Planting the $2000 Spring Flowering Bulb

Don Nicholson

Our story begins more than 1000 years ago when the Turks began cultivating tulips, long before the Dutch got involved. Even today, there are over 150 species of wild tulips growing in Central Asia (including Greece and the Near East).

In the 1500’s, Europeans became plant explorers, mostly for scientific and medicinal reasons. In 1593 Carolus Clusius (Latinized name of Charles de l’Ecluse) was offered the position of honorary botany professor at the University of Leiden in Holland. He set up a botanical garden to include a few tulip bulbs that he brought with him. The bulbs were a gift to Clusius from an ambassador to the Sultan in Constantinople.

Being a serious botanist and not wanting the bulbs to get into the hands of profit-seeking traders, Clusius was quite protective of his collection. But he was not protective enough to keep some of his servants and workers from stealing bulbs and getting them out to the public.

In the 1600’s, Tulipmania hit and prices of tulips skyrocketed. In 1624, one tulip variety sold for about $2000 in today’s currency (only 12 bulbs were available). Another bulb sold for $3500 plus a horse and carriage. And we complain if we pay $5.95 for a package of 5!

The tulip crash came in 1637 and many traders went bankrupt as the tulips plummeted in value.

Here are some tips in planting Fall bulbs. And for your information, Narcissus (daffodils) have wild species in Spain and Portugal.

The best time for planting Fall bulbs in our area is between September 15 and November 15, whenever the night temperature is between 6-10 degrees C. (40-50 degrees F.) Consider approximately 6 weeks before the ground freezes to give the bulbs a chance to root.

Prepare the soil so that it is loose and workable. Plant bulbs 8 inches deep for large bulbs and 4 inches deep for small bulbs (pointy end up).

Plant in clusters and please (for my sake), don’t plant as single bulbs alone or make a long line. I would rather see a cluster of 3- 5 bulbs, depending on size, in one area of the garden than one or two here and there. If you do not have much to spend on bulbs, buy one bag and plant it anywhere for YOUR enjoyment - anywhere that gets sun in the spring and the soil drains well. My wife and I like to look out the window and see the blooms in the spring. We don’t plant for our neighbours. (How selfish, eh?) A small cluster can make an awesome showing!

Remember, those bulbs have all the nutrients necessary contained within to produce bloom in the spring. Do not put fertilizer in the bottom of the holes. It will burn the roots when they grow. Unless you want the possibility of rodents or dogs, bonemeal is of little value. However, after planting, you may want to sprinkle some “slow-release” bulb fertilizer on the top of the soil; this supplies nutrients for the second year’s growth.

Water bulbs after planting to start the rooting process.

When you purchase your Fall bulbs, you will often notice the words “For Naturalizing”, “Perennializing” or “For Forcing”.

Naturalizing refers to bulbs that come up year after year and multiply. This includes bulbs such as daffodils, narcissus, scilla, grape hyacinths, snow drops, Species tulips, etc. Hyacinths will also multiply and come up year after year but usually at a slower rate. Most of the hyacinth bulbs I planted 4 years ago have multiplied 3 times.

Perennializing refers to bulbs that are fairly faithful to come up for several years. Hybrids of Species tulips usually fit into this category. Species tulips are tulips that are wild coming from Turkey, Greece and other areas of Western Asia. However the Darwin, Emperor and some Triumph tulips are quite good.

The tulip is listed in botanical journals as perennial. This is only true if you live in foothills of the Himalayas or the steppes of Eastern Turkey. As a rule, the vast majority of tulips do begin to fade out after a few years. Many people treat them as annuals except for the species tulips.

“For Forcing” refers to bulbs that can be grown very easily in the house. You can put them in pots 12 to 14 weeks before you want to bring them out to bloom and subject them to cool 2 – 10 degrees C (35 – 50 F) and dark storage.

A last word on bulbs . . . “you get what you pay for”. I’m going to a local nursery/garden centre with our grandchildren and they each get to choose something that appeals to them. Taking our grandchildren allows me to break my wife’s moratorium on my plant money spending . . . after all, who can refuse our 3 and 5 year-old grandchildren?