How to - Techniques

Tulip booster

Easy techniques to keep your tulips blooming

Year One (early to midsummer): When maturing foliage begins to turn brown, it's time to lift and inspect the bulbs. You'll find that the “parent bulb” has shrivelled and been replaced by several smaller bulbs; keep the offspring for replanting (discard the parent bulb along with the garden waste).

Now collect the small bulbs, trim off any remaining stems and dislodge soil with a jet of water. Then leave them to dry in an open, airy space for one week (a window screen laid flat and raised off the ground works well).

Meanwhile, find a small, dry patch of the garden where you can cosset your bulbs in a separate nursery bed without disturbing other plants (allow enough room in the patch to space bulbs 10 centimetres apart). Prepare the bed by digging the soil to a depth of 25 centimetres and adding composted manure until a ratio of one part soil to one part manure is attained. To speed up the flowering process, mix super-phosphate formulated for bulbs into the soil, but avoid using bone meal because it may attract unwanted animals.

Once the bulbs are completely dry and the nursery bed is ready, plant them 15 centimetres deep and water well. After the initial watering, do not irrigate again until early autumn. Being natives of Turkey (where summers are hot and dry), tulips require a long, dry “bake” underground. So, it's no wonder that when we plant them in mixed borders and water them regularly, they decrease in vigour and become susceptible to disease.

To complete the planting, either mulch the bulb bed with a thin (three-centimetre-deep) layer of wood chips (to discourage weeds) or over-plant with drought-tolerant annuals such as cosmos, mari-golds, portulaca and sage (Salvia cvs.), which will suppress weeds by acting as “living mulch.” Once the bulbs have been planted, and the bed mulched, you can forget about them until the next season.

Year two (spring):Generally, about one-third of these bulbs will produce flower buds; cut the buds off when they appear or as soon as they open (you can pop them in a vase and enjoy their blooms indoors). Then, repeat the fertilizing regime followed that first spring by feeding the bulbs with a water-soluble fertilizer high in phosphorus and letting them bake for a second summer.

Year two (autumn): Lift the revitalized bulbs from the nursery bed and replant them in your borders. Or, if bulbs are still undersized, leave them for yet another season until they're large enough to be planted in the garden.

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