Garden Adventurer: The Temptation of Tulips

Springtime tulips on parade.

With apologies to Shakespeare, when it comes to tulips, to grow or not to grow — that is the question. While there are some species tulips that will perennialize in southern gardens, the larger, fancier hybrid tulips gardeners crave are usually one-hit wonders, good for only a single springtime display. So why bother?

I’m for bothering, because I enjoy hybrid tulips the same way I do summertime flowering annuals. They’re also single-season show-offs but certainly worth the effort once their bloom displays are in full flaunt. Need another reason? There is nothing complicated to growing them.

For starters, buy bulbs. From this obvious beginning, fine tune your search and shop like a Texan. In other words, go for the biggest bulbs in the bins or bags, because they will produce the best displays.

Now, plant. Early to mid-November is a good time to do the deed in our area — that is, unless summer heat lingers late into the fall. If so, wait until the end of the month or beginning of December. This will allow soil temperatures to drop closer to the magical 60 degrees F mark that helps stimulate plant development.

Pick a planting site that is sunny in the springtime and prep the soil by tilling or digging down to at least a foot deep. Mix in plenty of compost or commercial soil conditioner to fluff up the dirt. This is important because it improves drainage, which lessens the chances of bulbs rotting during a particularly wet winter.

If you are an unflinching fertilizer flinger, cool your jets. Hybrid tulip bulbs are already chocked full of the nutrients they will need while developing in the winter for their singular spring flower show, so sling away only if it will make you feel better.

Bulbs should be planted about 6- to 8-inches deep. This will put them in an underground zone of constant cool needed through the winter to encourage blooming. Adding an inch or two of a light mulch such as pine straw or shredded autumn leaves will likewise insulate the bulbs from the unwanted warmth of a mild winter. Mulch also helps prevent hard spring rains from besmirching beautiful blooms with mud splatters.

Come spring, when your tulip bed explodes with color, slap yourself on the back for being such a great gardener. Then grab a camera to capture the fleeting magic of those fabulous flowers.

Timely Tip

‘Lilac Wonder’ Tulip

Species tulips (sometimes called “botanical tulips”) are usually more modest in size and display than their hybrid cousins, but still just as colorful. And as a big plus, many species tulips will return year after year in southern gardens.

Some of the easiest selections to find are Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ and Tulipa clusiana, also known as the “lady tulip,” with the cultivars ‘Tinka’, ‘Cynthia’ and ‘Peppermint Stick’ being popular picks.

Species tulip bulbs can often be found at local garden shops and big-box stores with nurseries this time of year. Online shopping at e-retailers will make these pretties easy finds as well. For large assortments of tempting species tulips, check out John Scheepers ( or Brent and Becky’s (

To Do in the Garden


  • If you are finished with your veggie garden for the season, pull out old plants and rake up any debris. This tidying up will help prevent ground-borne diseases and overwintering insects from coming back out to play next spring.
  • Wild garlic or wild onions invading your pristine lawn? This month is a good time to fight back with herbicides cleared for use on warm- or cool-season grasses.


  • If your rain barrel served you well this year, return the favor and drain it before extended freezing spells arrive. That will prevent ice expansion from turning this handy garden helper into a sieve.
  • Soak any empty plant pots in a solution of ten parts water and one part bleach for ten minutes and then wipe dry before storing for use next spring.

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