I’m excited to offer the Texas Tulip today (you may purchase here). If you received “The Bulb Hunter” newsletter, so saw that I offered to expand on the offering here on the blog.
I believe it has been about 7 years since I offered the Texas tulip. Time really does fly. I’ve had my reasons for delaying. Let’s start with what I consider the most pertinent reason for the delay.
1) It’s Not For Everyone: Watch my video that I recorded yesterday (Spring 2020). I touch on some of the areas that we find it naturalizing across Texas (and I’ve heard in the blackland of Mississippi…shout out to Felder Rushing who gave me that information). It likes black gumbo clay areas. Right now, in the spring and over the previous winter, those areas stay pretty well wet, or at least moist. Then, in the summer, they turn dry…very dry. These are the soils that form 2-3 inch cracks deep in the soil. The tulips seem to love to be enclosed, or you could say encapsulated, in that soil over the summer. They are happy to be “dormant” (they never truly go dormant) in these earthen homes over the summer. If you have an irrigation system, or organic filled, rich, moist soil, there is a likelihood they will rot over the summer. At the Southern Bulb farm, where we have nice sandy loam soil, we were able to over come those problems with raised beds. You can as well in your own home garden. Plant the tulips in raised beds that drain very well. But, that takes us to problem number 2…pests!!
2) Pests: These tulips are like candy for the varmints! In East Texas I hear them referred to as “pocket gophers” but someone in the know told me they are technically voles. Whatever those pesky guys are, they tunnel through my field with a homing beacon that takes them straight to my tulips. “No problem,” I told myself. “I’ll just plant them in our thick plastic crates and they can’t get to them then.” Wrong again. Take a look at the attached pictures of where the pocket gophers chewed one hole to come in and another hole to come out. Again, I can only assume that these tulips are candy for the varmints. Of course the dear love to eat the blooms and foliage as well. You know, we as humans can eat tulips as well. A few weeks ago in Dallas, I enjoyed hearing Jan Pennings of the world famous Keukenhof Gardens of Holland talk about how his mom would bake tulip bread to help feed starving Europeans after World War II. So, between me needing to eat, and the gophers needing to eat, that takes me to the next topic of price.
3) For The Serious Gardener: At $25 for two bulbs, these aren’t for the faint of heart. If they like your garden spot, you will have more than you know what to do with eventually from two bulbs. If they don’t, it was a $32 experiment (shipping in that cost). Why that price? Well, I’ve already lost about 5,000 to gophers, so we had to find more sources. Those sources are full of clay, overgrown brush, etc. One bulb can take quite a while to get out of the ground, and the stem normally breaks in the process. they grow buried about 6″ under the ground, so then you spend another 5-10 minutes looking for the bulb like an archaeologist looking for a dinosaur bone. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun and rewarding as long as your back hangs in there, but it’s costly. There never seems to be enough time in this world.
4) Timing: I am always asked to explain the best time to plant, dig, or move bulbs. There are ideal times, ok times, and definitely NOT times. An ideal time to dig and move all of your spring blooming bulbs is after they have bloomed and the foliage has naturally died down on its own. However, an OK time to dig the bulbs is after they have bloomed but you don’t cut the foliage. Let the foliage die down naturally. That is the process of the leaves sending all of the food energy the bulb collected over the winter down to the bulb so that it can have a nice full stomach as a healthy bulb as it rests over the summer. That is an OK time to dig and transplant bulbs. We are in that OK period now in April. But, you don’t have to plant your tulips now. You can store them in a cool, dry, dark place for a few months until you decide where you would like to put the bulbs. It is not good to dig spring blooming bulbs in late winter and early spring right before they bloom and have active root growth/foliage up. You can do that, but you run the risk of setting the bulbs back a couple of years. All that to say, as we wrap up spring in your gardens, now is a great time to start moving bulbs to where you want them to be in your garden. You can see the foliage and dig the bulbs without setting them back much at all.
5) How are these different than other tulips: A follower on Facebook asked how these are different than the clusiana tulips, such as Tulipa clusiana‘ Lady Jane.’ On the surface of the question is an easy answer: they are a different species of tulip with different forms and habits. Below the surface of the question, I might assume the reader was asking if there is a different in their livability and perennial nature in the hot, humid, Southern United States climates. The first question is easy, in that the clusiana tulips generally have elongated blooms (and foliage) with bi-color blooms. Tulipa praecox has solid red blooms (on the outside), wider foliage, and larger blooms (using the term “larger” liberally because they are still smaller) more reminiscent of the modern Darwin hybrids that impress us so much at fancy gardens and public gardens each spring. As far as the perennial nature of one tulip vs. the next, I will just speak to my own experience. I have seen clusiana tulips come back for years in many old Southern US gardens, and they have spread liberally at my farm. However, I have never seen them spread by their stolons and fill large patches in old gardens like I have seen with this bulb. Refer to the picture of the garden above from North Dallas…I have never see clusiana tulips perform like that in an old garden. That does not mean that they wouldn’t if given the right conditions, but I have not seen it occur.
The Texas tulip is a special bulb for me, and I’ve often heard them referred to as many different names. My friend, mentor, and co-author Dr. Bill Welch saw them when he was in college at Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX. He calls them the Georgetown Tulip. I’ve seen them across Texas and I call them the Texas Tulip. Tulipa praecox is the scientific name.
If you are on the Gulf Coast you probably won’t experience the perennial nature of these bulbs, but if you live in Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, Jackson, Mississippi and other central to northern parts of the Southern United States, this bulb is for you!