While tulips can certainly fall under the category of winter flower, when grown without cold treatment, in the ground, and uncovered here in WNC, tulips generally mature in early spring.
Even with the warm temperatures we had in late February and early March, tulips are just now ready. In fact, tulips need 12-14 weeks of cold weather to grow long stems and have healthy blooms.
Tulips are a happy spring flower that is grown from a bulb. Tulips come in a variety of forms: single, double, parrot, and fringe.
I have always loved tulips. I like the colors and the shape of the flower. They are relatively easy to procure and are reminders of spring. In fact, in our March wedding 20 years ago, my bridesmaids carried bouquets of colorful tulips down the aisle. You can see the bouquet next to the cake below.
Care and Maintenance
Tulip bulbs should be planted in the fall in holes or trenches ideally 2 to 3 times the size of the bulb. Make sure bulbs are not touching.
Bulbs need cold weather in order to correctly develop flowers and produce long stems, so make sure your area gets 12-14 weeks of weather below 55 degrees. If you don't get cold weather, bulbs can be refrigerated for the required time and then planted.
Once tulips start to shoot out leaves and buds, they are more sensitive to cold and should be protected against weather dropping below 30 degrees for long amounts of time.
Make sure to water tulips regularly, especially as they are putting on growth.
Flower farmers treat tulips as an annual. When I harvest a tulip, I pull the entire plant out of the ground, including the bulb. This gives me longer stems to use in bouquets and arrangements. I cut off the bulb to compost and save the flower. The bulb cannot be reused.
The average tulip bulb has a lifespan of 2-5 years if left in the ground. If you choose to leave your bulbs in the ground when you harvest, make sure to harvest only the stem and leave the leaves to continue to photosynthesize and recharge the bulb.
One of the great things about tulips is that they store well. Harvest the tulip bulb on or off, store them dry at 40 degrees for 2 weeks, cut off the bulb (if there is one), and place the flower into water. It will re-hydrate and come back to life.
Remember that tulip stems will continue to grow after harvest once placed in water. Make sure to take this into account when arranging with tulips.
What to consider when purchasing tulip bulbs
Tulip bulbs can be purchased un-chilled, partially chilled, and fully chilled. This means that you can buy tulip bulbs that have already received their full amount of cool temperature (12-14 weeks) or some amount of cooling time. Chilled bulbs are going to give you longer stems and properly developed buds. Buy pre-chilled bulbs if you live in an area where you do not get enough cold weather.
This post is part of a year-long series on flowers and plants that we have growing on the farm. Check out other flowers that we love: