Tiptoe through the Tulips

Tiptoe through the window

By the window, that is where I'll be
Come tiptoe through the tulips with me

Oh, tiptoe from the garden
By the garden of the willow tree
And tiptoe through the tulips with me

Knee deep in flowers we'll stray
We'll keep the showers away
And if I kiss you in the garden, in the moonlight
Will you pardon me?
And tiptoe through the tulips with me

Tiny Tim’s song from the 20’s is perfectly apropos to introduce a mainstay and headliner of the Spring Garden stage – TULIPS!

Mistakenly dubbed “tulip” by Europeans centuries ago, tulips were worn in turbans of Turkish and Persian citizens for years, whereas the Europeans confused the words “turban” and “tulip.” Now quintessential with the Holland and the Low Countries of Europe, tulips represent a gamut of meanings from truest love to forgiveness to beautiful eyes.

Yet, here in the Deep South and across many parts of these Untied States, tulips have gained and gleaned popularity from our founding to today. Successful tulip planting for us in Zones 8 and 9 require weeks of preparation via chilling in a refrigerator, but success nonetheless.

Zones to our north can plant the bulbs in the fall and have them magically pop up and bloom the following spring. In this Farmer’s garden, and other here, a bit of coaxing will ensure bountiful blossoms to herald the coming of spring!

When thinking about spring, remember all the labor needs to be done in fall. Put the garden to bed for winter and then watch with amazement the truly astounding thing that is spring. Clean out and cut back your beds and prepare your flower plots accordingly, stuffing every inch you can with bulbs, covering them with several inches of soil, and then planting a foundation of pansies and violas on top for a stellar cornerstone for the tulip mania to come!

After the bulbs have chilled in a sterile refrigerated space for about four weeks or so, the tulips can be planted in the garden in late fall (November-ish) and enjoyed from late February through March and into April, depending on bloom times and an array of different specimens. Purchase good quality bulbs, those that are firm, not moldy or mushy, and truly bulbaceous in shape…somewhat of a squatty pear shape. Plant the bulbs tip side up at a depth of about six inches in rich garden soil. Bulbs love a bed enriched with compost, bone meal, and organic material to feed off of and push through easily. The magic and simply miraculous nature that is germination from a seed or bulb is stunning and sincerely fascinating.

There are thousands of varieties, cultivars, and species of the Tulipa genus and finding the right ones for your garden is an assignment worth gaining high marks on. Tulips have early, mid, and late bloomers, and a hearty mix of the three will ensure a delightful bloom time for your garden. Plus, these are fantastic cut flowers, lasting nearly a week indoors and adding a spark of color and pizzazz to any tableau. I love the double late blooming varieties that look like peonies when in full bloom…absolutely gorgeous in the garden or in a vase! The Darwin Hybrids work well in the Deep South too.

Tackling tulips is a ordeal that requires proper planning. Plan your timing and these gorgeous blossoms will dazzle you and your garden scene for weeks. Here are some tips to tulip planning, planting, harvesting, and cutting.

· Plan a color scheme and planting schematic as well. Imagine your garden in full bloom with all white or pink or a combo! Do salmons and oranges make you happy or would a primary color scheme set off your house? A massive mix might be your trick too. Bulb catalogues and garden centers often carry mixed bags that are super successful. Don’t forget to coordinate your pansy and violas into your scheme as well. Make a plan and stick to it.

· Remember anything planted en masse is spectacular. Cram as many bulbs per square foot, inch, or in pots that you can. Pots are awesome arenas for tulip displays.

· Purchase or order your bulbs in late August or September…reputable bulb companies will send you the bulbs at the proper planting time, and then I prefer to chill them for about four weeks in a sterilized refrigerator. Keep an eye on them as to the temperature (40 degrees F) and watch for any mold or moisture. Plant your bulbs in late fall…Thanksgiving, give or take a week or so, is ideal in the Deep South.

· Plant your bulbs in prepared beds that are amended with fine organic material, bone meal, and good soil conditioning. I like to plant pansies and violas on top of the tulips bulbs for a tapestry of blossoms throughout spring. Dianthus and parsley make for beautiful mats for tulips to burst forth, too! Mulch your beds with plenty of finely graded mulch, such as Nature’s Helper, for a finished look and added layer of protection. Don’t worry: the bulbs will definitely be able to pop out of the pansy roots…don’t ask me how it’s possible, but it is and it is astonishingly beautiful this phenomena of nature!

· Cut your blossoms for bouquets when the blooms are tight. Tulips will still grow a bit cut and arranged in water, so be sure to allocate plenty of space and water. Keeping the water clean with a drop of bleach is helpful to the longevity or your arrangement.

· Frogs, rocks, and woody branches all help support floppy tulip stems and add some dimension to the arrangement. Since the stems are so fleshy, oasis can be tough to use with tulips. If you need to stick individual tulip blooms into a bouquet, use water picks and tubes. Though, there is hardly anything as stunning and simple as a bouquet of tulips in a pretty container.

· I replant my bulbs every year rather than harvesting and storing them. Here in the Deep South, tulips are not perennial, so treat them as annual endeavor for best results. Since our warm season is so long, the bulbs simply rot, so just plan on these dynamos as an annual tradition.

· A few varieties I love and have had great luck with are: Angelique, Salmon and Pink Impression, Ivory Floradale, Swan Wings Apeldoorn Hybrids, Darwin Hybrids, and WestPoint. There are literally thousands of others, but these have tested well in my neck of woods and I wish the same success for your garden.