Q: In one of the magazines I looked through at the grocery, there was a photo of a tulip garden that really struck my fancy. At home I saw in my mind’s eye a garden like that here. How do I go about re-creating such a lovely tulip garden here at my home on the West Side? – T.L., Albuquerque
First thought will be location.
Find a spot that’ll be sheltered. Even though the tulip is a fairly sturdy plant the blooms will be torn to shreds if consistently buffeted by our spring winds. A sheltered southern, southeastern exposure would do well during the spring, autumn and winter.
During the heat of the summer, your bulbs, if planted in that sheltered southern sunny spot, could suffer dreadfully as the soil would warm too much, causing the bulbs to literally cook. If the spot you’ve imagined is under the shade of deciduous trees, the bulbs would be offered just enough shaded protection so the soil wouldn’t get heated to the point of no return.
So that’ll be your first consideration: a sheltered, not so heated during the summer location.
Then you’ll need to know the soil. Is this spot a place where you’ve never gardened? You can bet that it’ll need tending. Know the tulip bulbs will not survive long if the soil isn’t capable of holding some moisture.
Since most of the soil here on the West Side is a fairly shallow layer of sand on top with a substantial caliche (clay) layer below that then another layer of sand, it’s a challenge to get the soil to cooperate. You’ll want to work the area to make the soil more bulb-friendly. Dig, dig and dig some more. Add some well-composted manure, milled bark or aged compost and get it worked well into the soil.
Now, since this isn’t the time of year to successfully plant a tulip garden by bulb you might want to start with selections that are referred to as pre-finished collections of tulips. Offered at nurseries and garden centers now and into the growing season, you can find tulips potted in containers that can be set into your garden. They are already up and showing green leaves and continue to their bloom.
Gently dislodge the potted bulb and plant directly into your garden. Aim so you’re not planting the selection much deeper than how you get it but going a smidgen deeper would be acceptable. Don’t bury it completely. The green leaves they’re wearing need to be just at or slightly below ground level to anchor them in.
You still might be able to find bagged collections that were meant to be planted last fall. If you give them a chance, do look for a couple of things.
First, ask if they were protected from freezing temperatures. Exposed bulbs can lose so much in the way of vitality. Then feel them. Do the bulbs still have a bit of heft to them? If they are light as a feather, or worse squishy, they are probably too far gone to be able to grow successfully. Then, smell them. Do they have an earthy scent? They should still be OK. If they have unpleasant yucky scents, pass them by.
Get them planted as soon as possible into your worked bed and keep your fingers crossed that they have enough dormant season left to root in and then pop up this coming spring. This coming autumn you can plant a bevy of new tulips into the bed and create the tulip garden of your dreams.
Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.