Virtues: We love 'Shirley' tulips for their colors, which change dramatically as the flowers mature. Easy to pair with other tulips and perennials, these fall-planted bulbs make for a dynamic spring display.
Common name: 'Shirley' tulip
Botanical name: Tulipa 'Shirley'
Flowers: 'Shirley' tulip buds are creamy white, as is the whole flower when it first opens. It soon develops a purple edge around each petal and purple stippling that slowly spreads from the top of the flower to the bottom. Eventually the entire flower can look light purple.
Foliage: Strappy, upright green leaves that die back after the bulb finishes blooming.
Habit: 'Shirley' tulips stand 18 to 20 inches tall in bloom.
Season: Spring, for flowers. 'Shirley' is a tulip described as blooming in mid-spring.
How to grow 'Shirley' tulips: Plant tulips in the fall, before the ground freezes, in a hole 3 to 4 times deeper than the bulb itself is tall. (A 2-inch bulb goes in a 6- to 8-inch hole.) Choose a site with well-drained soil. Water lightly after planting and then leave the bulbs be. In spring, when the bulbs have sprouted, water lightly as needed to keep the soil from drying out. USDA Zones 3–8.
This tulip is classified as a Single Late variety. Single tulips can usually be counted on to return and bloom for several years. (Some other classifications are best treated as annuals.) If you choose to leave the bulbs in the ground for a possible repeat performance in subsequent springs, allow the foliage to keep growing and then yellow and die off naturally. A slow-release fertilizer can be applied at this time. Once the foliage dies do not water the bulbs. Read more in the post "Tulips That Come Back."
Images: Meghan Shinn / Horticulture. The top image shows the 'Shirley' tulip just after the flower bud first opened; the bottom picture shows a 'Shirley' tulip 5 or 6 days after the bud began to open.
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