I discovered a package of tulip bulbs on a garage shelf, behind a bag of soil sulfur, two weeks ago.
Evidently, the dozen ‘Mata Hari’ tulips hid when I planted over 150 other bulbs last October. I was looking forward to their ivory, edged with lipstick red, flowers along my garden path. At least, that was the plan.
After doing a little research, I came across a study about planting tulip bulbs on top of the ground and late in the season, done by Cornell University. Researchers found you can grow gorgeous tulips in only mulch, two inches being the optimum depth. They experimented with mulch layers up to six inches deep and determined the two-inch covering (renewed every autumn) produced the largest amount of flowers and the most vigorous plants.
I'm looking forward to seeing these 'Mata Hari' tulips in April, even though I planted them shortly after New Year's day. Photo courtesy of Breck's Bulbs.
How to Plant Tulips
According to the Cornell study (done over a six-year period), you should plant tulips this way:
- Loosen soil if possible. If not, choose an area with soil full of organic matter.
- Scratch in bulb fertilizer. If ground is totally frozen, scatter fertilizer sparely and over a larger range than normal.
- Place bulbs on top of soil. Do not press them in, as this will damage bulb base where roots form.
- Cover with two to four inches of aged mulch or finished compost. Go for the thicker layer if planting during winter like I did.
- Renew mulch covering often to be sure there is at least a two-inch layer.
Use the link above to view the Cornell study and look at photos of tulips blooming over the six-year period. It’s interesting.
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.