On Gardening

Siam tulip can be enjoyed by all

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceMarch 22, 2013 

If you’re ready to stop thinking about winter, let your mind go to exotic flowers like the Siam tulip. Now imagine it growing in your backyard or in containers around the porch, patio or deck. It can happen, and now is the time to do a little planning.

Botanically speaking, the Siam tulip is known as Curcuma alismatifolia. It is native to Thailand and is one of the gingers treasured as a cut flower. It is also closely related to the ginger used to make the powder we know as curry. The plants reach about 2 feet tall with slightly smaller spread and produce flowers reminiscent of a tulip, in an almost-iridescent hot pink. The pink is really several petal-like bracts, but there are small lavender blue flowers on the stalk below them.

They will perform well in zone 8, which includes Johnston County and other areas of Eastern North Carolina. I have even seen them growing in zone 7, which includes the Triangle, but I did not have a chance to inquire about the owner’s cultural practices.

The Siam tulip is deciduous and goes dormant from November through May.

This ginger, which grows from rhizomes, prefers deep, fertile well-drained soil in a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade or filtered light. Plant 2 to 3 inches deep, spacing plants 2 feet apart. If you are buying them via mail order, now is the time to shop. Last year, large garden centers everywhere offered them in mum-sized pots in June. This serves as a testimony that they work well in containers. If you move the containerized plants to the landscape, plant at the same depth that they are growing in the container, and add a good layer of mulch.

In the landscape, Siam tulip needs plenty of moisture, about an inch per week, during the long growing season. Those in containers will need watering every other day or even daily during the hottest part of the summer. Consider partnering them with bananas or Lime Zinger elephant ears, letting these enormous plants provide the needed afternoon shade protection. Lime green plants like Electric Lime coleus would make a stunning companion.

The Siam tulip will thrive all summer into early fall. If you live in zone 7 or colder climates, dig the rhizomes after the first frost. Remove all of the foliage and store rhizomes in a box of peat in a cool dry location. It helps to mist the rhizomes from time to time, maintaining a little moisture and humidity. (If you live in zone 8 and have very well-drained soil, you probably don’t have to dig.)

If you are growing Siam tulip in a container, move it into a cool protected area, giving a very minimal watering once a week, returning the container to its location after spring temperatures have warmed.

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