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What is a Tulip?

By J. Beam
Updated May 16, 2024
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A tulip is a bulbous plant that flowers in the spring. Tulips belong to the lily family and are comprised of about 80 different varieties. Native to Asia, the garden tulip first gained popularity in Holland, where commercially grown tulips became a large Dutch industry and is still considered a major export product of the area. The tulip is a popular spring flower in the United States, where they are commercially grown in Michigan and Washington, as well as other states.

A tulip has a sturdy green stalk with broad leaves and produces a single bud that blooms into a flower shaped like a cup or inverted bell. The blossoms are deeply colored and range from vibrant yellows and reds to pink, dark purple, white, and hybrid colors. Some of the more popular varieties include the Darwin tulip, the parrot tulip, and the Duc van Tol.

The height of a tulip ranges from six inches (15 cm) to 27 inches (70 cm) and can bloom anytime in the spring, depending on it’s variety. The taller variety of tulips make lovely garden and mound centerpieces when planted in bunches, while shorter varieties are ideal for colorful borders around later-blooming plants.

When planting tulips, the bulbs should be planted in the fall and should be placed at a depth of about three times the height of the bulb. The bulbs should be watered well and careful consideration should be given to the planting location. Tulips need direct sun to grow properly and should be placed in soil with good drainage, as standing water will cause the bulbs to rot.

While tulips provide striking color to an early spring garden, when the bloom is gone by late spring to early summer, the remaining foliage can look somewhat tattered, but should be left in tact to provide nutrients to the bulb for next year’s growth. For this reason, tulips are best planted with other flowering plants and hidden amongst their foliage. As the tulip grows, it will produce more bulbs and multiply. If they become overcrowded in the soil, the bulbs will begin to produce smaller, weaker looking flowers. Tulips can be dug up and separated to avoid this.

Tulips, along with other spring flowers like daffodils, are some of the first flowering plants noticeable in many growing areas. They are widely enjoyed by many people as cut flowers or simply left in the garden. However, when left in the garden, they can be an enticement to rabbits, which may eat them and squirrels often dig up the bulbs before they sprout. Some people suggest burying mothballs near tulips and other bulbs to deter garden pests, but others report this act to be merely a wives tale.

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Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Apr 25, 2014

@Wisedly33 -- I'll have to try the bloodmeal. I guess it repels the squirrels because it smells like blood? I've thought I could put a glass dome over my tulips, locked with a combination lock, and those darn tree rats would *still* get them!

I try to live in harmony with the local wildlife, but squirrels try my patience!

By Wisedly33 — On Apr 24, 2014

Tulips are beautiful and I love them, but so do the squirrels! They have eaten too many of my bulbs. I don't know about mothballs, but bloodmeal does seem to discourage them. That's sort of my go-to fertilizer/squirrel repellent, and it works pretty well.

The squirrels don't bother my daffodils, though. They must not taste as good.

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