Plant a Tulip Cutting Garden – this Fall

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Who doesn’t love spring tulips, or any spring and summer bulbs for that matter. From diminutive anemones, aka windflowers that bring daisy-like cheer to any location in the garden to giant foxtail lilies with nicknames like king’s spears and desert candles that describe these astonishing spires of blooming wow.

Back to tulip love. They’ve been popular since the 10th century. As with most bulbs, early, ancient civilizations knew how to choose and cultivate many different plants, including bulbs. Any culture that liked and grew my favorite bulb – garlic, is aces in my book. Click here for a quick, fun read on the history of tulips. And click here for some of my past garlic blogs.

Tulips have been difficult for me to grow in the landscape – the darn squirrels find and eat them no matter my good intentions and planting practices to prevent their dig, dine and dash enjoyment. This year I’m trying to “out squirrel them” with a spring tulip cutting garden carefully anti-squirrel planted in one of our three unused raised beds (two beds were recently planted with garlic).

One pack of tulips also includes daffodils, so the combination of assorted tulips from early to late spring bloom should be stunning. That’s what I’m telling myself now in early November. If I’m brave enough to post how good or not good the blooms look next spring, we’ll both know how my experiment turned out.

First, credit for this resourceful idea goes to a couple we hang out with who also garden. They have this handy, productive alley garden here in central Denver. They planted bulbs near their fall planted garlic a couple of fall seasons ago. I said at the time that this is an excellent idea and makes perfect sense, especially in cleaned out vegetable beds that lay fallow fall, winter and early spring. The soil is generally friable, fertile enough and in a sunny location where spring bulbs will shine, literally!

My intention isn’t to keep the bulbs in this raised bed long term. Once the tulips have bloomed and been cut for indoor vases, they will be dug and composted. Basically I’m treating these fall planted bulbs as spring only annuals.

I chose generic tulip bulbs to plant, ones that aren’t reliably perennial. These bulbs put on their best bloom the first year. Often commercial landscapers treat tulips and other bulbs as annuals for this very same reason. If that’s not your deal (one and done), then plant them your usual way – everyone wins!
The best long-term perennial blooming tulips to consider include – botanical tulips, Darwin hybrids and fosteriana tulips.

Here’s my precedure … and please tweak as you like –

Shop – local is best and first choice, online second. Bulbs are usually discounted now that it’s November – not indoor bulbs however. My bulbs were 60% off. As much as I prefer buying from local independent garden centers, they may be low on stock or sold out by now.

The same rules always apply for bulb planting – choose the largest, healthiest bulbs available. Mail order bulbs are kept cool and in ideal conditions prior to shipping – at least from reputable companies, I can’t say this is true for all online mail order plant and bulb companies.

Prepare – your planting bed should be free of any vegetation and roots from this previous growing season. It’s okay to work in some well composted soil if needed, just be sure you’re not adding more organic matter if your organic matter level is 5% or more. If this doesn’t make sense, click here and read about soil testing and how important not having too much organic matter matters to plant health. 

I did not add any fertilizer to this planting bed since my spring soil test revealed I was already too high in phosphorous and potassium. I added nitrogen this past summer. Bulbs are little self-contained food storage factories so they’ll be just fine without any fertilizer additives in my situation. Click here for soil fertility preparation information when planting bulbs for long-term enjoyment.
Out Think the Squirrels – if Ferris could live outside 24/7, he’d be the best landscape protector from squirrels, not to mention bunnies, mice and neighbor cats. A mere whisper of the name sends him in manic flight outside to seek out any unwelcome furry visitors. Ferris can keep a squirrel spewing angry chirps on a high tree branch for hours! Ferris can’t be outside every minute – meanwhile, squirrels are quick acting opportunists. They like using our raised beds for winter snack nut hiding. And, they love tulip bulbs, click here for bulbs they don’t like as well.

I used three planting methods to keep squirrels away. 

  • First, while touching and placing the tulip bulbs (125 total) I was careful to pick up any fallen tunics from the bulbs, which serve as the scented come and get it dinner bell for squirrels. 
  • Next I placed the bulbs in the bed and heavily sprinkled the area with pest repellent granules. Granules will not hurt the bulbs.
  • For the third step I covered the bulbs with most of the soil needed to cover the bulbs, then placed small opening wire mesh fencing over the soil so they can’t dig through the soil. 
  • Lastly I added a bit more soil to cover the fencing, although you probably don’t have to do this step. Granules were sprinkled again, then a thick layer of shredded leaves for winter mulch.   
  • I watered the bulbs well after the soil was in place, then again when the final layer of shredded leaves were added. And yes, once the mulch was dry I sprinkled more granules. Let’s just say that if you were to stroll by this garden, you’d get a nice whiff of something akin to garlic, peppermint and cinnamon oil. Ferris kept his distance and so far so have the squirrels.

It goes without saying that I’ll still keep a close eye on this tulip raised bed and I’ll renew the granules every few weeks or so. The wire mesh (which is the most important part of this process) will be removed in early spring so the emerging tulips will have plenty of headroom to make their appearance for their debut on our dining room table. I already have the vase chosen. Stay tuned.

Home of the Future (Spring 2020) Tulip Cutting Garden Bed

Betty’s How to Tulip Plant Video