The tale of tulips, bulbs and bright colors

Steve Kawaratani

"Tiptoe through the tulips..."

-- Tiny Tim

"Her Lips were red ... "

-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The tulip is the perhaps the best known of all bulbs. Its

brilliant spring display is enjoyed in Laguna and throughout the

world. The flowers vary considerably in color, form and height.

Tulips are spectacular when massed alone or combine beautifully with

other spring flowers such as alyssum, pansies and violas. Where you

decide to enjoy tulips is only limited by your imagination, rock

gardens, planting beds and containers are just a few suggestions.

Tulips are officially divided into divisions, which group related

flower types, but are not based on botanical relationships. To

simplify my tulip purchases, I generally look for the time of bloom.

Early and midseason bloomers are labeled as such, and then select the

colors, flower shape and size I want for my garden. With constant new

introductions each season, it is wise to consult your local nursery

person to keep current with the latest hybrids.

Buy tulip bulbs now, from a well-stocked nursery, which offers

varieties selected for your climate zone. Refrigerate them at 40 to

50 degrees, in paper bags, for a minimum of eight weeks (and never in

the freezer). After removal from the vegetable compartment, plant the

bulbs immediately. Start tulips in Laguna after Thanksgiving and as

late as February for best results. They will bloom from March to


Tulips thrive in rich soil, but most importantly, they require a

soil that drains well and quickly. Animal manures should not touch

the bulbs, and specially formulated granular bulb fertilizers, low in

nitrogen, are best.

Plant bulbs at equal depths, about 4 to 6 inches under the soil.

Remember, when in doubt, plant tulips a little deeper. Spacing should

be carefully arranged to allow root growth, and good quality bulbs

will always ensure uniformity in stem heights.

Water thoroughly immediately after planting, and continue watering

sparingly until the leaves emerge. You will grow great tulips, if the

soil is mulched (to keep it cool and moist) throughout the rooting

season. It is important to reapply bulb fertilize several times

during the spring growing season.

Whether growing tulips in garden beds or containers, keep them out

of direct sunlight. Light shade helps to prolong bloom. Also, the

longer the soil can be kept cool, the better developed the root

system will be, providing superior blooms. Tulips have a certain

impatience with continued summer watering, so in general, it is

difficult to keep them more than one season.

For that reason one usually discards them for new bulbs each year.

I believe I grow tulips because of their magnificence and because

many are red. I have always lusted after anything that is bright red

-- roses and Ferraris come to mind. Perhaps I first became attracted

to Catharine seventeen years ago, simply because of the red lipstick

she wore on our first date. And much to my delight, her lips are as

desirable now, as then.

See you next time.

* STEVE KAWARATANI is the owner of Landscapes by Laguna Nursery,

1278 Glenneyre, in Laguna Beach. He is married to local artist,

Catharine Cooper, and has two cats. He can be reached at (949)

497-2438, or e-mail to

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