We would like to grow tulips in our front garden. I have tried all my local nurseries and none keep tulips. Do you know where I can buy tulips from? Appreciate your guidance.
Thanks for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners with your tulip question.
Tulips (and other spring bulbs) are a wonderful sight in the spring, especially if you plant ones that bloom in succession from early to late spring, and in colours that complement or contrast with the foliage and/or flowers of the rest of your spring-emerging plants.
However, the reason you cannot find tulip bulbs in your local nurseries is because now is not the right time to plant them. The bulbs need to go through a cold spell in order to bloom and thrive, but also if you planted them now they would start to grow and expend all their energy by drawing on their food stores contained in the bulb to produce leaves (but no flowers). Then next spring they would not have enough stored nutrients to bloom. The best time to plant tulips is when daytime Celsius temperatures are consistently in the mid to low-teens, i.e. between late September to mid-November in the GTA.
We cannot specifically endorse any nursery or garden centre where you might find tulips in late summer or early fall. However, many of the larger GTA nurseries have websites with a plant search function which will show you the plants they carry, so a few minutes online may save you some in-person visits. A look at the Landscape Ontario site can pinpoint the nurseries closest to you; you can narrow down your search from there. Here is their website, https://landscapeontario.com/find-a-company (just enter Retail Garden Centres from the drop-down menu in the Find your professional Search tool). You can call some of the smaller nurseries that don’t have online catalogues to see what they usually carry in the fall, and when their bulbs are likely to arrive in-store.
Also, most Canadian bulb companies currently have catalogues for this fall’s bulbs available online, and they will ship them to you at the right time for planting. Just do a search for “buy bulbs online Canada” and you should be able to get a few to choose from. Our current economy seems like a good time to support local companies and some of the smaller nurseries and Canadian bulb-order companies that may be struggling for business.
Once your bulbs arrive, please consult our Gardening Guide (link below) on planting tulips. Also see the link to a previous post – it refers to a blog called “The Laidback Gardener” which has useful information on the best kinds of tulips to buy that will return year after year and give you many years of enjoyment and more value for your dollar. The site suggests planting tulips at least 12 inches deep – advice that I have taken to very good result.
In addition, consider planting other bulbs (there are so many more than just tulips!) and layering them to best effect. This is a scheme where you plant the biggest bulbs the deepest, and the smallest ones at the top, in a sort of lasagna-layering effect. There are many online teaching resources available. It is fairly easy to do and can give you a succession of flowers from mid-March through to late May or early June (starting with white snowdrops and yellow winter aconite (whose interesting foliage and seed heads persist for quite some time), moving to blue/purple/yellow crocuses, then blue-striped white siberian squill, blue or white scilla, pale blue Glory of the Snow (chionodoxa), hyacinths and daffodils of all sizes and colours. If you also add various alliums to the mix, they will bloom from late May to mid to late June, and help get you to the point where your spring-blooming perennials and your annuals take over the show. Planting larger bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and alliums behind other perennials will help conceal any unsightly decaying bulb foliage. The foliage is important to leave in place to allow the plant to create and store nutrients for next season’s display. It also acts as an organic mulch that, when eventually decomposed, will add beneficial nutrients to your soil.
I’ve included below a link to our guide about the best bulbs for naturalizing, i.e. ones that will multiply and spread over time. Smaller bulbs that naturalize may spread into your lawn, so this is something to consider before planting if you have a lawn and like to mow it early in the season. Some types of allium seed themselves. This can lead to interesting and charming effects that you may not have thought of yourself (and the seed heads lend interest to your garden), but if this idea does not suit, you might want to remove the flowers once they start to form seed.
Finally, please also think about planting some native bulbs and rhizomes/tubers, e.g. the previously-mentioned winter aconite, as well as trillium, trout lily, hepatica, bloodroot and camassia are a few to consider. They are beautiful, and it is very rewarding to help create a system that supports local wildlife, including bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. I’ve included some links below in case you are interested.
I hope you have a wonderful sea of tulips (and perhaps other bulbs) to welcome spring 2021!