Growing multi-headed tulips

by Adam Pasco

I'm not sure why multi-headed tulips aren't more widely grown, as I've found their performance outstanding in patio pots.

Pink and yellow flowers of Tulip 'Antoinette'Much of my gardening time in September is spent planning for spring colour. I'm not wishing the year away - I love autumn in all its fading glory - but now is the time to buy spring-flowering bulbs for planting over the next couple of months.

My shopping list is always a long one, including all my favourites from daffodils to hyacinths, fritillarias, crocus, and of course tulips.

Last autumn, in my search to find something new to grow, I discovered a selection of multi-headed tulips. Why grow tulips that produce one stem carrying one flower at the top, when you can grow varieties with many flowers per stem?

I'm not sure why multi-headed tulips aren't more widely grown, as I've found their performance outstanding in patio pots. One of my favourites is a glorious variety called 'Antoinette', picture above. Not only does each bulb produce stems carrying three to six flowers, but the flowers change colour from pale creamy yellow to rich pale pink as they fade. This was quite unexpected, as the photo on the packet just showed newly open yellow flowers. I wasn't expecting such a transformation, but loved its long-lasting display.

Every spring at Gardeners' World Magazine we receive letters and photos from readers describing multi-headed tulips who think they've grown something unique, but there are many lovely varieties to choose from. Just to whet your appetite why not try growing:

Tulipa 'Belicia', with double flowers that change colour from lemon edged crimson to white with red edges.

T. 'Candy Club', with creamy white flowers fading to purple.

T. 'Colour Spectacle', with pale yellow petals with broad red streaks.

T. 'Happy Family', with purple petals and white edges.

T. 'Orange Bouquet', with orange and red petals.

T. 'Toronto', with pinkish-red flowers.

T. praestans 'Unicum', with bright red flowers, dwarf habit, and variegated foliage.

T. 'Weisse Berliner', with pure ivory white flowers.

Tulip bulbs can be planted far later than other bulbs and will still flower well in spring. Get daffodils and others planted during September if possible as tulips can be planted during October and November. I've known people plant tulips well into the New Year and still get good results.

Some claim that late-planted tulips avoid being infected by tulip fire, a botrytis disease similar to grey mould, but I haven't been able to verify this.

Most of mine will be planted in large patio pots, but I'll keep the pots in a sheltered position once planted to avoid the compost in pots getting too cold or waterlogged. Sheltered for the worst of the winter these bulbs will be rooting and growing unseen, and can be positioned in their final position once shoots are showing in spring.

And of you want more flower power from a single pot why not plant a layer of tulips deep down, cover with compost, then plant a layer of early flowering dwarf bulbs like crocus, grape hyacinths or dwarf narcissus on top. In that way you'll get two (or more) flower displays from each pot. Roll on spring!

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Gardeners' World Web User 05/09/2011 at 17:14

And, if you do want to grow your tulips in pots like Adam and have squirrels in your garden or nearby, remember to put netting over the pots or they will dig them up. Tulip bulbs seem to have a smell like ambrosia for squirrels.

Gardeners' World Web User 05/09/2011 at 17:22

They make a spectacular show, the multi-headed tulips, I agree, Adam. I'm waiting delivery of 50 T.praestans "Van Tubergens variety" which does not have variagated leaves but should look great scattered through my plantation of grape hyacinths. It is lovely planning for the spring when most of the jobs in the garden are clearing up ones!

Gardeners' World Web User 05/09/2011 at 21:49

Thanks happymarion. You should be able to create a lovely display next spring with your tulips, but do try some planting combinations with other things too.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/09/2011 at 12:01

Yes, Adam, I have ordered 100 T. clusiana "Cynthia", not a multi-headed variety but a lovely species tulip, which I will plant among forget-me-nots. The weather this year means that the annuals that seed themselves are already well-established plants for next year so you can see where to plant, and the grape hyacinths are already eight inches or so Autumn is three weeks early because of the warm spring and it feels like it in Bristol with lots of rain and higj winds. It is Wellington boot time and working from the paths for now as I would hate to wreck the structure of my soil.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/09/2011 at 20:14

hi, ive looked online with t&g for multi headed tulips, but can't find them. could you please tell me where i can purchase them from.

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