A+ Tulips In Texas

Learn which ones make the grade at the Dallas Arboretum.
Steve Bender

Thousands of tulips, daffodils, and other bulbs put on a show each March and April at the Dallas Arboretum. More than 150,000 people of all ages admire the bulb displays every year. Single late tulips such as 'Maureen' (white), 'Picture' (pink), and 'Cum Laude' (violet) are top performers. Other trusty tulips include 'Blushing Lady' and 'Renown.'

One hundred bulbs won't do it in Texas. Neither will 1,000 or 10,000 or even 100,000. No, to be respectable, a public display must contain at least 400,000 bulbs. That's how many you'll find blooming each spring at the Dallas Arboretum.
During peak bloom at the end of March and the first three weeks of April, more than 150,000 visitors view the spectacular flowers, which consist largely of tulips. Beautiful tulips in Texas? Isn't Texas too hot? Not according to Jimmy Turner, the director of horticultural research.

Later Is Better
Each year, Jimmy tests more than 300 selections of bulbs at his 2-acre trial garden. Those that pass muster make it into displays. He has found that a class of tulips called single late puts on the best show.

This may surprise experienced gardeners. "There's always been this belief that early tulips do better in the South because they bloom before it gets too hot," he says. "Our problem with them is that they grow only 6 to 8 inches tall, they don't bloom as heavily, and the flowers don't get as large." Big blooms, which the single-flowering, late-blooming types supply, are a must in Dallas. "They really hold up in our heat and wind," Jimmy remarks.

Top Tulips
When asked to name his best-performing tulips, Jimmy doesn't hesitate. First up is 'Mrs. John T. Scheepers,' a yellow one that he says "lasts longer than any other tulip." Other winners include 'Big Smile' (yellow), 'Kingsblood' (deep red), 'Menton' (pink), 'Temple of Beauty' (salmon-rose), and 'Temple's Favourite' (orange-red).

Chill Those Bulbs
To bloom well, tulips demand a period of winter chilling that doesn't happen reliably in most of the South. When Jimmy's bulbs arrive, they've been prechilled at temperatures between 45 and 50 degrees for eight weeks. "I recommend that homeowners buy bulbs in mid-September," he says. "Keep them in a paper sack in the crisper of your refrigerator for six weeks before planting." In areas with especially mild winters, you may need to chill them for eight weeks. Don't store them with fruit, which releases a gas that harms bulbs.

Time To Plant
Planting at the right time counts too. "Here in the South, plant between the week of Thanksgiving and New Year's Day," Jimmy advises. (In the Upper South, do so before it snows.) "We have four to six weeks to plant 400,000 bulbs with a staff of 22 people," says Trace Worthy, director of horticultural operations. "That works out to about 18,000 bulbs a person."
Because big-flowered tulips are best treated as annuals in the South, dig them up after they finish blooming. In the fall, plant new ones in well-drained soil.

Dallas Arboretum: 8525 Garland Road, Dallas, TX 75218; (214) 515-6500 or www.dallasarboretum.org. Dallas Blooms, their annual spring festival, takes place March 10-April 17.

Pages 94-95: Tulips can be purchased from Brent and Becky's Bulbs, toll free 1-877-661-2852 or www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com (O), or John Scheepers, (860) 567-0838 or www.johnscheepers.com (O)

"A+ Tulips" is from the March 2006 issue of Southern Living.