Growing Tulips: Tulipa/Tulip Facts

Height 7.5-80cm (3-32in)

Planting distance 7.5-20cm (3-8in)

Flowers early to late spring

Any well-drained soil

Sunny site

Bulbs available in autumn

Almost every garden and every park boasts a display of tulips in spring — a factor that’s hardly surprising, given their availability, cheapness and the huge choice of colours and forms. The popular large-flowered garden tulips are ideal for bedding schemes – a classic combination being with forget-me-nots and wallflowers. For less formal plantings, however, grow them in scattered clumps among perennials or other bulbs.

The smaller species tulips come in fewer colours than the garden tulips, but their more delicate form gives them a charm of their own. Rockeries and sink gardens, or the front of borders, tubs and containers, are the most suitable places to grow them.

All tulips have fairly specific growing requirements. During the growing season the plants need plenty of light and in the summer the bulbs have to be kept warm and dry so they can ripen. Garden tulips are best lifted and stored in a warm dry place until autumn, when they can be planted outdoors again. Species tulips and their hybrids can be left in the ground, provided they are growing in exceptionally well-drained soil — a sunny rockery, bank or border, for example.

Popular species and varieties

The vast number of large-flowered hybrids are organized into 11 groups or divisions, according to flowering time, plant shape, flower size and form. Most have lance-shaped leaves. Species and species hybrids make up other groups. Most garden centres and some bulb catalogues sell the large-flowered garden tulips in packets of mixed colours according to group (a selection of Single early tulips, for example) or in packets of named individual varieties.

Single early tulips (Division 1) have rounded petals forming small deep cup-shaped single flowers which sometimes open flat in full sun. They are among the earliest garden tulips to flower, appearing in mid spring. The plants reach 20-38cm (8-15in) high and the stems are thick so they stand up well to wind and rain. They are excellent for bedding (plant the bulbs 10-15cm/4-6in apart), though some varieties are also suitable for forcing indoors. Popular hybrids include ‘Apricot Beauty’ (apricot-pink), ‘Bellona’ (golden-yellow), ‘General de Wet’ (golden-orange) and ‘Keizerskroon’ (scarlet and yellow).

Orange Tulips

Image via Wikipedia

Double early tulips (Division 2) have large double flowers resembling peonies – not to be confused with Peony-flowered tulips that flower later on (see Double late tulips). The long-lasting flowers appear in mid spring, soon after the Single early tulips. They are carried on short stout stems 25-30cm (10-12in) high, and are suitable for growing in mass bedding schemes or containers. Ideally the site should be sheltered. Plant the bulbs 10-15cm (4-6in) apart. Popular varieties include ‘Electra’ (cherry-red), ‘Mr Van de Hoef (golden-yellow), ‘Orange Nassau’ (deep red), ‘Peach Blossom’ (rose-pink) and ‘Schoonoord’ (white).

Triumph tulips (Division 3), sometimes referred to as Mid Season tulips in bulb catalogues, have large, single, angular flowers in mid spring. These are long lasting and carried on sturdy stems 40-50cm (16-20in) high. They stand up well to wind and rain so you can use them for bedding schemes in exposed sites. Plant the bulbs 15-20cm (6-8in) apart. Popular varieties include ‘Attila’ (violet-purple), ‘Dreaming Maid’ (violet edged white), ‘Garden Party’ (white and carmine-pink), ‘Keef Nellis’ (pink and yellow) and ‘New Design’ (pink, white and yellow).

Darwin hybrids (Division 4) form one of the most popular groups with their large, round brilliantly coloured flowers. They appear in late spring on strong stems 55-70cm (22-28in) high. Their bold flowers make them useful for focal planting. Set the bulbs 15-20cm (6-8in) apart. Popular hybrids include ‘Apeldoorn’ (orange-red), ‘Big Chief (old rose), ‘Elizabeth Arden’ (salmon-pink), ‘Holland’s Glory’ (carmine-red), and ‘Olympic Flame’ (yellow and red).

