Plant Palette

Plant Palette

Tulips

Photo of Jennifer Schultz Nelson

Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
jaschult@illinois.edu

Tulips

Nothing says spring quite like spring bulbs. Tulips offer a seemingly limitless range of color, form and bloom time. Unfortunately, they do require some additional work if you want their colorful display to continue for many years to come.

It is very important to plant tulips, and other spring flowering bulbs, in well drained locations. Nothing will shorten a bulb's life quicker than sitting in soggy soil. That is an engraved invitation for disease! Many experts recommend planting tulips in the lawn or borders that are not routinely watered throughout the growing season for this reason.

Often people plant tulips in a bed that will later be filled with annuals, which would be too wet for bulbs throughout the summer. The remedy is to dig up the tulips after their foliage yellows, and store them until the fall, when they can be planted after the annuals have faded.

Tulips do not like being crowded. Unlike daffodils, that seem to thrive in an ever enlarging clump each year, tulips will not bloom and otherwise decline if not divided periodically.

If this all sounds like too much work, the solution is to look to nature. Specifically, look for species tulips rather than hybrids. Species tulips are smaller than their vigorous hybrid relatives, but they do offer a wide variety of flower and foliage color, and they can require less maintenance. Some are even fragrant! They are a great choice for naturalizing an area.

Species tulips still require a well drained planting site, and they do not like competition from other plants. There are many tulip species out there, but some species to look for include: Tulipa batalinii, 5 inches tall with soft yellow, fragrant flowers appearing in early spring; Tulipa pulchella, a tiny plant growing 3 to 5 inches tall with purple fragrant flowers in early spring; Tulipa turkestanica, 5 to 8 inches tall with 3 to 5 cream colored flowers per stem in early spring.

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