Also known as: Tulipa

Tulips, the ultimate spring bulb, have been a source of beauty and history for years. Part of the Liliaceae family, much like its cousins lily, crocus, and daffodil, tulips are cheerful flowers that adorn many gardens in the early spring. There are over 100 species in the genus and many, many cultivars and hybrids. Tulips are native to southern Europe, parts of Asia and the Middle East, China and Japan.

Your local nursery staff will tell you that there are 15 divisions of tulips, based on the shape of the flowerhead and the variations on the flower's design. They include:

  • Single Early Group – these tulips flower early in the season and are cup-shaped.
  • Double Early Group – double-flowered
  • Triumph Group – cup-shaped single flowers, sometimes flecked with a contrasting color to the petal proper.
  • Darwin Hybrid Group – single flowers that are flushed or margined with a contrasting hot color to the petal itself. Not to be confused with the Darwin tulip.
  • Single Late Group – late-season cup- or goblet-shaped flowers. Includes a variety of almost-black tulip.
  • Lily-flowered Group – single goblet-shaped flowers that are occasionally margined, flamed or flushed with a contrasting color. Late-season flowering.
  • Fringed Group – cup-shaped flowers with fringed or frilled petal edges, normally a different color than the petal.
  • Viridiflora Group – single, cup- or closed-bowl-shaped flowers that have a tendency to be almost entirely green and margined or striped with another color.
  • Rembrandt Group – heirloom cultivars that are no longer commercially available. These have single, cup-shaped flowers that are "feathered" from a virus. Sometimes termed "broken tulips".
Growing Tulips

Plant tulip bulbs in your flower garden during the fall with the pointed end facing up and at a depth of about three times the length of the bulb; ideally six weeks before the first frost. Tulips look great when planted in clusters, just keep in mind that you should plant larger bulbs five or six inches apart from each other and two to three inches apart for small bulbs.

Recommended Varieties

With more than 100 species of tulips and even more hybrids available, they make a great flower to bring life and color to your garden in the spring. Red remains the favorite tulip color with yellow a close runner-up; they're available in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Choose the tulips that appeal the most to you that are suitable for your particular gardening zone. You can look up gardening zones online, or consult a landscaping professional to determine which zone your garden is in.

Landscape Design Tips

Tulips require soil that doesn't retain water; sandy earth fortified with organic fertilizer and a pH value between 6.0 to 6.5 is ideal. Also make sure to plant your tulip bulbs in an area with plenty of sun if you want them to truly prosper. Tulips are a terrific addition to perennial gardens and provide plenty of color to your garden after the bleak winter months. You can use tulips to spectacular effect as borders around trees and shrubs. You can also enjoy your tulips in late fall by planting them for indoor forcing in September and October.

Gardening Zones

As a species, tulips are very cold tolerant and can survive from zones 3 to 9 depending on which variety you choose to plant in your garden.

Problems and Pests

Aphids are the most common insect pest for tulips; they can be easily washed away with water if you're particularly vigilant. Otherwise you can consider companion planting sunflowers or petunias to help repel aphids. Tulips are also susceptible to blight which cause brown flecks in the leaves and can turn the plant gray. Gray bulb rot occurs when the bulb is buried in wet and soggy soil. Tulips with these symptoms need to be destroyed to avoid the disease spreading to the other flowers.