What Are the Different Types of Tulips?
Since tulips first arrived in Europe in the 1500s, they have been sought after, fought over and speculated upon by gardeners crazed by their beauty. There are approximately 75 wild or native species of tulip found in North Africa, Greece, Turkey and nearby areas. But those prized most by European and North American gardeners are hybrid tulips, the big, showy kind that bloom in the springtime and are a true harbinger of warmer weather to come.
There are many types of tulips, too many to cover in a single article. For a full examination of the many species and varieties of tulips available, I recommend purchasing a copy of one of the many tulip encyclopedias available.
Most home gardeners will purchase their tulips bulbs at the local garden center, supermarket, or so-called 'big box' home and garden stores. These tulips are among the most plentiful, beautiful and least expensive, and make excellent additions to the home garden.
Types of Tulips for the Average Garden
The major types of tulips found at your local store, garden center or gardening catalog include:
- Species tulips: These bloom earlier than other types and have smaller flowers. They can naturalize, meaning they come back year after year, and tend to spread in the garden if given the right conditions.
- Lily-flowered tulips: Tulips are actually part of the larger plant family called Liliaceae, of which lilies are a part. Lily-flowering tulips have petals that resemble a lily flower.
- Cottage tulips: These are the traditional May-blooming, large flowering tulips that most people think of when you say "tulip." They are available in all colors except a true blue (which as far as I am aware, eludes gardeners to this day.)
- Darwin-hybrid tulips: Like cottage tulips, the Darwins feature large flowers. I prefer them to the cottage tulips in my garden simply because they tend to be vigorous, repeat performers. I can get several years of blooms from my Darwin hybrids such as Appeldoorn and the Impression series, but the cottage ones are iffy.
- Rembrandt tulips: Named for the Dutch master artist Rembrandt because he often painted these flowers in his portraits, Rembrandt tulips have stripes or splashes of another color against a solid colored background. Originally, Rembrandt tulip coloring was caused by a virus that struck Dutch tulips in the 1600s, but today's Rembrandt tulips are hybridized for this unique coloring.
- Parrot tulips: Sometimes called Polly Parrots, parrot flowered tulips have heavy, round-flower heads with fringed petals and multiple layers of petals. They are showy and beautiful but delicate. A good windstorm can knock the petals right off, but if you love tulips, they are worth it!
Which Tulips Should You Choose?
The trick to growing great flowers in your garden is to choose the right plant for the right place. Tulips need full sun and well-drained soil. Too much water can rot the tulip bulbs. The soil should also be loamy, or amended with compost, so that you can dig down to the depth required for planting, and provide tulip bulbs with plenty of nourishment.
The flowering portion of the tulip is already present inside the bulb when you plant it. The bigger the bulb, the bigger the flowers, so choose the largest sized bulbs you can find.
Typical bulb choices for landscape designs include:
- Naturalizing: Choose species tulips.
- Cottage gardens: Cottage and lily-flowering tulips are the natural choice.
- Pathways and walkways: Tall Darwin or cottage tulips are great for lining paths and walkways, or for planting in large drifts for color statements.
- Cut flowers and arrangements: Rembrandt and parrot tulips are great for arrangements.
Common Blooming Time for Tulips
Type of Tulip
Early Spring (March)
Early to Mid Spring (March - April)
Mid to late spring (May)
Mid to late spring (May)
Mid to late spring (April - May)
Late Spring (May - June)
Problems Growing Tulips
The most common problems home gardeners face when growing tulips include:
- Bulbs don't come up in the spring: Chances are the bulbs were eaten by rodents. Another problem is that they weren't planted deeply enough and froze. Check to see if they're still there. You can try replanting them or try again next year.
- Bulbs come up in the winter during a warm period, starting to grow: Don't worry. Bulbs are resilient. The stems will die back, but the bulbs are unharmed and should grow just fine again.
- Deer eat the flowers: Unfortunately, deer tend to look on tulips like candy. You can use a commercial repellent. Milorganite, an organic fertilizer, is said to repel deer by scent. It may be purchased at home and garden centers nationwide.
- Forgot to plant bulbs: You forgot to plant the tulip bulbs and found the bag in the basement when you were looking for your snow shovel in January. Don't panic. You can plant the bulbs in pots, place the pots outside, and let nature do the job. It's too late to plant them in the ground but with some chilly weather, you may be able to get them to grow and bloom.
Tips for Planting Tulips
To plant tulips, follow these steps.
- Buy tulips bulbs are soon as they are in the stores for the best selection.
- Store bulbs in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant.
- Plant bulbs after the first frost but before the ground is hard (Columbus Day through Veteran's Day in most areas in the United States)
- Dig a hole as deeply as the package directions require. Usually that is 8 inches for tulips.
- A bulb planter makes it easier to dig the right-sized planting hole. Most have a ruler on the side to help you measure the depth.
- Sprinkle bone meal in the hole if you wish.
- Place bulbs pointy-side up.
- Don't worry if some of the brown skin, called the tunic, comes off. It isn't necessary for the tulip to grow well.
- Push the soil back over the planting hole until the bulb is covered.
- Place a marker on the spot so you will remember where you've planted your bulbs.
P. Allen Smith Shows You How to Grow Tulips
Tulip Color Combinations
Tulips offer every color of the rainbow, except true blue. There is even a black tulip called Queen of the Night which offers a stunning, cottage-type flower. You can plant great masses of single-colored tulips for a Victorian carpet-bedding look, or purchase mixed bags pre-selected for color coordination.
Whatever you do, though, do plant tulips. They offer beautiful flowers in the spring just when your senses are craving color, fragrance and joy.
© 2013 Jeanne Grunert