Combining compatible colors of tulips can offer that wow” factor we’ve all been looking for.”””

With autumn finally here, it is time to start thinking about a renewed and brighter 2012. Tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs add a refreshing break from a long winter, and their appearance in the garden has been a joy each new season for over 400 years.

Opposite page, the blend of ‘Orange Sun’,’Golden Oxford’ and ‘Daydream’ tulips offers abrilliant, sunny swath of color.
Photo courtesy of DeVroomen Holland Garden Products unless otherwise noted.

Nothing gives you or your customers a better feeling than to see colorful, spring-flowering bulbs, popping out of the ground and coming into their full flowering glory. Now is the time to make this happen, since these little miracles need to be planted to give them time to develop roots and feed themselves during the long, cold winter.

What’s new?

We have seen new trends in the past few years to more “blends” of bulbs and perennial-and-bulb combinations instead of the mass, one-color look. Most new blends feature tulips with flowers having the same heights, bloom time and flower size. Blends of two to five different varieties have been springing out all over the world as people are looking for more than just the large splash of all one color. And as customers are experimenting with many color combinations and mixtures, we have even been pleasantly surprised to see how great varieties look together – combinations that we would not have dreamed about putting together in the past. Be creative and create your own blend.

Or try a mixture of bulbs with early-flowering perennials. These combinations can last for years to come.

Making it happen

The best way to come up with a new look is to decide if you want a long-term flower display or a mass splash. In the Midwest, you can get up to 40 days of tulip flower if you plant early-, mid-season and late-flowering varieties. Add items like Galanthus, Crocus and other minor bulbs – plus later-blooming selections like Dutch iris and alliums – and you can extend the bloom season to more than 100 days.

To create a new blend, make sure you choose varieties that are the same height and bloom at the same time. There are 15 different types of tulip bulbs, which are classified by having similar characteristics such as height, flower shape and size, bloom time, and so on. As a rule, earlier flowering varieties are shorter (6 to 12 inches), and later flowering are taller (18 to 24 inches). But within each group you will find exceptions, so check out catalogs and/or web sites for bloom times and heights.

Once you have decided which type of tulip you like, it is just a matter of deciding on colors. We like to use a lot of Triumph, Lily Flowering or Double tulips, since you get a better range of colors; these include more purples and pinks, along with two tones or colors on one flower. You will find a little less selection in the Darwin hybrids, with colors leaning more toward red, yellow, white and pink shades. These are good varieties, however, for bulb-and-perennial plant combinations.

Imagine how dreary this entrance would appear without the welcoming splash of color.

You’ve selected your colors: Now you’re ready to plant. Before you dig, be sure to mix bulbs well to get a pleasing, even blend when they bloom. Just make sure you place the bulbs close enough together to get the full look – say, 5 to 6 inches apart for most tulips.

One thing you must remember: What looks perfect in one location may not look the same in another part of the country. Tulips love the cooler days and nights of spring. Most varieties will bloom for two to three weeks, but if temperatures are warmer than normal, you may get a shorter bloom time. Plus, with different types, they may not reach their peak at the same time.

Highlighting signs and buildings

Using bulbs and blends of bulbs in front of company signs and/or buildings is guaranteed to draw attention – both to the plants and the structures. As we travel down the road day after day, we stop noticing things like signage and other items in front of buildings. But add a splash of color in spring, and people will notice the change and be drawn to the company signs again.

Imagine planting these bright colored blooms along the walkway from your parking lot to the front door. When your employees and customers walk in your door, they’re happy to be starting the day with a bright outlook. After seeing beautiful blooms greeting them each spring day, how can they resist?

Potted perennials

We have seen a new interest in bulbs used as perennials by many companies that produce finished-container presentations. Even though many bulbs are perennials, most companies and customers viewed these separately in the past. But now we see alliums, daffodils, Muscari, Scilla and others bulbs being added to many perennial lines.

Bulbs are easy to add to programs. Be sure to plant them in pots with good drainage. Let the bulbs form a good root system before winter, and store them with other perennials during the cold months. Make sure you bait for mice and other winter rodents.

If you’re using tall alliums, like Globemaster or A. giganteum, use one bulb per 2-gallon pot. You should plant bulbs just below the soil to leave enough room below the bulb for the roots to develop; this will feed and anchor the plants. Smaller varieties, like Allium moly, A. caeruleum, Muscari, Scilla, Narcissus and others, should be placed five to eight bulbs per gallon container.

Customers are always looking for color. What’s better than colorful bulbs in a gallon container with other spring-flowering perennials?

It’s time to rethink planting bulbs the old way: using large masses of one color. It is exciting to come up with different combinations and see how the outcome captures people’s attention. You will be surprised by how dramatic these blends look in the spring – and by the benefits you’ll reap by taking the time to plant bulbs this fall.

The combination of Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’ and perennial Dicentra creates a dramatic look in the spring garden.

Eric Olson has been sales and marketing adviser for DeVroomen Holland Garden Products for more than 20 years. Prior to working with DeVroomen, he was the co-owner of Tulip Gardens in Holland, Mich., where he grew more than 3.5 million tulips for the town’s Tulip Time Festival each May. He can be reached at