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Traffic Stopping Tulips

Spring is no time to be shy. Go ahead and plant traffic-stopping tulips.

If you’re trying to attract attention, tulips do it with ease: their bright colors are irresistible. Big, single-color flowers like the scarlet ‘Ad Rem’ make a bold statement, and two-tone blooms and colorful combinations will turn heads even at 45 mph.

Yellow is actually the most attention-grabbing color in a garden, says Jimmy Turner, director of horticulture research at the Dallas Arboretum. Turner is an adept gardener who appreciates subtleties but loves the excitement of hot colors and Texas-sized displays of blooms. Pastel colors are pretty, of course, but if you’re trying to make a splash, go with a bold palette. “If you plant pale lavender, people won’t notice,” Turner says. Yellow, orange, red, and flashy striped tulips make a huge impression blooming in great sweeps of color in flower beds, in front of evergreen foundation plantings, or along a front walk.

Fortunately, the wide world of tulips — there are thousands of varieties — includes a great number of very bright colors. A planting of several varieties will give you a show that lasts for weeks.

‘Hamilton’ is one of the brightest yellow tulips, but there are many choices: ‘Holland Emotions’ displays its rich yellow blooms on stems up to 22 inches tall. ‘Fire Wings’ is a tall red tulip with yellow-tipped petals; ‘Mickey Mouse’ is as captivating as its namesake: its red and yellow flowers are only about 14 inches tall, but they are extraordinarily impressive, especially planted by the dozens.

Fancy ‘Peach Melba’ is a double-early tulip with a colorful two-tone punch; its peachy-pink outer petals surround apricot inner petals. ‘World Peace’ is a sturdy Darwin tulip with magenta blooms, edged in golden yellow.

Don’t hold back when you’re going for a big effect: plant five tulip bulbs per square foot. If the bed along your front walk is 20 feet long and 2 feet wide, that’s 40 square feet, which comes to 200 tulips — or 400, if you’re planting on both sides of the walk. And when they bloom, they’ll knock everybody’s socks off.

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Fall salad crops can be difficult to start because garden soil is often very warm when seeds need to be planted. To trick the internal mechanism that allows seeds to germinate in warm ground, freeze them for a week or two.
    Or start seeds indoors in flats where it’s cool, and transplant seedlings into the garden immediately after germination. Be sure to include winter or cold-hardy lettuce varieties when planting. They will take temperatures down into the 20s with little or no protection. ‘Little Caesar’, Buttercrunch’ lettuces, ‘Frizz E’endive and ‘Baby’s Leaf Hybrid’ spinach are good choices. When the thermometer dips below freezing, lay an old bed sheet or floating row cover directly over the lettuce, endive and spinach for protection.