Dwarf Tulipa-PBS and Alpine Topic of the Week

Mary Sue Ittner msittner@mcn.org
Sun, 22 Feb 2004 21:24:54 PST
Dear All,

I really enjoyed Mark's introduction to this week's topic with all those 
great web sites with pictures of tulips I love and some I have never heard 
of. Like Jim McKenny I am fond of tulips of many sizes. Back before I was 
addicted to bulbs someone gave me tulips as a wedding present. The ones I 
planted in the ground only bloomed well the first year and may have sent up 
a bloom or two the second year before they went to bulb heaven, but I have 
always grown some in containers since.

My infatuation with hybrid Gladiolus diminished when I started growing 
species and the same for florist's Cyclamen which now seem to have flowers 
that are much too big, but I still love some of the big tulips.

But this is about the dwarf tulips and I am fond of them as well. I have 
tried planting a lot of them in the ground here in Northern California and 
sometimes they surprise me with a returning bloom, but even the ones that 
are supposed to do well in the ground in California haven't for me. So when 
the leaves die back I dump them out of their containers, save the larger 
bulbs, store them in a paper bag in a warm spot (upstairs in my non air 
conditioned house), and then put them in the refrigerator for 4-6 weeks 
late October or November and plant them again in containers in December. 
Whether all of them really need chilling I don't know. It just seems easier 
to treat them all the same.

So which have worked this way? The very best has been Tulipa batalinii. I 
have ordered some 'Bright Gem' and some that were supposed to be red I 
think and maybe some 'Bronze Charm', but they have always looked the same 
color to me which may just have to do with the source.

Tulipa linifolia has also been a good performer. One year I got some of 
them mixed in one of my  T. batalinii pots. At first I was quite 
distressed, but it ended up that just extended the period of bloom in that 
container. Tulipa linifolia planted at the same time as T. batalinii always 
comes up weeks to a month earlier and blooms earlier as well. I was able to 
separate them in dormancy for the most part since the bulbs were slightly 
different. I rather like thinking of them as separate species if they are 
going to look and behave so differently. When you grow something from seed 
or buy something it is nice to have a good idea of what it is going to look 

I've grown Tulipa tarda in the past, but for some reason I can't remember 
eventually tossed it. Or was it Tulipa kaufmanniana? Whatever I think it 
wasn't a very good performer. Last year I succumbed to a low priced package 
of five different Tulipa species at Orchard Supply. They were so cheap I 
didn't feel I could lose. Tulipa tarda was in that package and it didn't 
bloom. I've replanted the bulbs so they will get one more chance.

In that same packet was Tulipa turkestanica. I used to grow it when I lived 
inland and I really liked it, but here on the coast my bulbs dwindled and 
eventually stopped blooming. These last year were quite charming so it will 
be interesting to see if they decline again.

Tulipa bakeri 'Lilac Wonder' is another very satisfactory Tulipa. I have 
planted this in the ground hoping it might come back and occasionally see 
it returning, but it does much better for me in containers using my usual 
method. Funny, but I've never found its foliage "chubby." I'll have to look 
at it this year more closely.

I now am growing Tulipa clusiana which I purchased from Lauw. Before I had 
purchased some from a catalog that turned out to be one of the cultivar 
forms instead. At first I was very disappointed, but the cultivar is a very 
beautiful thing that has bloomed for me every year since so I don't mind. 
The species is really charming however so I like them both. I also grow 
what I had under the name of Tulipa clusiana var chrysantha. This one 
returned for me for a number of years in the ground in Stockton where it 
came up in my "rock garden". Here on the coast it tends to split into 
smaller bulbs a lot and only a few bloom the following year.

Tulipa vvedenskyi is a charmer with silvery wavy edged foliage and large 
orange-red flowers. It seems to be a good repeater. I just added a picture 
of it to the wiki from last year that I never got around to adding at the 
time it bloomed. I think the foliage is really cool and the flowers are 
surprisingly big.

I have also grown Tulipa praestans for years from an original purchase of a 
variety 'Fusilier' which was supposed to produce many flowers per stem. If 
it did the first year I can't remember. It never has since. That I am sure 
of. After blooming in great profusion three or four years ago it hasn't 
bloomed since, but the bulbs last year seemed bigger in dormancy so I am 
keeping my fingers crossed that this year they will bloom again. My memory 
of these bright red flowers was that were really beautiful.

Tulipa orphanidea I purchased from an unnamed source were tiny bulbs and 
did not bloom after several years so I passed them on to the BX hoping 
someone else would have better luck.

I looked at the web sites of three of the members of this list:


Pacific Rim native Plant Nursery

Odyssey Bulbs

and there were some tulips listed I have not grown and am interested in. So 
my question to Russell, Kelly, and Paige is can you tell us which of the 
species bulbs you sell do best in different climates. I am especially 
interested in ones that I might be able to grow, bloom, and get to bloom in 
subsequent years in Northern California even if I have to grow them in 
containers and give them an extended cooling period each year. Have your 
customers in different areas given you any feedback about which ones do the 
best for them?

My attempts at growing these from seed exchanges have not been very 
successful although I have some T. clusiana from my own seed coming along. 
I have wanted to have enough of it to plant in the ground since it is 
supposed to be one that will bloom in the ground in California.

Mary Sue
Mary Sue Ittner
California's North Coast
Wet mild winters with occasional frost
Dry mild summers

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