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Hamptons Life

Oct 2, 2017 10:45 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Tulips Offer Great Variety Of Color, Height, Blooming Time

Double Early Tulip Abba. COURTESY COLORBLENDS
Oct 2, 2017 11:22 AM

As an ornamental bulb, the tulip has had a pretty remarkable history—and the Dutch have had this market pretty much cornered for close to 400 years. Can you imagine Holland without an image of tulips? During the period of “tulipmania” in 1636 and 1637, speculators pushed the price of this commodity up 400 percent in just three months, and in the following three months the prices paid for these bulbs crashed and collapsed.

But there’s more to tulips than their bright colors that fill the spring garden. There’s been some incredible breeding going on, and there are now hundreds of varieties available. Yes, the days of high-quality tulip bulbs for 20 or 30 cents each are long gone, and you’re more likely to pay 70 to 90 cents a bulb—but, oh, all those choices and possibilities!

So, how do you choose, and what are the choices?

Tulips are classified by family groups and then by idiosyncrasies of color and petal types, followed by time of bloom and height. Some tulips are short lived, giving two to three years of great display, but others, mostly known as the botanical tulips, will naturalize and flower for years.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the tulip varieties to help in your shopping and selections. Some are available at garden centers, while the largest selection is available online from vendors noted at the end of this week’s column.

The Emperor, or Fosteriana, tulips are among the earliest to bloom and originated in Central Asia. They are known for their large and colorful flowers on strong stems, with Orange and White Emperor, as well as the Yellow Purissima, blooming up to two weeks later than the others in this group. These flower around mid-April and are planted 6 to 8 inches deep and 6 inches apart; in bloom, the height will range from 10 to 18 inches, depending on the variety.

Kaufmanniana hybrids are also known as the water lily tulips. This group is low growing and well suited to rock gardens and border edges. Most have mottled foliage, and the flowers open fully on sunny days when they best reveal their multi-colored interiors. If undisturbed, these bulbs may naturalize when they’re “happy.” Flowering is early in the spring, and the bulbs should be planted 6 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Blooms are on stems about 8 to 10 inches tall.

The Single Early Tulips are the ones most widely grown, and if there is a classic tulip, this is it. They are among the earliest to bloom and the most commonly used as a cut flower and for forcing.

The flowers are cup shaped with very strong stems that stand up well to wind and spring showers. The flowers open fully on sunny days, and this tulip simply looks great in mass plantings, as a monochrome planting or in colored drifts.

Apricot Beauty, which is one of my favorites for forcing and cuts, has been moved to the Triumph tulip group. These flower in mid-April, are planted about 6 inches deep, 6 inches apart, and the height in flower can range from 12 to 14 inches.

Double Early Tulips are just that—tulips with at least twice the number of petals in the flower. This group is favored for the early spring garden, cuts and for forcing, and while the stems are stiff and strong, the fluffy flowers can be jostled by the winds. You may see this tulip in massive displays in public gardens or botanical gardens. In these plantings, the bulbs are usually removed after flowering and treated as annuals. Plant 6 inches deep, 6 inches apart, and they will flower on stems 12 to 18 inches tall.

Species Tulips are a large group of more than 30 tulips that come from the Mediterranean, Asia Minor and the Caucasus. This is the group that will perennialize better than any other, but there are those in the group that do better than others. As a whole, they are well suited to rock gardens, clusters and naturalized drifts where they can be undisturbed. Plant these 4 to 5 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Flowering height can range from 4 to 16 inches, so sites more prone to be wind should be limited to the shorter varieties. There’s a great deal of diversity in this group from the short and fragrant 5-inch-tall T. biflora to the 16-inch-tall T. acuminate, known as the Fire Flame Tulip because of its thin, fiery red petals.

Triumph tulips are crosses between the Darwins and the Early tulips. These have strong stems and large blooms in a wide spectrum of colors, including many bicolors and even tricolors. Great in the garden, they are also used for forcing. Be aware that this group has some varieties that are as short as 8 inches, but some can grow as tall as 22 inches, such as the King’s Orange and Helmar, which has varying levels of bright ruby-red flames and feathers. Shorter varieties should be planted at 6 inches and taller types at 8 inches and 6 inches apart. Blooming time is April through May.

The Giant Darwin tulips were introduced in the early 1950s, and they are noted for their huge, strong-stemmed flowers that often return for several years when planted in a sunny spot, fertilized every year and the foliage allowed to mature. You’ll be tempted to use this group for cuts, but cutting the flowers along with the foliage will reduce their ability to return in following years. Available as single colors and bicolors, the heights will range from 18 inches for a variety like World’s Favorite up to 26 inches for Beau Monde. Plant 6 to 8 inches deep and 6 inches apart.

Greigii tulips are noted for their mottled and marked foliage and are generally available as two-toned flowers. Flowering in April and May, after the Kaufmanniamas, they grow from 8 to 20 inches tall, depending on the variety, and should be planted 6 inches deep for the shorter types to 8 inches deep for the taller, and spaced 6 inches apart.

Parrot tulips are among the most exotic, with showy fringes and scalloped flowers that are often striated. Favored by cut flower designers, they look great both indoors and outdoors, though in the outdoor garden they should really be planted in a slightly sheltered spot, as the intricate flowers tend to “catch” the wind. Silver Parrot, Green Wave and Flaming Parrot are among my favorites. Again, 6 to 8 inches deep, 6 inches apart, and flower heights range from 14 to 22 inches.

Now, you’ll never guess what the Peony Flowering Tulips look like. They are fragrant, just like their namesake, but not peony scented—tulip scented. The flowers are large, long lasting, fully double, and are available in straight colors and bicolors, with some being dead ringers for peony flowers. These flower in late April, need protection from wind and are planted 6 to 8 inches deep, 6 inches apart, and they flower on stems 14 to 22 inches tall.

There are also green, or the Viridiflora, tulips that have vertical green bars in their colored petals on stems from 12 to 22 inches, blooming in May. There are the fringed, or Crispa, tulips that have exotic petals with petal tips that are, well, fringed, on stems that range from 16 to 26 inches tall. The lily flowering tulips have reflexing, curved petals on strong stems that range from 16 to 24 inches tall.

And, lastly, we have the single late tulips that bloom in May in heights from 18 to 30 inches, so these are the tallest group—and with these tall stems they are perfect for cuts.

Thanks to colorblends.com, vanengelen.com and oldhousegardens.com for some of the information used in this week’s column. Protect your bulbs with a repellent bulb dip before you plant them to keep deer and rodents away.

And, as always—keep growing!

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