Summers are warm in Michigan and winters are cold and snowy across the state, but even colder and more severe in the Upper Peninsula. Spring bulbs like tulips are a lively way to brighten the landscape as winter thaws. They emerge from the earth in a remarkable demonstration of vivid colors and shapes, carrying their subtle scents along the spring air. There are many varieties of tulips that grow great in Michigan and we’ll discuss 3 types in particular, including how to plant and care for them.
The Dutch are the largest producer of tulip bulbs in the world with a rich history of cultivation, but did you know that there’s a town in Michigan called Holland that lives up to the tulip tradition? Dive into the details of the largest tulip festival in the country!
3 Tulips Types that Grow Great in Michigan
Tulips are technically organized by genus and species, but growers should consider the 15 groups that bulb catalogs use to describe them. Within these, there are over 3,000 tulip varieties that are arranged into each group based on their flower shape, heritage and blooming period.
With an impressive variety to choose from you may be wondering which bulbs to plant in your garden. As it turns out, any tulip variety can grow great in the “Great Lake State” of Michigan but we’ll focus on 3 tulip types that can get you started growing hearty tulip blooms.
Fosteriana tulips are also known as Emperor tulips and are some of the first flowers to pop up in early spring. They feature massive, boldly colored blooms and broad leaves and stand 10-16 inches tall. These tulips are great in beds and in containers, if they’re protected from freezing. As cut flowers they can make a powerful bouquet. These are great perennializers, so keep them healthy and they may come back for three years or more.
The ‘Red Emperor’ is a famous, red fosteriana tulip. ‘Orange Emperor’ is another classic and the favorite of many with a yellow flower base extending into glowing orange petals. These beauties can measure 10 inches wide in full-bloom! The ‘Exotic Emperor’ impresses with double blooms in creamy white and green accents. It may be a great option if your blooms are threaded by grazers as it’s known to be deer resistant.
The ‘Mosaic’ tulip breaking virus was responsible for the Dutch “tulip mania” in the 7th century. Highly-coveted tulips of this time experienced dramatic color effects from the virus. Commercial growers no longer sell broken tulip bulbs, but Rembrandts are a close approximation. Named for the famous painter of the Dutch Golden Age, these tulips feature flamed and feathered petals that result from stable mutations of healthy plants. They generally display one prominent color with another color streaking through its petals.
A classic example of a Rembrandt tulip to try is ‘Rem’s Favorite,’ a white tulip flamed with purple. ‘Grand Perfection’ is a mid-spring bloomer with flames of red painted upon petals of creamy white. ‘Tulip Serano’ is a Rembrandt with creamy white petals flamed with luminous pink. These early spring bloomers have several flowers per stem.
Double Late Tulips
Reminiscent of peonies or roses, Double Late tulip varieties feature large, double petals. They grow to be 12-20 inches tall. Their large, showy blooms often reach 4 inches across. In addition to their expressive color these tulips tend to emit a lovely fragrance. Double Late tulips grow exceptionally well in cold winters and areas with late springs. However, these impressive blooms can be delicate in the face of harsh wind and rain conditions so growing them in a sunny but well-sheltered area may be best.
‘Cretaceous’ is a Double Late with buttery orange-yellow petals brushed with deeper scarlet. ‘Copper Image’ carries salmon or peach petals into more copper hues as the season progresses. The deep purple ‘Late Black Hero’ and the creamy white ‘Mount Tacoma’ can make an excellent contrasting pair in a garden bed or bouquet.
Are Tulips Annuals or Perennials?
Tulips are native to central Asia where they grew wild as annuals, dotting the steppes and mountainsides. They eventually made their way to the Netherlands where they were extensively cultivated and hybridized by the Dutch. Tulips are technically perennials, but hybridized tulips are often grown as annuals because their beautiful blooms in following years can show a diminished display. Some varieties perennialize more easily than others and will come back healthy and vibrant for several years or more. When growing tulips in the Great Lake state you can choose to grow them either way depending on your individual needs and growing conditions.
When to Plant Tulips in Michigan
The USDA Hardiness Zones Map for Michigan divides the state into growing Zones. The Zones are divided in 10 degree increments based on the average low winter temperatures. The northern areas of Michigan, including the upper peninsula, fall within the colder Zones 4a, 4b and 5a. The rest of the state falls within Zones 5b-6b, with very small pockets of 7a.
Tulips grow well in Zones 3-7 and appreciate cold winters, so you can grow them in any region in Michigan. Plant your tulips in the fall once soil temperatures have dropped below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Your bulbs should be in the ground about 6-8 weeks before an overnight freeze is predicted for your area. In the colder regions of Michigan, planting time for tulips will likely be from September to early October. In the more temperate areas the time to plant is around mid-October to early November.
How to Grow and Care for Tulips
Tulips appreciate full sunlight, although you can get away with planting in partially shaded areas. Well-draining soil is vital to healthy growth so be sure to amend yours if needed with peat moss, gravel or another addition to provide adequate drainage. You’ll want to mix in a low-nitrogen fertilizer at planting time and add a top dressing of it in the early spring. Some options for fertilizer include a commercial blend specific to spring bulbs, mature compost or well-aged cow manure.
Dig holes that are 2-3 times as deep as the bulb is tall. For most varieties, the holes will be 6-8 inches deep. Spacing for the holes should be about 3-8 inches apart. Space closely for a full look or spread them out a bit more if you want to stretch the space the tulips will cover. Place a bulb in each hole and cover with soil to the top. A 2-3 inch layer of mulch above the soil will serve to hold moisture and keep the bulbs cool. Water directly after planting so that the area is thoroughly wet, but not soggy. You’ll want to maintain moisture for development beneath the soil without risking overwatering. Continue to maintain these moisture levels through blooming time.
When Do Tulips Bloom in Michigan?
Bloom time may vary slightly depending on your growing region. However, bulb type is the greatest factor in blooming time, as each type of tulip has been grouped according to this feature. Fosteriana tulips are some of the earliest to flower and will make their appearance in early spring. Rembrandt’s tulips blooming time will vary but they often bloom from early spring to the end of tulip season. Double Late varieties, as their name suggests, will be late bloomers and generally flower in May.
Once your tulips have brightened your days with their cheerful hues for the season you’ll notice them begin to wilt. If growing as perennials, clip back the flower heads and let the leaves continue to grow. The plant will continue producing and storing energy for a strong bloom the following year. The foliage can be clipped back once yellow and fully limp. If you’re growing your tulips as annuals, like most growers of hybrids do, you’ll dig up the bulbs and compost them. Your garden will be ready for a host of new bulbs to plant and burst forth in exciting colors and arrangements next season.
Tulip Festival in Michigan
The Tulip Time Festival is a yearly celebration of tulips in Holland, Michigan. Over the course of 8 days in May activities occur around the town as part of the festival. Beautiful tulips in full bloom can be witnessed in all their colorful glory in public parks and along downtown streets at no charge to the public. There are both free and admission-only events hosted throughout the town during this time to celebrate these heralds of spring.
Veldheer’s Tulip Gardens is Holland’s tulip farm and features an impressive 4 million-plus tulips! An incredible opportunity to see fields of this fine flower. At DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory you can speak with the artisans as they carve you a wooden pair of shoes or watch as they carefully hand paint blue & white delftware. The Windmill Island Gardens features a working dutch windmill, nearly 40 acres of gardens and over 150,000 tulips. There are various other offerings including traditional dutch dances, historical sites, museums, baseball games and live music during the tulip festival. With over 600,000 attendees annually this is a spring event not to be missed!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © pr2is/Shutterstock.com
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