Get ready to plant your tulips for spring blooms

August 31, 2016

Great ideas, like great people, are often on the outer edges or “fringe” of life. Teddy Roosevelt was the first to call zealous people the “lunatic fringe.” But fringe in the garden is odd but welcome.

Like a border of hanging threads on a tapestry, decorating a flower the fringe is at once exotic and romantic. 

Fringed tulips have flower petals that are bordered with finely cut fringes. Also known as Crispa tulips, fringed tulips have fascinating lacy petals that bloom in a wide variety of colors and shapes, all with delicate lacy fringes.

These May-blooming tulips are easy to grow, and a sensation in the garden or as long-lasting cut flowers. They are generally very hardy, able to survive in USDA zones 3-7. The fringed tulip Sensual Touch does not even look like a tulip, but more of a fully double peony or Old English rose.

Probably the most fully double tulip around, it is a striking mix of hot orange, apricot and deep tangerine with slight bursts of pink all fringed with pale yellow lace. At 16 to 18 inches tall, Sensual Touch is perfect for cutting. 
The tulip Cummins is a striking deep lavender that is playfully fringed with crystal white cuts along each petal edge. It has a classic Old World goblet shape. 

An old standby is the Burgundy Lace fringed tulip whose dark burgundy flowers are heavily fringed. Burgundy Lace is very long-lasting, with strong, tall stems. As a bonus, Burgundy Lace is one of the few truly fragrant tulips. 

Fall is the time to plant fringed tulips. For best effect, always cluster tulips in groups of at least six or eight. A good rule of thumb for deciding how many tulip bulbs to plant is four bulbs per square foot, spaced about six inches apart.

If you are growing fringed tulips for cutting of course you can simply plant long rows in a separate cutting garden, and you won't disturb your regular flower beds. Tulips prefer neutral soil, with a pH as close to 7 as possible. If you are planting in woodlands or where the soil is very acidic you may have to amend the soil to bring it up to neutral pH. 

All tulips bulbs need well-draining soil with at least six hours of sunlight. Wait to plant tulips until the soil cools down to about 55 degrees F. If you plant tulips too early the warm weather might trick them into sprouting in the fall rather than next spring. Remember, the bulbs need to grow a good root system before going dormant over the winter. 

A word of caution, deer and rabbits love eating tulip blossoms and buds, so plan accordingly with a high fence or plant in a sheltered spot. 

If you plant fringed tulips along your driveway, keep them free of road salt that might kill them. 

A nice spot for tulips is under deciduous trees where the sun can get through before the trees fully leaf out. 

Plant Crispa or fringed tulips this fall and next spring you may find yourself running your fingers along the finely cut petals and wowing guests with exotic bouquets. That, I suppose, is just a fringe benefit.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.