“I love tulips better than any other spring flower; they are the embodiment of alert cheerfulness and tidy grace, and next to a hyacinth look like a wholesome, freshly tubbed young girl beside a stout lady whose every movement weighs down the air with patchouli. Their faint, delicate scent is refinement itself; and is there anything in the world more charming than the sprightly way they hold up their little faces to the sun.” – Elizabeth von Arnim
It is hard in November when the weather is too damp and cold to want to venture outside. But in the depths of February when the clouds have been grey for weeks and all that the garden supplies are brown twigs and faded greenery, you will thank yourself for having planted some tulips now! My favourite spot in the house is my kitchen sink, where I can look out into my garden. But even in February it is dreary. So I have a window box where I can enjoy a splash of colour up close. This means I can stay warm and still enjoy the pleasures of the garden. When planting tulips into a window box choose short or dwarf varieties and multi heads. Choose a strong, vibrant variety so it will catch your eye. Varieties such as Tête-à-tête, Lilac Perfection, Red Riding Hood are all great choices, but any dwarf types will do. Start by filling your window box half way with some good peat free compost. You don’t want to use soil or compost from previous plant pots as it can spread disease and will be lacking in nutrients.
Empty out any spent plants in your window box, and add a small amount of grit to the base in a pot to help with drainage.
Add a thin layer of compost of the roots, and break up any tough lumps. Plant the bulbs point facing up, roughly 5-10 cm apart depending on the variety. Now I must add, this isn't set in stone especially when mixing other bulbs such as crocus or daffodils with them. But if you are planting just tulips into a window box or a pot, then feel free to actually pop a few more in, you will have a fuller display and the tulips won't mind too much, just leave a 2cm gap between dwarf variety bulbs.
Firm them in gently and then cover with compost, leaving a 1” gap at the top so water does not spill over.
Window boxes are known for crusting over the surface so if you have any grit spare, add a thin layer over the top. Water them and then completely forget about them till February/March when you start to see signs. It is that simple, however… I can’t bear to see my window box empty over winter, it hurts my heart. So I plant out on the top surface (so not down to the bulbs) some Viola and pansies for some winter interest. Tulips are remarkable at growing around other plants and pushing past roots so don’t worry with pansies being above them, the tulips will find a way through.
With the tulips If you see them rise through before winter has really started don’t worry at all. They will naturally die back.. we are not so worried about the tops at this stage just the roots establishing. If you don’t have a window basket but maybe a spare pot, consider layering your bulbs like a lasagna. One layer near the base a taller variant and then a layer of compost. Then another layer of bulbs and feel free to mix and match, use daffodils as well as tulips. Then another layer of compost. It helps once you reach the top to add a layer of grit.. not only does it look good but it helps the soil not to become too wet or to crust over from frost, which will impact growth in the new year. The trick with spring lasagnas (planting in pots) is to choose varieties that flower at the same time for maximum impacts. It is not a set-in-stone rule and it can look lovely to have a continuing display, however you can end up with only the odd flower and a lot of left over greenery.
Tulips are thought of as re-flowering plants.. but it’s not necessarily true for them all, in fact you can find after two years they come up “blind” meaning they produce no flowers. This is when it is good to pull them up (even the year before if you can) and either discard them or relocate them to the soil in a large patch of grass. That way it doesn’t really matter if they bloom or not and it won’t affect your display in a pot.
As always friends