Some tulips are reliable repeaters, returning for at least three years, and some varieties naturalize and return year after year.
Dutch growers suggest planting older tulip varieties for garden longevity, including botanical/species or “wild” tulips, kaufmannianas, greiggiis, clusianas and Fosterianas.
Botanicals are the ancestors of modern tulips, and look the same as they did — and still do — growing in the wild. Nearly a decade ago, I buried clusters of “Tarda” species tulips alongside the house, and they faithfully return year after year. While the flowers aren’t tall, the effect is stunning when those small buds open to display a perfect yellow star in the center.
“Turkestanica” is another favorite with staying power, offering white, fragrant flowers with a gold eye. On my fall wish list: Humilis Violacea or red crocus tulips, a species that naturalizes brilliantly in clumps of intense pink flowers resembling crocuses.
Fosterianas include “Orange Emperor,” “Red Emperor,” “Princeps” and “Candela.” For greiggiis, look for “Red Riding Hood,” “Toronto,” “Pinocchio” and “Turkish Delight.” Kaufmanniana tulips, often called water lily tulips, bloom just a bit earlier. Scout out “Oriental Beauty,” “Johann Strauss,” “Gaiety” and “Ice Stick.” Three of the best clusianas — tough and tiny — I’ve found are “Peppermint Stick,” “Taco” and “Stellata.”
Triumphs are good naturalizers in a wide range of colors. “Don Quichotte,” “Golden Melody” and “Negrita” are all beautiful choices.
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Darwin hybrids have big heads — for real — and return annually for years with a dramatic color show. Best colors for naturalizing are shades of red, orange and yellow. Varieties include the classics “Apeldoorn” and “Menton,” as well as “Darwin Hybrid Mixed,” “Olympic Flame,” “Big Chief,” “Pink Impression,” “Queen of the Night” and “Holland’s Glorie.”
Encourage naturalizing by planting tulips in a sunny, well-drained location. Plant bulbs eight inches deep. I usually plant 6 inches deep and mulch to about 2 inches. Water well after planting.
Fertilize at planting with a top-dressing of 10-10-10 or 10-15-10 slow-release fertilizer, or a fertilizer formulated specifically for bulbs, then water well. Do not add the fertilizer to the planting hole (bulbs can be burned). In spring, fertilize again when growth starts, and from then on, fertilize in fall and spring to keep bulbs fat and happy. A foliar feed promotes bloom when used weekly until foliage is gone.
Don’t be stingy — plant thickly for more impact. For example, Colorblends suggests 5 standard tulip bulbs per square foot and 9 to 13 wild/species tulip bulbs per square foot.
Wait to plant bulbs until we’re about six to eight weeks from a hard frost, and it’s cool enough to turn on the heat in your car in the morning, or you need a sweater to walk outdoors.