Plant bulbs in fall for spring colour

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The Dutch tulip hybrid creators continued the Canadian theme for next spring with packages of red and white bulbs labelled “Canadian Eh?”

Of course red and white tulip combinations are not new and probably have been with the world since the tulip mania of the 17th century when tulips sold for ten times the annual salary of a working man. Nowadays, red and white packages of tulips sell for about $12, for six or eight bulbs making them a very affordable option for the home gardener.

The 150-series of tulips were created by the Dutch to commemorate the Canadian sesquicentennial as well as to pay tribute and to say, “Thank you,” because Canada took in the Dutch royal family during the World War Two.

Last year I grew some Canada 150 tulips and they were an oddity that bloomed about the third week of May. From the street, the tulips appeared white. As the blossoms opened, a red maple leaf with a splash of fiery yellow could be observed if you looked at the flowers up close. From afar the maple leaf wasn’t obvious. They needed more red tulips growing behind them to show them off in a large garden such as the one in front of the Parliament Buildings.

For interest, grow small clumps of hybrid tulips such as the Canada 150 or Tulipa Blueberry Ripple , which has similar veining and a purplish/blue stripe that also resembles the shape of a maple leaf.

If you want see-it-from-the-street impact, grow masses of traditionally coloured yellow or red tulips.

Pay attention to the labels on bulb flowers to see when they bloom. If you want an early spring treat that blossoms in the snow, plant crocus or blue scilla. Some narcissus bloom immediately after the crocus are finished. The late bloomers will still be flowering in late May or early June.

If you have a rock garden, or want an early ground cover, look for Tulipa Tarda, which was first cultivated in 1590. These six-inch tall species tulips are yellow, edged with white.

If you paid ten times your annual income for a tulip, you would want to preserve it so it could grow year after year. At a dollar or two a bulb, consider treating them as annuals.

Species tulips are generally smaller and they are the traditional bulbs that will likely naturalize and come back year after year. The bigger, hybridized tulips are often less hardy and have a lifespan of three to five years.

Tulips and daffodils need their leaves to replenish the bulbs. If you treat them as annuals, you can cut the leaves down after the plants finish blooming, which is about the time when you want to plant your petunias and geraniums. The tulips may not grow again, but since the cost is minimal, it won’t matter.

“I tell people to plant them in pots with nice soil. Then stack the pots in the garage and bring them out in March to start them growing. You’ll have colour in your yard before anyone else, and they will be finished before you plant your other flowers,” said Jim Hole, of Hole’s Greenhouse and Gardens.

This method will not work in unattached garages, where the temperature is as cold as outside, because the bulbs will freeze. But it will work in garages attached to the house, Hole said.

“Experiment with your bulbs. Try different things. Try planting the crocus in your lawn and next spring you will have a carpet of blue against the still-brown grass. Or force the bulbs in your fridge crisper and bring them out in about six weeks and put them in a cool basement under grow lights. That way you can have tulips whenever you want,” Hole said.

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About Author

Susan Jones has been a freelance writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2009, following a 20-year career at the St. Albert Gazette. Susan writes about homes, gardens, community events and people.