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Tiptoe through the tulips: planted in the early days of winter, tulips unfurl in early spring to brighten the warming days.

WHEN TULIPS BEGIN TO BLOOM IN THE SPRINGTIME, dilatory gardeners will berate themselves for not planting tulip bulbs last fall, and vow to reform their slothful ways. Frugal gardeners will wonder why they ever dithered about the cost, and curmudgeonly gardeners, who think tulips belong in Holland, will foreswear their pessimistic outlook. But the gardener who found time to plant tulip bulbs between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the busiest time of the year, is now the envy of the neighborhood. There is nothing quite as colorful, vibrant, and uplifting as a garden abloom with tulips. No wonder the Dutch became besotted with this lovely flower!

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Most people associate tulips with Holland, but actually this flower is native to Turkey and western and central Asia and was not introduced to Holland until the 16th century, but once it arrived, the normally stodgy, pragmatic Dutch lost their senses. In the 17th century, the Dutch became possessed with "tulip mania" and began speculating in the tulip market with certain varieties of tulips that sold for thousands of guilders. These days, tulips can now he found blooming far from Holland, even in the Deep South, and they are relatively inexpensive.

Ideally, tulip bulbs should be purchased in the fall and should be stored in a refrigerator (not freezer) for 40 to 60 days. Do not store tulip bulbs with other fruits and vegetables, which emit ethylene gas and will destroy the tulip bulbs. If you do not want to chill your own bulbs, pre-chilled tulip bulbs can be ordered from many sources. South Mississippi and the coastal region should plant pre-chilled bulbs.

When purchasing or ordering tulips, decide on color preference, and for the greatest visual impact do not use more than two colors. There are varieties of tulips that bloom early, midseason, and late, so be sure to consider bloom time. Darwin, Darwin Hybrids, and Cottage tulips seem to fare well in our warmer climate. There are many different varieties of these tulips, and they come in numerous colors. However, if you are parsimonious to a fault, tulips may not be for you, because in Mississippi, tulips should be treated as annuals. After they bloom, it is best to send them to the compost pile.

When buying tulip bulbs, check with your local garden center first. They will be knowledgeable about the varieties that do well in your locality. For mass plantings, you can order in bulk from such familiar garden catalogs as Wayside Gardens, White/lower Farm, Park Seed, and Brent and Becky's Bulbs. And, of course, the Internet is an invaluable source for mail-order bulbs. When ordering bulbs, be sure to do so early in the season, because the most popular varieties quickly sell out.

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The optimum time to plant tulips in Mississippi is probably sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas; however, many gardeners just cannot find time to plant until after the holidays. January may seem too late to plant tulips--or anything else--but most gardeners seem to have success. It's better late than never.

Tulips need to be planted in full sun or part shade in fertile, well-drained soil at a depth of about 6 inches. Early blooming varieties can be planted beneath deciduous trees and will bloom before the trees leaf out. Be sure to plant bulbs right side up--the pointed tip goes up--and sprinkle with a little bone meal. Cover with soil and water thoroughly. If voles are a problem, plant tulips about 8 inches deep. The added depth might discourage them. If squirrels and chipmunks are a nuisance, you can cover the bulbs with wire mesh or purchase a bulb cage. There are many other gimmicks that might deter them, but nesting owls and hawks are perhaps the most effective means or pest control.

Tulips are also ideal for containers. They add height and color and fill a void until it is time to plant warm-weather plants. Also, at many garden centers, potted tulips, ready to bloom, can be purchased. Potted tulips can be planted in urns, window boxes, and pots and then covered with a little dirt to disguise the ruse. Without a lot of forethought or effort and just a little money, tulips can bring beauty and joy.

Spring is not the time to plant tulips. It is the time to revel in the beauty of this flower that inspired poets and artists and drove the Dutch just a little mad. And this is the time of year for tulip festivals both in Holland and here in the United States. Botanical gardens, businesses, college campuses, and possibly your industrious neighbor will have showy displays of tulips of every hue. I encourage you to visit and be motivated to plant your own tulips long after these lovely flowers have faded.

Tulips may be short-lived, frivolous, and a wee bit temperamental, but as Keats said, "Beauty is its own excuse for being." And tulips that bloom in Mississippi during the capricious month of March gladden the heart of all who anxiously await spring.
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Title Annotation:garden
Author:Gratz, Margaret
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Geographic Code:4EUNE
Date:Mar 1, 2012
Words:844
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