Learn to Grow: Tulips

Learn to Grow: Tulips

*Looking for a quick tulip review? Scroll down to the end.*

Fringed, Parrot, Double, French...nothing says spring like tulips. But if you're growing in a warmer climate you know that sometimes your tulips are 2" tall, if they even bloom at all. It's so frustrating to wait all winter for those colors to shine only to have nothing. So let's fix that!

First and foremost, let's dispel a myth. It's NOT a "bad batch of bulbs". Do bulbs vary in quality? Absolutely. But when an entire growing region struggles with the same problem, you can be assured there's a greater underlying reason. And for our region it's water and cool temperatures. 

Tulips need cool soil (not more than 50°) in order to root well. Keep in mind that soil temperature and air temperature are not the same thing. A general rule of thumb is that you should wait until air temperatures have been 50° or less for a minimum of two weeks before you plant your bulbs. For our  growing area, this usually means that November and December are prime planting times.

Water also plays a key role in tulip success. When you first plant your tulips, you need to give them a good watering. Not only does this help to settle the soil around the bulb, it encourages the bulb to root. The amount of watering for tulips after this initial watering depends on the amount of rain and/or snow that you receive. If you live in an area that receives consistent moisture, then most likely you won't need to supplement that. However, if you're in an area that receives little or very inconsistent moisture, you'll need to water them a few times over the course of the winter. Remember that you have planted these bulbs 6"-8" deep and you'll need enough water to reach that far.

Now that you know all about the soil temperature and water. There's one other component you need to know about and that's chilling time. Chilling time is simply the amount of time that the bulbs are exposed to temperatures between 33° and 45°. All tulip varieties have their own requirement, but generally speaking you'll want to provide between 12 and 16 weeks of chilling time. 

There has been some debate on whether gardeners in zone 7 should pre-chill their bulbs. (Pre-chilling is when you place your bulbs in 33°-45° temperatures before you plant them; zones 8 and higher need to do this) Pre-chilling is an extra step in the process, but there's no such thing as providing too much chilling time. To pre-chill at home, simply place your bulbs in a refrigerator for the amount of weeks you want to chill them, making sure they have ample airflow. However, DO NOT place them in a refrigerator with any food products. Fruits and vegetables emit ethylene gas which can kill the flower inside your bulb. If you'd rather skip this step, it's possible to buy pre-chilled bulbs. Most bulbs you buy are not pre-chilled, so you'll want to ask before you purchase if it's not specified.

Now that you're armed with the knowledge of how to troubleshoot one of the most common tulip problems in our growing area. We hope this increases your confidence in growing and makes you excited to try some specialty tulips.
Your spring will look amazing!
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