It’s tulip time

Posted May 9, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Tulips in bloom 2 cc .tif

by Marilyn Odneal, Horticulture Adviser

I am going looking forward to checking out the tulip display at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. I love tulips but find that they are not as easy to grow as daffodils in my garden. First of all, critters like to eat the bulbs. There are also some tulips that perennialize (come back every year) better than others. The tulips that form fewer, larger bulblets rather than many, smaller bulblets, work better as perennials but are usually smaller plants.

In fact many people grow tulips as annuals, although my co-worker Susanne Howard, horticulturist at the Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, grows several perennial types in her garden. She advises to “plant tulips in well drained soil 8 inches deep in fall, before the ground freezes. You also need to allow the plants to die back naturally after they flower so the nutrients and carbohydrates can go back into the bulb.”

Although we enjoy tulips now, we have to wait until fall to plant them in our gardens. Remember that spring flowering bulbs are planted in the fall, while summer flowering bulbs are planted in spring. I consider tulips my most romantic flower. My boyfriend bought them for me for Valentine’s Day by mistake. He thought they were roses. I put the beautiful pink tulips in a vase and day-by-day they changed to eventually arch out looking like they were trying to escape. It was then I learned that tulip stems actually continue to grow after they are cut, which means that you get a bouquet that actually moves.

To extend the show as well as having tulips for bouquets for a longer time, you have several types of tulips to choose from that bloom at different times.

Very early tulips: These tulips begin bloom as early as late March. Water lily tulips are 4-12 inches tall with pointed petals that open wide. Tulipa greigii has green leaves with maroon markings and grows 6-20 inches tall. Emperor tulips are 12-15 inches tall.

Early tulips: This group begins blooming around mid-April. Single early tulips are fragrant and grow 10-18 inches tall. Double early tulips are peony flowered and grow 10-12 inches tall. Tulipa praestans grows 8-12 inches tall and bears several flowers on each stem.

Midseason tulips: Triumph types grow 18-24 inches tall and come in many colors including bicolors. Tulipa tarda has star-like yellow flowers with white edges at a mere 4-6 inches tall. Darwin hybrids have large flowers on 24-inch tall plants and are earlier than the familiar Darwins.

Late tulips: This group blooms through May. Darwin tulips are the ones that we are most familiar with. They have large flowers on 24-30 inch tall plants and come in many different colors. Cottage tulips are usually egg-shaped with pastel flowers on 22-30 inch tall plants. Double late tulips have peony-like flowers on 8-24 inch sturdy stems. Rembrandt tulips have streaked petals on plants that are about 2 feet tall. Although Rembrandt didn’t exactly paint many flowers, these tulips were often subjects of Flemish and Dutch still life paintings of the 16 and 1700s, where the artists often mixed them with other flowers that bloomed at different times.

Lily flowered have long curving petals that turn outward at the tips, while the parrot tulips have large fringed, ruffled petals in bright and beautiful colors. So you have many different colors and shapes of tulips to choose from. Whether you like tulips for your still life paintings or your romantic bouquets, enjoy their beauty now and in the weeks to come. And, if you get a chance, run up to the Missouri Botanical Garden to see all of the tulips in bloom. That is my plan!

Direct comments or questions concerning this column to Marilyn Odneal via email at; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our Web site at

TULIPS IN BLOOM – Here are some lovely species tulips from Susanne Howard’s garden. Susanne is the horticulturist who manages the educational gardens here at the Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station. Photo by Susanne Howard