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 a little less spread and produce flowers that are indeed reminiscent of a tulip, in a shocking almost iridescent hot pink. The pink is really several petal-like bracts, but there are small lavender blue flowers on the stalk below them.
Most references suggest they are fit for zone 9 and higher but I have seen that they will perform well in zone 8. I have even seen them growing in zone 7, but I did not have a chance to visit with the owner to inquire about the cultural practices.
But growing this ginger gets interesting, and can open the door for just about anyone to enjoy the extraordinary beauty these flowers offer. The Siam tulip is deciduous and actually goes dormant from November through May. What could be better for those of us in colder zones who want to create that look of paradise during the long growing season?
This ginger, comprised of rhizomes, prefers deep, fertile well-drained soil in a location with morning sun and afternoon shade or filtered light and should be planted 2 to 3 inches deep, spacing plants 2 feet apart. If you are buying them via mail order, this is most likely what you will receive, and 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.
The Siam tulip in the landscape will need 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 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 but will eventually go into dormancy with the shorter days and cooler temperatures. If you live in a colder climate, 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 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.
Gingers are treasured tropicals that can be enjoyed by everyone. Give the Siam tulip a try and see if you don’t agree.
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga., and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and the highly acclaimed “Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden.”