Single late tulips (Division 5) have squared-off, oval or egg-shaped flowers that appear in late spring (in catalogues they are sometimes referred to as May-flowering tulips). They are borne on stems 60-70cm (24-26in) high. These sturdy tulips are commonly used in bedding or border schemes; set the bulbs 12-17cm (5-7in) apart. Popular varieties include ‘Avignon’ (red), ‘Clara Butt’ (soft pink), ‘Golden Harvest’ (lemon-yellow), ‘Queen of Bartigons’ (salmon-pink), ‘Sorbet’ (white and red) and ‘Queen of the Night’ (maroon-black). ‘Georgette’ (clear yellow, edged red) has several flowers on each stem.

English: A Yonina cultivar (Division 6) tulip ...

Image via Wikipedia

Lily-flowered tulips (Division 6), another group of favourites, have long single flowers with pointed petals, often curving out at the tips. These appear in mid spring. They are graceful plants with strong wiry stems 50-60cm (20-24in) high. Set the bulbs 10-15cm (4-6in) apart in a sunny site. Popular varieties include ‘Aladdin’ (crimson and yellow), ‘China Pink’ (soft pink), ‘Maytime’ (mauve-lilac with white edges), ‘Red Shine’ (deep red), ‘West Point’ (yellow) and ‘White Triumphator’ (white).

Fringed tulips (Division 7) have flowers similar to those of the Single late group but with fringed petals – a feature that makes them popular among flower arrangers. The blooms appear on stems 50-65cm (20-26in) high. Plant the bulbs 15-20cm (6-8in) apart. Popu-lar varieties include ‘Burgundy Lace’ (wine-red), ‘Fringed Beauty’ (red and yellow) and ‘Hamilton’ (buttercup yellow).

Viridiflora or Green tulips (Division 8 ) are similar to the Single late tulips but the petals are partly green – a feature that appeals to flower arrangers. The flowers appear in late spring on 25-50cm (10-20in) tall stems. Plant the bulbs 15-20cm (6-8in) apart. Popular varieties include ‘Angel’ (ivory-white and green), ‘Artist’ (apricot-pink and green), ‘Florosa’ (rose, white, yellow and green), ‘Greenland’ (green-edged rose) and ‘Spring Green’ (lemon-yellow and green).

Rembrandt tulips (Division 9) have large single flowers with petals streaked or blotched with a second colour – caused by a harmless virus. The flowers appear in late spring on plants 45-75cm (1-1/2 – 2-1/2ft) high. Plant the bulbs 15-20cm (6-8in) apart. Among the varieties available are ‘Insulinde’ (violet and yellow), ‘Lotty van Beuningen’ (lilac, purple and white) and ‘Union Jack’ (rasp-berry red and ivory-white).

Parrot tulips (Division 10) have large flowers with frilled and/or twisted petals. The flowers, which open in mid and late spring, are often bicoloured. Plants reach only 45-60cm (18-24in) high, but staking may be necessary as the stems are too weak to support the flowers. Plant the bulbs in a sheltered position 15-20cm (6-8in) apart. Popular varieties include ‘Black Parrot’ (purple-black), ‘Fantasy’ (pink), ‘Flaming Parrot’ (yellow flamed red) and ‘Texas Flame’ (buttercup-yellow, striped rose).

Double late tulips (Division 11), sometimes called Peony-flowered tulips, have large showy flowers, resembling peonies, in late spring. The plants reach 40-60cm (16-24in) high. They don’t stand up well to wind and rain so, if the flowers are to last their full course, they need a sheltered position. Plant the bulbs 15cm (6in) apart. Popular hybrids include ‘Allegretto’ (red edged yellow), ‘Angelique’ (pale pink), and ‘Mount Tacoma’ (white).

Kaufmanniana hybrids (Division 12), otherwise known as Water-lily tulips, have long, often bicoloured, flowers. They are the first species hybrids to flower, appearing in early spring. As they stand only 10-25cm (4-10in) high, these tulips look most effective in rock gardens, containers, or along the edges of borders. Plant the bulbs 10-15cm (4-6in) apart. Popular hybrids include ‘Berlioz’ (uni-

Double late ‘Angelique’ form deep yellow), ‘Heart’s Delight’ (carmine-red, white and yellow), ‘Johann Strauss’ (red and white), and ‘The First’ (white tinted carmine-red).

