Organic gardener growing food and flowers, lovin' pollinators and birds.

How to successfully grow tulips as cut flowers in your garden

I've had great success with growing tulips this spring thanks to all the precautions I took last fall. I decided to treat my tulips as a cut flower garden this year, since in the past I have not had luck with getting them to either return or bloom again the following year.

I know some of this is my fault: in the past I have planted tulips in areas where they do not remain dry throughout the summer (which is what they like). So they have either rotted from being beneath plants that need summer watering or from areas where lots of winter snow sits.

The other reason I've lost tulip bulbs in the past is due to voles. These culprits burrow underground (often using tunnels created by other animals, like moles) and enjoy eating plant roots and bulbs throughout all seasons.

Keeping this in mind, in the fall I decided to go all out with protection.

In the raised bed where I planted the tulip bulbs, I cut a layer of hardware cloth to line the bottom of the raised bed. I chose a type where the holes were fairly small (1/4 inch). After that layer was down, I put some soil back in and planted my tulip bulbs.

Since my intent was to plant the tulips for a cut flower garden, I planted them closer together than is usually recommended. To help repel voles further, I surrounded them with alliums. (Alliums are in the onion family and not a preferred snack for voles. You can interplant with garlic, too.)

After the bulbs were nestled in (like eggs in an egg carton), I added Repellex (a granular repellant that makes plants taste like hot peppers to critters) and a granulated bulb fertilizer. (Note: If you opt to plant with garlic, you should not use Repellex.) I filled the rest of the soil in and tapped it down. For extra insurance, I cut and placed another piece of hardware cloth on top and secured it with landscape staples.

Then I wondered all winter if all my work actually would pay off.

When we started to have some warm spring days, I noticed that the tulips began to poke out of the ground.

I removed the hardware cloth on top and instead installed green fencing around the raised bed (to act as a further barrier for anyone who might want to come back and munch). I added more Repellex as the bulbs grew and waited.

And guess what. All that effort paid off.

The tulips have been blooming and have remained protected from voles, groundhogs and rabbits. In my area, I do not have deer, but if I did, I would have used taller fencing to help prevent snacking from above.

Over the past weeks I have been able to cut and bring several tulip bouquets to enjoy indoors.

My next step is to let the tulip foliage die back and then dig up the bulbs and store them over the summer in a warm, dry place. While I will attempt to get them rebloom for next year in this way, I will probably still order tulip bulbs for fall planting — just in case the tulips are spent and decide not to rebloom again.

Also, as a side note: I also need to plant my bulbs earlier next year. Last year I was unable to get them in the ground until November, and we actually already had snow on the ground when I planted them. If you get the tulips in the ground earlier, they have more time to adjust and will definitely get their mandatory chilling period to bloom.

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Originally published May 12, 2019

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