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Lets Grow Some Tulips

Take a journey with me...

I find it so helpful to have a glimpse into how a farmer is growing my food, and I think the same importance exists for flower farmers and their clients. Plus.... learn a little to have successful tu

Let's start at the beginning.

Tulips are a flower grown from a bulb. These bulbs contain all the nutrients they need and even have their flower stored inside from the previous growing season. Tulips do need two things to grow successfully, cold treatment, which is usually given to tulips by placing them in the soil in the fall, and roots to drink water. Tulips can be given this cold treatment out of the ground as well. More about this in week 3.

One misnomer is that tulips are perennials. Have you ever planted tulips and noticed that every year you have fewer flowers or no flowers at all? This is because, unfortunately, we do not have the appropriate growing environment to perennialize most tulip varieties. And sadly, very few places in the world do have adequate conditions to perennialize and propagate tulips. There is a reason Holland is known for its tulip festivals. The result is that as a flower farmer, tulips are grown as annuals. We must bring in new tulip bulbs every year. Each of those bulbs will only produce one flower, and with their high dollar and expensive shipping costs, they are a flower that comes with a high price.


Tulip Types It is overwhelming the number of tulip varieties that exist. Even as a flower farmer, I, too, find it overwhelming, but the vast options are what make them exciting. There are 13 primary groups of tulips.

Single Early Single cup-shaped flowers, some of the earliest to flower

Double Early Double, peony-like flowers on short-stemmed, early-flowering

Triumph Single-flowered with stems of medium height, flowering in mid-season (most commonly sold in grocery stores)

Darwin Huge goblet-like single flowers, long-stemmed, flowering in mid-season

Single Late Oval to almost squarish single flowers, pointed petals, long-stemmed and late-flowering

Lily-Flowered Long, slim, single flowers with pointed petals flaring out at their tips, long-stemmed and mid-season flowering

Fringed Single and double-flowered, petals edged with crystalline fringes, long-stemmed and mid or late-season flowering

Viridiflora Single-flowered, having green streaks or markings on their petals, long-stemmed and late-season flowering

Rembrandt Single-flowering, broken flower colors; caused by a non-spreading virus infection, long-stemmed and mid-season flowering

Parrot Single-flowering, unusual fringed, curled and twisted petals, mainly late-flowering, stems of variable length-stemmed and late-season flowering

Double Late / Peony-flowered Large, fully double flowers, variable stem length and late-season flowering

Fosteriana Hybrids Many cultivars, subspecies, varieties and hybrids; single slender flowers; broad leaves sometimes mottled or striped; variable stem length and early-season flowering

Species: Known as Botanical Tulips; small single and delicate flowers; very hardy and a true perennial in our growing area.

That's nice, Anna; why does any of that matter?

Well... understanding the habits of a specific group leads us farmers to understand what each group needs to grow successfully. Remember, I different mentioned that tulip bulbs need cold to grow? Do you notice that different groups of tulips bloom early, mid, or late in the spring season? Tulips bloom at different times because each group and even varieties within a group need a different number of cold weeks to grow successfully.

Nature is quite amazing! Pay close attention, things are in motion, set by biological clocks in quite astonishing ways.

Q. What happens if you grow a tulip without giving it any cold weeks?

One of two things will occur. You will grow a roughly 4" green leaf, and then the plant will halt growth. Nothing more will happen. Or... You may get a bloom, but it will most likely not have a stem longer than 4".

Q. What tulip groups do you suggest I plant in my landscape?

There are a few tulip groups that I have had decent luck growing in my landscape. Blooms have been present for multiple years, even though they have declined over time.

Best Chances: Fosteriana, Species

Worth Trying: Darwin, Single Early


So how do we get tulips through the winter?

Well..... it's complicated, labor-intensive, and just downright crazy! 😣 But as you see, it's possible and incredibly rewarding.

Here's a brief overview of how we're "forcing," the term used by the flower farming industry, tulips through the winter.

~ Plant bulbs in soil-filled crate.

*This year we did dabble in hydroponic, aka water grown, tulips. Move of that to come next winter. ,

~ Provide the optimum cold weeks by storing crates in our walk-in cooler

~ Bring crates into a mild environment with lighting once the colling weeks for that variety have been achieved

That all sounds pretty straightforward, right..... Well....not! So many factors affect the successful growth of tulips. Cooling weeks, root development, humidity, temperature, and the amount of light all play a role in what should be perfect harmony. When growing outdoors, nature takes care of everything for us, but when growing in a controlled environment, we humans are much less attuned.

Failure is inevitable. Even though this is the third year I have forced tulips through the winter, this year I still have had 6" stems due to not providing enough cooling weeks; I have had buds that rot when first forming due to not providing enough water while they were receiving their cooling; and I have had stems fail right at the moment I thought a variety was ready to harvest due to too much humidity during the growing process.

The process of growing or "forcing" tulips during the winter months pushes a grower to the limits of possibilities. It is one of the hardest processes of growing cut flowers. Even though it can be upsetting when failures happen, it forces you to learn, explore and try again. It is also the most rewarding! When your succeeding more than failing, you have a cooler full of beautiful cut flowers in the dead of winter.

And in the end......

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