to exotic places around the world. 

From Saigon Double to Crown of Negrita, Columbus to Cabanna.  From Parrot tulips which are have serrated margins to their petals giving them a ruffled look like the feathers of a parrot, to Coronet or Crown tulips with a unique petal shape that makes the bud look like a crown.

 Ranging from creamy white laced with green and soft pink to deep plummy purple, or raspberry edged with white and cardinal red to orange with reddish purple flames.  We can’t miss lilac mauve and there must be some of the many shades of yellow in there too.

 At this point (early April) I know they can’t be far away from arriving and as soon as they do I need to find chiller space for them all.  In Auckland we generally don’t have enough length or the extent of cold temperatures that is needed across winter to ensure a tulip bulb goes through its growth cycle properly.  When the bulb dies down after flowering it stores starch in the bulb which is the carbohydrate energy it needs to flower the next season.  However it is the cold weather that converts the starch to sugar which it needs to grow.

 To give it this period of cold to convert it’s starch to sugar I chill them for two to three months, depending on how patient I am!

 Then it’s time to get them in the ground.  Suprisingly, 2,000 tulips for picking does not take up anywhere near the same amount of space as anything else I would plant in similar numbers.  Imagine planting them like eggs into egg cartons – that is how closely they can be planted. 

 Having chilled the bulbs for close to 3 months, it is then around another 3 months before they are ready to be picked.  It is a period of eager anticipation, seeing leaves start to pop out from the soil, a flower bud starting to also creep up and then all of a sudden there are tulip heads everywhere.  It’s the sign of

To get the best vase life from them I need to pick them while they are still in bud with just a hint of colour showing, but once they are getting to the point of flowering they start popping open so fast it is hard to keep up with them. 

 I pull them out of the ground, bulb and all when I harvest them.  This always feels a bit like sacrilege, but it is necessary to get the best stem length and the longest vase life.  Because we cut off the whole stem length from the bulb we aren’t leaving any leaves on the bulb which it needs to get it’s energy from to store for the next season.  Therefore I need to buy new bulbs each season. 

 There are some tips to make the most of your tulips once you have them at home.  I don’t mind them having a life of their own and bending and curving but if you don’t, wrap the top two thirds of them in a funnel of paper and stand them upright in water for a few hours.  Once they are fully hydrated again this will have helped them to stay more upright in their vase. 

 Tulips are very unique to other flowers in that they will keep growing taller in the vase so if you don’t want this to happen I have one other trick I have tried to prevent this.  Using  a needle, prick a hole through the stem of the tulip at the base of the neck.  It puts it’s energy into repairing the hole instead of growing taller.  Again, I feel a little mean doing that and would rather just let nature do what it does and end up with longer tulips.  If they’re in amongst other flowers then just start with them shorter than the others as they will soon reach the same height. 

Ultimately, enjoy any of these spring blooming herbaceous bulbiferous geophytes, otherwise known as tulips, their amazing shapes, colours and if you are lucky also their fragrance.  I can’t wait to get my bulbs in the ground this year and see each of the varieties when they flower – it truly is one of the highlights of my growing year.