Encore Performer Lady Tulips - Carolina Country

Encore Performer Lady Tulips

Flowers that can stand the test of time

By L.A. Jackson


Cynthia is a species tulip that can be a beautiful repeat performer in spring gardens.

Most hybrid tulips, while gorgeous, are fleeting flowers in North Carolina — planted in the fall, they are one-shot wonders that usually grace gardens for only a single spring. This is because, in our region, there are usually not enough winter days of extended cold to stimulate tulip bulbs into flowering spring after spring.

However, exceptions exist, and one particularly pretty example is the lady tulip (Tulipa clusiana), variously categorized as a species, botanical, heirloom or miscellaneous tulip. Although humble in height — about a foot tall — and with smallish flower heads, it can still be a real cutie in the spring garden. And a definite plus the lady tulip has over bigger, fancier hybrids is that, true to its temperate East Asian origins, it doesn’t need an extended winter chill to wake up its inner flower power spring after spring.

In short, with just a little care, lady tulips can become reliable repeat performers in the spring garden. If kept happy, they can even naturalize and spread by way of stolons or offsets.

Lady tulips love full sun, and they prefer neutral soil, which can be easily pH-balanced in acidic growing grounds with an annual light dusting of lime in the winter. Good drainage is essential, meaning these springtime dazzlers will perform well in raised beds, rock gardens and even containers.

If deer are a problem in your area, stay vigilant because they could munch on these pretties. Planting them close to the house can help keep Bambi at bay, and an early spring spraying of a commercial deer repellent will add an extra layer of protection.;

There are many lady tulip variations. For starters, “Lady Jane” is a charmer with its bicolor coat of outer red and inner white petals — an appealing look that is echoed by the similar, well-named “Peppermint Stick.”

“Tinka” also has comparable colors, but it blushes more, having its rich red contrasted with a pale yellow. For a real zinger, go with the popular “Cynthia,” a sassy selection that combines stop sign red on the outside of the petals with taxi cab yellow on the inside.

Although an oddity, the lady tulip won’t be that hard to find. I have even spotted “Cynthia” at big-box garden shops in the early autumn. There are, of course, online avenues, and three good e-retailers to check are: Brent and Becky’s BulbsTerra Ceia Farms and John Scheepers, Inc.

Garden To-Do's for October

"Lilac Wonder" is another pretty species tulip.

There are other species of tulips that, like the lady tulip, can settle into a southern garden and flower for many springs to come. Tulipa bakeri “Lilac Wonder,” with its pinkish petals surrounding simmering yellow flower centers, is a fairly common offering at garden centers in the fall. The bright yellow blooms of Tulipa sylvestris make this cutie worth considering, too, but while it is more of an online find, this European native is worth the hunt for history buffs because it was a garden favorite of Thomas Jefferson at his Monticello home.

  • Vegetable plants that were afflicted with cucumber or tomato mosaic virus this growing season should be pulled up and tossed away —not composted. Also, these diseases can overwinter in perennial weeds, so do a fall cleanup in the veggie patch to remove these pesky plants as well to help prevent the reoccurrence of mosaic virus.
  • Shrubs and small trees that need to be relocated can be transplanted now. Moving them in the fall will give their roots time to establish themselves before leaf growth starts next spring.

About the Author

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. If you would like to ask him a question about your garden, contact L.A. at: lajackson1@gmail.com

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