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Planting Dutch Tulip Bulbs: A Guide on How and When to Do It

Planting Dutch Tulip Bulbs is not complex, but it requires some care and attention. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to successfully grow them.

by BioGrow

Autumn is the right time to plant the Dutch tulip bulbs in our garden. Today, we will discover the origin of this flower (belonging to the Liliaceae family) that has captured the heart of the Netherlands, becoming the world’s leading producer. Dutch tulips come in many varieties. In this article, we will learn about some of them and see how and when to plant the bulbs. Additionally, we will explore essential tips for the proper cultivation of this flower, which begins in autumn and blooms beautifully in spring. It is a straightforward plant to grow, suitable for everyone, and can even be grown in a pot on the balcony.

But first, let’s start by uncovering the origin of this flower.

The origin of Dutch tulips

Dutch tulips

Dutch tulips

The tulip is a bulbous and perennial flowering plant belonging, as mentioned, to the Liliaceae family, specifically the genus Tulipa.
Although often referred to as Dutch tulips, these flowers are not originally from the Netherlands but rather from the East, particularly from certain areas in Asia Minor, where they were cultivated over a thousand years ago.
They reached continental Europe in the 1500s through the Ottoman Empire, passing through Constantinople. In the Netherlands, these flowers started being cultivated from 1593. Their beauty sparked a tulip mania in a very short time, which led to the world’s first financial crisis, as we will see shortly.
Since then, the Netherlands has been the leading promoter of tulip diffusion throughout the old continent, and to this day, they remain the world’s primary producers of this splendid flower.

Tulip field in the Netherlands

Tulip field in the Netherlands

The first major financial crisis in history

For the Dutch, these flowers represented an obsession, to the extent that it gave rise to a financial crisis known as the “Dutch tulip bubble”.
With the first cultivation of this flower, the most valuable varieties were also selected. These were immediately considered luxury goods and exchanged at extremely high prices at the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.
The increasing trading values made the tulip bulb a solid investment, representing “future flowers” that would later be sold in markets. Essentially, it was the embryonic stage of what we would now call “futures”.

Commercial expansion

The great commercial expansion of the Netherlands only enlarged this bubble. Florists began to book tulip bulbs from growers well in advance through forward contracts. Prices were fixed beforehand but had to be honored upon maturity.

bulbs market

Dutch tulip bulb market

In other words, the “futures” of this flower were being negotiated. This led to an exorbitant increase in prices and the first situations of indebtedness, with people willing to mortgage their properties just to acquire the rights to the most prized Dutch tulip varieties.

The speculative bubble

The climax of this speculative bubble was reached during the historic auction in Alkmaar on February 3, 1637. Here, prices of individual lots of tulip bulbs reached astronomical figures.
In the days that followed, however, tulipomania turned into panic among traders. All it took was for an auction in the city of Harlem to remain unsold, which triggered the so-called panic selling, causing prices to plummet rapidly. The market collapsed in no time, and commercial exchanges ceased.
In such a situation, for once, it was the farmers who benefited. Florists who had purchased bulbs through forward contracts found themselves bound to pay significantly higher prices than the current market value after the market crash. This prompted the judges of the Dutch provinces to intervene and modify these contracts to save the market. To this day, experts consider the Dutch tulip bubble as the world’s first financial crash.

Types of Dutch tulips

There are numerous varieties of tulips found in nature. For this reason, Dutch horticulturists have proposed a commercial classification based on shapes and colors. Let’s take a look at the main types of this flower.

    • “Duca di Tholl”: the earliest variety of tulips.
    • “Darwin”: the most valuable tulips for cut flower production. They are suitable for garden decoration and are characterized by large flowers with single or shaded colors. It is a very hardy variety.

      Darwin variety

      Dutch tulips – Darwin variety

    • “Breeder”: characterized by large flowers with rich and multiple combinations and blends of colors. They range from purple to bronze, to orange, yellow, and tan.
    • “Mendel”: originated from the crossing of the “Duca di Tholl” and “Darwin” varieties. It combines the earliness of the former and the hardiness of the latter.
    • “Rembrandt” tulips are very fascinating. They have a particular streaking pattern and are especially suitable for ornamental purposes.

      "Rembrandt" variety

      Dutch tulips – Rembrandt variety

    • “Blue Diamond”: This variety is also monochrome, but unlike the black tulip, its flowers are purple.

      Blue Diamond variety

      Dutch tulips – Blue Diamond variety

Mix of varieties

There are indeed many tulip bulbs to plant. An excellent option for an inexperienced grower is to purchase a mixed variety of bulbs. This way, you can appreciate a diverse range of colors. Over time, you might even specialize in your favorite colors. You can get a good mix of Dutch tulip bulbs to grow in your garden here.

When to plant tulip bulbs

The ideal period to plant tulip bulbs, both in the garden and in pots on the balcony, is autumn. Between the months of October and December, before the frost arrives, you can bury the bulbs. The process is somewhat similar to that of garlic cultivation. It’s not surprising, as they both belong to the same plant family. The growing moon in November is an ideal time.

Tulip bulbs

Tulip bulbs

Bulb plants, in general, have a dormant period in winter and grow in spring.