English: Tulipa agenensis, Israel. Français : ...

Image via Wikipedia

Fosteriana hybrids (Division 13) have large, long flowers in early to mid spring. They stand 20-40cm 8-16in) high and, with their brilliant strong colours, make good tulips for focal planting. Set the bulbs 15cm (6in) apart. Popular hybrids include ‘Cantata’ (deep scarlet), ‘Orange Emperor’ (pure orange), ‘Rockery Beauty’ (deep red) and ‘White Emperor’ (white).

Greigii hybrids (Division 14) have particularly colourful flowers in early to mid spring, accompanied by maroon or purple-brown veined or spotted foliage. They reach 15-45cm (6-18in) high, though most are short so they look best in rockeries and containers. Popular hybrids include ‘Cape Cod’ (bronze-yellow and apricot), ‘Plaisir’ (creamy white with red stripes), ‘Red Riding Hood’ (scarlet), ‘Rose d’Amour’ (carmine rose, edged ivory), and ‘Toronto’ (salmon-orange).

Species tulips (Division 15) tend to be smaller and more delicate in form than the garden tulips, ranging from 10-45cm (4-18in) in height. Those listed are the most readily available species, though others are sometimes sold by specialist bulb growers. Tulipa clusiana, the lady tulip, has white, pointed petals flushed red in mid spring. Its grey-green leaves are upright and exceptionally narrow. The plants reach 23-30cm (9-12in) high and the bulbs should be planted 7.5cm (3in) apart. ‘Cynthia’ is red, tipped green.

Tulipa praestans has long red flowers with blunt petals in early and mid spring. The plants reach 30-45cm (12-18in) high. Each stem carries between two and five flowers accompanied by broad grey-green leaves. Plant the bulbs 12-15cm (5-6in) apart. ‘Fusilier’ is a popular multi-flowered variety; ‘Unicum’ has yellow-variegated leaves.

Tulipa tarda has white narrow-petalled flowers with a yellow base in mid spring. Up to five flowers are carried in a cluster on each stem, 10cm (4in) above ground. The narrow mid-green leaves form a rosette at flowering time. Plant the bulbs 7.5cm (3in) apart.


Plant the bulbs of garden tulips and the Fosteriana and Greigii hybrids for bedding schemes or informal group plantings in borders in early winter — if they’re put in the ground any sooner, early growth may become frost-damaged. The soil should be well-drained and ideally alkaline; if it’s acid apply lime just before planting. Set the bulbs 10-15cm (4-6in) deep depending on soil type.

Dead-head as the first petals fall, leaving the stems and leaves intact to feed the bulb. Remove any fallen petals from the ground as they may harbour disease.

It’s best to lift the bulbs when the leaves start turning yellow, but if the site is needed for summer bedding, lift the tulips earlier, replant them in a spare corner, and lift again when the leaves have died down.

Place the plants in shallow boxes and store in a dry shed.

Plant the bulbs of species and Kaufmanniana hybrid tulips in early winter, in well-drained soil in a south-facing position, sheltered from strong winds. Set the bulbs 7.5cm (3in) deep.

After flowering, remove the leaves and stems as they die. Leave the bulbs in the ground.


Remove offsets when the bulbs are lifted. Store the largest ones in a dry place at 16-18°C (61-65°F). Plant them in late autumn 10-15cm (4-6in) deep and with a gap twice the width of the offsets in between. They should flower the following season.

Pests and diseases

Stored bulbs may be eaten by mice, and slugs may feed on the bulbs, stems and leaves of small plants. The arabis mosaic and cucumber mosaic viruses affect tulips, blue mould may develop on damaged bulbs and tulip fire can cause scorched areas on leaves and flowers.

22. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Bulbous Plants | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Growing Tulips: Tulipa/Tulip Facts


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: