The last of the tulips has finally shed its petals and is preparing to replace all the energy it has used after putting on a stunning floral show. It, and its many mates, deserve their rest before they have to prepare for another blooming spectacle in spring 2017.
And now they are spent and flowerless, it’s decision time – leave them in situ or dig them up and store them until November when they can be replanted?
Whatever your choice, dead-head them to stop them setting seed. Many tulips are happy to live in the ground all year round, just as long as summer is reasonably dry and warm; many more, however, will do much better if they are lifted and stored for a few months.
Dig them up when the flowers have faded and lay them in a trench somewhere warm and sunny. When the foliage has died completely, lift the bulbs, clean them and let them dry for a while before storing them somewhere dry before the autumn planting season.
Most gardeners tend to grow tulips that flower in April and May because they provide strong colour in the spring. This year many have flowered a bit later than normal, but they are nothing if not reliable.
Just remember to always plant bulbs in well-drained soil – in the wild they are bulbs of cold, windswept, dry areas. Wet soil promotes fungus and disease and can rot bulbs.
Help the drainage by sitting each bulb on river sand and adding organic matter. Plant tulip bulbs deep – eight inches is about right. And water after planting. They may like a well-drained soil, but they need a good drink to get them going.
The big favourites among tulips are the Greigii types which have mottled foliage. They have short stems (about 15cm long) and come in many colours – “Red Riding Hood” (red, obviously), “Stresa” (yellow with red flash) and “Pinocchio” with a red base to petals edged in white.
For an April/May tulip reminiscent of old Dutch oil paintings, try the double bedding tulip called “Carnival de Nice”. It produces large, fragrant double white blooms with strong bright red flares that set it well apart from single colours.
Very fashionable of late are the fringed tulips which have heavily serrated edges to the petals. They bloom from late April to May and even into June on tall stems and provide extra interest with their flashy bi-colours and fascinating petal forms.