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On Gardening: Christmas over, time for a tulip planting party

Norman Winter, Tribune News Service on

Published in Gardening News

Now that Christmas is over, it's time to put our thoughts on tulips. At least this is when many in the South do it. Friends and relatives in the North hopefully got theirs in sometime in October before the ground froze.

The Garden Guy will freely admit that a mass of tulips in bloom is about as beautiful a sight as there is in the world of gardening. Even if we in zones 7-9 have to think of the tulip as an annual there is nothing that says spring like a tulip.

Last spring Callaway Resort & Gardens had tulip displays that kept me busy with the camera. It seemed every color I love was there exhibited in massed tulip displays. To me that was a lesson all lovers of tulips should notice. Mass planting is the way to mesmerize all who look at our landscape. A handful will simply not get the job done.

My son James the color design guru with a large firm in Columbus, Ga., buys and plants hundreds. And he will certainly tell you the ground work is just that, as soil preparation is certainly the key to the green thumb. Even though this soil might be considered good by many standards, it is the addition of peat and organic soil amendments that creates the fertility and drainage needed by cool season flowers like tulips. You will want to do the same.

The dazzling display at Callaway Gardens took thoughtful planning as the tulip partners were various pansies and violas. One of the most striking displays however had red tulips ever so picturesquely with Kaleidoscope abelias showing out in gold variegation.

There is always a tendency to line up tulips like toy soldiers in formal straight lines. This can certainly work and is ever so dramatic in large beds. Never underestimate the power of informal drifts like Callaway's displays. This can actually make a small tulip display seem larger.

A lot of gardeners are familiar in working with color schemes when it comes to other flowers but it is just as easy and just as showy to accomplish these goals within tulips themselves and of course with the companion plants. For instance, red tulips, yellow tulips and violet pansies created a perfect triadic harmony. At Callaway, they not only paired opposite colors of tulips for a complementary color scheme but worked in unique variegation patterns of blooms for a stunning look.

Planting tulips has a couple more challenging aspects. The first is chilling. I am old school and my son is now the professional. I was trained to put those tulips in the refrigerator for planting in the fall or having a tulip planting Christmas party in the Lower South. The son on the other hand has a supplier guaranteeing chilling and he has never had an issue. So, as a Dad, I am always holding my breath, so to speak, watching and waiting for his tulips as he simply grins at the old timer. The old timer's word of caution: know your source.


The second question arising is always, how deep do I plant. This question is more likely to come from those who don't want to do the good soil preparation. Digging three inches in cement-like soil just won't do. Work that organic in so it will be easy planting 7 to 8 inches deep. Do this and you too will have the green thumb.

In the South, pansies bloom and look good all winter. As our gardens transition into spring and as pansies are peaking, emerging tulips have the ability to create what might be considered a spring crescendo like the finale to a great concerto.

You still have time to do the same; you can create a spring crescendo in your garden by incorporating bulbs like tulips and daffodils into your floral display. Though the bulbs won't be seen until spring, do like the landscape professionals at Callaway and in Columbus do and let them play an important role in your color scheme planning.

(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

(c)2020 Norman Winter

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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