Go BIG With Bulbs

When it comes to tulips, get large, get loud. Plant generously!

This is a favorite combination that features emperor tulips. You can get this look with the Emperor Tulip Mixture.

Here’s the thing about tulips: You need to plant a lot of them to make a good display. You need to plant hundreds of bulbs—not dozens. Come spring, you’ll be delighted. And if you live in a cold climate, you’re gonna need it.

In my own tiny garden, I plant at least 500 tulips every fall. After they bloom, they’re pulled up to make way for summer annuals. That’s the other thing about tulips: They’re best in the first year. After that, the show diminishes. It’s no surprise. Tulip bulbs want cool, moist springs and baking summers, which is not what we offer here in New England—and most other parts of the country. Yes, there are perennial tulips and species tulips that return reliably for many years. Stick with those if you don’t want to recreate your display every year.

But, if you’re up for some fun, find some space in your garden and start browsing for tulips. Start with Dutch Gardens estate collections, which are large quantities of bulbs. It might sound like a lot of work, but mass plantings are easy and fast. Here’s how you do it:

  • Figure that you’re going to plant about 15-25 bulbs per square foot. They’re going to be really close—3-4″ on center.
  • Dig out the planting trench, which should be 6-8″ deep. Keep in mind that a curved trench will be more natural looking. To make it easier, shovel the excavated soil into wheelbarrow(s) and/or buckets; it’s so much easier to backfill the trench.
  • Pour the bulbs into the trench. Arrange them randomly, pointy end up, 3-4″ on center. To create a natural looking drift, avoid positioning the bulbs in precise rows.
  • Pour the excavated soil back into the trench; rake it smooth and pack it down by walking on the planting area.

That’s it. The point is to do it big. Make bold color choices. Go ahead, plant a mixture of hot pink and orange tulips. That’s what spring is all about.

The steps of trench-style bulb planting, clockwise from top left:
1. Dig a trench, saving the soil in wheelbarrows and or tubs (for easy backfilling).
2. If using more than one color, mix the bulbs in a tub to ensure random distribution of color.
3. Position the bulbs 3-4″ apart, pointy side up.
4. Backfill with soil, rake smooth and pack lightly by walking on the surface.
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