Arguably the most regal of flowers, tulips have captured the imagination of poets and artists for centuries. Contrary to popular belief, tulips originate form the Turkish Himalayas and not from Holland, although it is thanks to Dutch breeders that we have so many wonderful varieties.
Of the many varieties grown in the Northern Hemisphere – the parrot, lily-flowered, Kaufmannias and many more – only the Darwin hybrids are readily available in South Africa. Unfortunately, because of our relatively warm winters and short spring times in most parts of the country the other varieties just do not perform well. There is no need for despondency, however, as the Darwin hybrids produce large, goblet-shaped blooms atop long stems that look quite breathtaking in the garden. They are available in red, yellow, white, pink and striped. For the adventurous, look on the web (www.hadeco.co.za) for some unusual varieties, available only in limited quantities.
May is tulip planting time. To plant earlier is to court failure, as tulips need cool, moist conditions to begin their cycle of growth. If planted before the cold breath of winter has lowered the soil temperature, your tulips may abort the embryo flowers that lie nestled amongst their folds. To ensure maximum impact plant them in groups of 10 or 20. Before planting, loosen the soil to the depth of a fork and add in a generous amount of compost. The bulbs should be spaced about 8cm apart with a covering of 5cm of soil.
Some consider tulips difficult to grow, but this need not be the case if you consider their requirements. Most importantly they need cool, moist conditions from planting time onwards, to flower well. This can be achieved by planting them away from heat reflecting surfaces like walls and adding a thick layer of mulch over the soil’s surface. Then water, with a sprinkler, every four days for forty minutes.
There is another almost foolproof alternative. You can plant temperature manipulated tulips. These specially treated tulips flower in August, a month earlier than their untreated counterparts. Our temperatures in August are much the same as Holland’s in spring. Because temperatures are low (to us that is) the plants are able to grow almost as well as they would in Holland. They can now offer up long stems with larger and longer-lasting flowers. Another advantage treated tulips have over untreated tulips is they are not limited to where they may be planted. They thrive both in full sun and semi-shade.
To coax a tulip to flower early is an exacting botanic task. Their natural cycle is exploited and artificially accelerated. During their dormant period the bulbs are lifted and stored in special rooms, where the temperature and humidity can be closely monitored. The bulbs are first exposed to temperatures of 24°C to imitate summer. After a period the temperature is lowered to 5°C to imitate winter. In May - when the bulbs are planted - the soil temperature is much higher than 5°C. This sudden leap in temperature causes the bulb to act as if summer was upon it and flowering time almost over. The “worried" tulip hurriedly tries to catch up, quickly putting out foliage and bursting forth into colour. Because they now flower in mid-winter the flowers will last longer and perform better.
These tulips, however, have a limited shelf life because the bulbs start sprouting almost immediately after they have been brought out of their “false winter". If the Tulips are not planted quickly the bulb will abort its embryo flower. You need to order your temperature manipulated Tulips directly from the bulb grower, Hadeco, or from selected nurseries. Once you have received your bulbs by post they need to be planted within a week.
Information Supplied by Hadeco. Visit Hadeco’s website www.hadeco.co.za for more information.