Deep Planting Prolongs Tulips

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Plant tulips deep to help perennialize them.

Tulips have the reputation of being short-lived. Typically they flower well the first year, a little less the second, only very weakly the third and, from then on, produce only foliage. It can be a bit discouraging.

However, you can help to extend their useful life by planting them more deeply. Rather than the 6-inch (15-cm) depth generally recommended on bulb packaging, plant them in holes 1 foot (30 cm) deep. This can make a huge difference.

Why? Part of the problem is that tulips tend to produce bulbils (baby bulbs) at the base of the mother bulb. These babies then compete with the mother bulb for light, water, and minerals, weakening it and reducing its future bloom. When you set the bulb deep in the soil, the bulbils either fail to develop or, if they do start to grow, their leaves aren’t able to grow up through the extra-deep soil and reach the sun, so they fade away. With no competition to disturb the performance of the mother bulb, it can bloom again and again, sometimes for decades.

Also, extra deep planting puts the bulbs out of reach of squirrels, because they never dig that far into the ground.

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Darwin hybrid tulips, sometimes sold as landscape tulips, are among the longest-lived tulips.

This technique works best in well-drained soil (a heavy clay soil that is sopping wet in spring is already not a good choice for tulips planted at even the regular depth and even less for those planted deeply). Also, put the odds in your favor and plant Darwin hybrid tulips or viridiflora tulips, two categories that are reputed for being particularly long-lasting in the garden.

Deep planting can perennialize your tulips. It’s certainly worth a try!20161016a

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