6 Secrets To Getting Your Tulips To Thrive in the South
The top tulip tips from the Vice President of Gardens and Facilities at Nashville’s Cheekwood Gardens and Estate.
"Nothing says spring like a garden full of tulips," says Peter Grimaldi, Vice President of Gardens and Facilities at Nashville's Cheekwood Gardens and Estate. Each fall, over an eight to ten week stretch, Grimaldi and his team are hard at work planting 150,000 tulip bulbs, which unfurl each spring as the eye-popping centerpiece of Cheekwood in Bloom, a seasonal must-visit for locals and travelers. You don't need thousands to pack a visual punch in your own backyard, though. Here, Grimaldi offers a few tips and tricks to help home gardeners transition their tulips successfully from bulb to bloom.
Annuals or Perennial? What's the Deal?
"Tulips are perennial plants, but they do not perennialize well in the Southern and Southeastern United States," Grimaldi says. "Most of the hybrid tulip varieties that you would think of as classic tulips really have to be treated as annuals in these climates. That's how we manage them at Cheekwood. We plant new bulbs every year because the number one factor for getting tulips to flower is a cold requirement."
Trick Your Tulips and Buy Pre-Chilled
"Tulips need at least 12 to 16 weeks of low temperatures. So everything we bring into Cheekwood has been pre-chilled, spending time in coolers in order to achieve that necessary cold requirement. If you're gardening at home in the South, you should absolutely buy pre-chilled. However, there are two species of tulips that do readily perennialize in this part of the country: lady tulips and woodland tulips."
Carve Out Time Between Halloween and Christmas To Plant
"As a rule of thumb, you want to plant your spring flowering bulbs between Halloween and Christmas," Grimaldi says. "If you can't plant your bulbs immediately, store them in a cool dry place—preferably, a cool, dry, dark place."
Good Drainage and Plenty of Sun Are Key
"Tulips are going to do better in full sun," Grimaldi says. "Once you've picked your site, it's best to prepare the soil just as you would when preparing to plant any other annual or perennial in your garden bed. Remember, good drainage is important. There are a number of ways to manage soil moisture, but the easiest thing to do in annual beds year over year is to build them up with organic matter to improve the soil and soil texture and break up any clay."
Stab, Pull, Plant
"We use little five- or six-inch soil knives to plant," Grimaldi says. "If you're planting into a well amended, loose garden bed, you just stab [the ground], pull the soil knife back, plant, and heel it in. Your bulb should be about three inches below the ground—right side up. If they go in a little sideways, don't worry; they'll be fine."