Gazette Gardener: Time is perfect to answer reader questions about tulips
This year tulips performed splendidly. I know from your e-mails that you enjoyed them, too.
Over the past two weeks, I have received some great questions regarding these spring bloomers that I thought would be good to share.
The first e-mail came from a gardener who wondered how to care for tulips once they stop flowering.
Q: Do I need to do anything to the tulips once the flowers have wilted? I’d like to clean up the garden by cutting off the entire stem. What do you recommend?
A: You can cut off the stem but not the foliage. The foliage should remain until it turns yellow, as this is how the plant gains the strength to rebloom next year. Once the foliage is yellow, you can tidy up around the plant without doing any harm.
Q: Will tulips come up through sod? I’m thinking of growing them in the lawn between the road and the sidewalk.
A: Yes, but you won’t be able to mow until the foliage is wilted or you will you have to mow around the tulips. A better choice would be Scilla, a lovely little member of the hyacinth family. The most striking flowers are blue, but there are white, pink, and purple flowering scilla as well. Scilla blooms in early spring and grows only a few inches tall so when it finishes flowering you can mow the lawn.
Q: I bought tulips at the supermarket that are an extraordinary color. I bought three pots. Each pot has about six bulbs. Now that they are finished flowering, I want to divide the bulbs and plant them along the driveway. When should I do this? How do I separate the bulbs and will they grow in sunny and part shady locations?
A: You can do this but it will be a three-step process to assure success. After the blooms fade completely, choose a sunny place in the garden and plant the tulips as the cluster of bulbs that grew in the pot. Separating the bulbs now is not advisable. Once the foliage turns yellow in June, dig them up, clean off the foliage, separate each bulb and store the bulbs in a cool, dry location until October. Then, plant them outdoors in a sunny to part shade location at a depth of about 6 inches.
Q: Late last spring, I moved from Dutchess County to Saratoga County. At the time, I dug up tulip bulbs from my childhood home after the foliage faded. I separated them, kept them in a dark place and replanted them in the fall. They came up this spring, but most only had one leaf and there wasn’t a single flower. What did I do wrong?
A: Nothing. You did everything right. The bulbs just need to mature, grow a bit more and store more carbohydrates before they can flower. You will likely get flowers next season.
Q: Last spring, I noticed that my tulips developed seed pods. I didn’t harvest them, but now I wish I had. If I get seed pods this year, how do I plant them?
A: Collect the seed and plant them in a sunny location in a light layer of soil. Do not plant them deeply. It takes about three years to produce bulbs large enough to produce flowers, so you may want to mark the location with a stick so you don’t disturb them as they take root.
Keep your questions coming. I enjoying hearing from you and want to know how your garden is growing.