Bulbs Irrigation

No Summer Irrigation for Tulips

If you want to keep your tulips happy over the summer, don’t irrigate. Ill.: gallery.yopriceville.com & http://www.aquarion.com & http://www.sccpre.cat, montage: laidbackgardener.com

Did you know that irrigation systems and spring-flowering bulbs (tulips, hyacinths, crocuses, etc.) don’t always mix? During the summer, when these bulbs are dormant, they don’t need water and can rot if they receive too much. And even if they survive well-watered summers, their ability to bloom diminishes. That’s why you always find the most beautiful perennial tulips in flower beds that aren’t irrigated.

The narrow gray-green leaves of the botanical tulip Tulipa humilis are typical of arid climate bulbs and indicate that the species that really don’t appreciate well-watered summers. Photo: Softenpoche, Wikimedia Commons.

Some botanical tulips, such as T. hageriT. humilis andT. pulchella (T. humilis pulchella), have even more extreme needs and prefer near-desert conditions: hot summers with almost no rain. And yet, they love cold, snowy winters. Scorching hot, arid summers and cold, snowy winters? That’s not a combination all gardeners can offer! That’s why these xerophytic tulips behave like annuals in so many gardens.

It’s commonly said that botanical tulips tend to be more perennial that other tulips and there is certainly some truth to that, but to make that work, you have to mentally subtract from that equation the arid climate ones like T. hageriT. humilis and T. pulchella!

Daffodil bulbs don’t seem to mind irrigation in the slightest, even when they are fully dormant. Photo: http://www.saga.co.uk

If you do use an irrigation system to water your flower beds, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on all spring-flowering bulbs, because there are exceptions: bulbs that don’t mind moist conditions while they’re dormant. Daffodils (narcissus), alliums, camassias, chionodoxas, grape hyacinths, snowflakes, snowdrops and squills are among the bulbs grow well in irrigated flower beds, and often even proliferate there.

Even so, a true aficionado of spring-flowering bulbs would probably do best to keep summer irrigation to a minimum!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “No Summer Irrigation for Tulips

  1. I gave up on tulips anyway, just because they are unhappy with our climate. Because our rain stops so early (normally), we would need to water them until dormancy. Also, they need to be dug and chilled. There are easier perennials to grow. Someday, I intend to try at least one of the species tulips.

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