Soil requirements for tulip cultivation

For proper growth, tulips prefer sandy soil with a good supply of organic matter, well-draining, and deep.
It might be necessary to evaluate the condition of the soil in your garden and potentially add organic matter, such as compost, and/or sand, depending on the needs.
For cultivation in pots, you can create a balanced mix composed of one part forest soil, one part river sand, and one part peat.

Tulip bulb in a pot

Tulip bulb in a pot

Position in the garden

When transplanting tulip bulbs, it’s essential to consider the chosen area’s exposure. Tulips love the sun but dislike the wind, especially during the flowering phase. Therefore, it is best to prefer areas that are well exposed to the sun but also sheltered from the wind.

Transplanting bulbs and spacing

Tulip bulbs should be planted with the pointed end facing upwards at a depth of about 10-15 cm.
Maintain a distance of at least 10 cm between each bulb, allowing the plants and flowers to develop properly.

Planting Dutch tulip bulbs in the soil

Planting Dutch tulip bulbs in the soil

To facilitate the transplanting process, you can use a specific tool called a bulb planter. This tool will make your work much easier, help maintain the right depth in the soil, and significantly reduce effort, especially in the case of hard soils. You can purchase a good bulb planter here.

Irrigation needs

To have robust Dutch tulips, as mentioned earlier, the tulip bulbs must be planted in the ground during the autumn period. Until spring, they do not require irrigation. However, during the flowering period, if the spring season is too dry, watering becomes necessary. Be cautious about water stagnation, as it could lead to diseases.

Best care practices for Dutch tulip cultivation

As we have seen, there are numerous Dutch tulip species that you can cultivate in your garden. Depending on the species, the height of the flowering plant varies from 30 cm to 75-80 cm for the more vigorous varieties.
Usually, tulip bulbs produce a single flower, but there are varieties with double or multiple flowers.

flowers

Tulip with multiple flowers

Flowering

Tulips bloom in spring. The exact period will depend on the time of transplant, the chosen variety, and your cultivation conditions (soil, exposure, etc.).
To limit the growth of weeds that hinder flower growth, you can use natural mulch. Place the mulch in the flower bed when the plants are well-formed.

Life cycle

The life cycle of the flower is quite evident, and you can observe its evolution. After a certain period, the beauty of the tulip will start to fade, and the leaves will dry up. When this happens, it’s the right time to cut the flower stem. This will give the bulb some rest and prevent it from being excessively exploited.

Tulip bulbs

Usually, the bulb is left in the ground, where it will rest during the following winter and bloom again in spring. Tulips are perennials. If the soil is periodically enriched with organic matter, they can produce flowers for many years.
Furthermore, when left in the soil, the bulb will naturally propagate, and over the years, you’ll have more and more intense blooms.
Another technique for propagating Dutch tulips is to remove the bulb at the end of the flowering phase, in summer. This operation is recommended after the second year to allow the soil to be worked and aerated correctly. It is also a valid procedure if you want to change the position of your tulips. The bulbs will be removed, cleaned of the soil, and stored in a dark and dry place. A paper bag could be a good option.
However, it’s worth mentioning that this removal process is not essential. Tulip bulbs can be left in the soil undisturbed.

Biological pest control

Tulips may be subject to unwanted attention from insects, such as mites. If your area is prone to such infestations, it’s advisable to defend your tulip plants with natural macerates. In particular, we recommend garlic-infused macerate in this case.
Another critter that is quite fond of consuming the leaves of Dutch tulips is the slug. To protect your plants from snails and slugs, a solution could be to set up traps with beer. However, we have already discussed in detail about biological slug control.
By now, you should have all the necessary information to grow Dutch tulip bulbs in your garden. When they bloom, it will be a true visual and olfactory delight. Happy cultivation!

Further Reading

  • Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: The article titled “Is it possible to save tulip bulbs that have been forced indoors?” discusses the possibility of reusing tulip bulbs that have been forced indoors.
  • Cornell University: The article titled “Dig no more: Just till 2 inches for tulip bulbs, study finds” provides a simpler way to plant tulip bulbs.
  • Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: The article titled “Yard and Garden: When Tulips and Daffodils No Longer Bloom” discusses the decline in vigor of tulip bulbs over time.
  • Purdue University: The article titled “Autumn Time to Plant Spring Flowering Bulbs” advises on the best time to plant spring bloomers like tulips.
  • Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: The article titled “Yard and Garden: Forcing Tulips to Bloom Indoors” provides tips on how to successfully force tulips indoors.
  • University of Minnesota Extension: The article titled “Growing bulbs indoors” provides information on how to plant a bulb garden of cold-hardy spring bulbs like tulips indoors.
  • Purdue University: The article titled “Potted tulips sprouting, but no blooms” discusses the issue of tulip leaves sprouting without blooms.
  • Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station: The article titled “FS1220: Spring Flowering Bulbs” provides information about different types of bulbs including tulips.
  • Kansas State University: The article titled “How to Plant Tulips” provides information on how to grow tulips as perennials in the garden.
  • University of Vermont: The article titled “Plant Bulbs Now For Spring Bloom” provides tips on how to plant bulbs for spring bloom, including tulips.

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