The best way to grow tulips

Tulipa ‘Parrot King’ is a kingly parrot tulip

Yes, I’ve had problems with squirrels and tulips. Who hasn’t? It almost put me off ever planting tulips again. But I’ve learned that the best way to foil squirrels when growing tulips is to grow more tulips. Like the British way of making tea: Plant “one for me, and one for thee (you nasty little squirrel), and one for the pot.” (They can’t snap off every flower head when you plant lots.) Then, after you plant, cover the planting hole with Acti-Sol hen manure pellets. Four years running, I haven’t lost a bulb yet.

After we emigrated to Canada, our mother kept up an almost weekly correspondence with her mum back in Wales. Each fall, Gran would write about how she’d planted hundreds of bulbs. She loved parrot tulips, and they always remind me of her. So the best way to grow tulips is to grow tulips that you love.
Lily-flowered tulips are elegance on a stick, and ‘Ballerina’ is one of my favourites. I’m very happy with her tutu of vernal sweet pea (Lathyrus verna) here and think I need more. So the best way to grow tulips is to grow them behind another plant – in a combo that brings out the best in each other.
Before the rains, there was a veil of serviceberry (Amelanchier). So the best way to grow tulips… is to use see-through plants that frame the tulips and create a sense of surprise.
Early-flowering Tulipa ‘Verona’ is a pale yellow, peony-flowered tulip that fades to cream. So the best way to grow tulips…is to select tulips that bloom from early, to mid and late spring, embracing in their many, many shapes.
Tulips can also be fragrant, too. This one might (or might not) be the scented Tulipa ‘Sanson’ which I planted two years ago. So the best way to grow tulips is to grow them close to a spot where you can bend down to enjoy their perfume.
The best way to grow tulips… is to plant tulips. Like the gal who just ordered too many bulbs from – she is her grandmother’s granddaughter – which will arrive by mail at planting time.
And a May day that rained, sleeted and hailed (twice) might just be the best day to be glad you grow tulips.


  1. Your tulips look great! I have some of those parrot tulips also. They're my favorite. The tulips from Colorblends from the Toronto Fling are fantastic – tall and long-lasting! I may now have to look into the vernal sweet pea.

    1. Parrot tulips are pretty cool, aren't they? I'm really glad you liked the Colorblends — they were a very generous sponsor for the Toronto Fling. It made me wish I was a US attendee, so I could get the bulbs, too. Yes, the vernal sweet pea is an excellent spring bloomer. I'll be looking for more myself this spring.

  2. What a gorgeous array of tulips you have! Mine were all gifted to me by my mom a few years ago and are all the more special because of that fact.

    I use acti-sol chicken poop in the beds – it's great stuff! Haven't had an issue with squirrels digging up my tulips yet (which is a bit of a miracle considering how much damage they did to all the beds this past winter) but I'll definitely remember that should they decide to change their ways.

    1. Our city squirrels need more of your country squirrel DNA. Ours are not only notorious diggers, but notorious snappers-off of flower heads. But I've only lost a couple of flower tops this spring, miraculously, and as I said, the claims they make for Acti-Sol have proven to be totally correct in my garden.

  3. What a lovely post full of memories and full of gorgeous tulips. I must try to get the parrot one you mention..Parrot King. As for squirrels…well I don't have them eating the tops but digging up from below just at the end of the bloom finishing. So now I put lots of chilli pepper flakes in the soil when planting and that seems to help. I haven't tried the acti-sol but will and thank you for that. May I mention a fantastic color tulip I didn't believe would come true…it is called Muvota a Triumph tulip. Blooms just ahead of Ballerina. Purple and orange…be still my heart.

    1. Just looked up 'Muvota' and what a lovely tulip it is! This year, I'll be planting a coral, wine and purple palette of tulips to coordinate with all the orange flowers and foliage in that colour range. Spring is the time my dry-shade garden is at its most flowerful, so I might as well go for the gusto!

    2. Any ideas to stop the squirrels from snapping off tulips is appreciated.
      The chicken manure, blood meal and spray on repellant have stopped the bulb eating, but not the flower snapping!

    3. Gail, spraying flowers with a predator urine (such as wolf) is said to deter them. You can buy this kind of product online or even at Canadian Tire. One brand is Plantskydd. I've never used it myself – I just grit my teeth and plant more tulips.

  4. Used cat litter was a good deterrent in the days when I had a cat. I recently planted bulbs by digging deeply and using lots of blood meal and bone meal – but they ignored that. I'm glad to know about acti-sol, shall try it next year. AS for predator urine for the blooms, that sounds worth trying next year too.

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