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Ask the Expert

Special Thanks To Tulip Expert Mary Hockenberry Meyer for providing her time and expertise in responding to your questions.

For additional information about Tulips and more, try these sites:

From: Massachusetts
Oak Bluffs School

Q. Why can a tulip bulb freeze under the soil during the winter and still bloom in the spring? Is it because the temperature under the ground is always warmer than 20 degrees?

A. Yes, you are correct! The air temperature is much colder than the soil temperature. The soil temperature near the surface may be 32 degrees in the winter, but does not vary much from that, especially if the ground is covered with snow. A local weather station may be able to give you actual soil temperatures so you can look at the variation ( or lack of) day to day in the winter. The tulip bulbs do not freeze, if it did get to 20 degrees they would freeze and die.

Q. How many tulips can grow from one bulb? Why?

A. Usually just one. Some species may have more than one flower bud in the bulb, or over time multiple, or side bulbs may form, but usually with tulips, one flower per bulb. Why ? Probably genetically, the bulbs tend to just form a single stem, not like daffodils which often have side bulbs or offsets.

From: Washington, D.C.
Watkins Elementary School

Q. What is going on inside the bulb while the tulip is growing?

A. Lots !! The stored sugar and starch is being converted to usable "food" for the growing plant cells. The bulb gets smaller and the leaves and flower get larger and we see it above ground. After flowering, the reverse happens: as the leaves make new sugar and starch, it is stored in the bulb and the bulb gets bigger and bigger as the flowers fade and finally the leaves turn brown. That is why it is important for the foliage to be left on until it naturally dies, so all the food can be stored for next years flower.

Q. Does the color of the tulip affect the health?

A. No, not normally, however, if you find a tulip with stripes or streaks of yellow or red, that plant may have a virus disease. Some people like the streaked flowers and years ago, when they were first found, people paid alot of money for these bulbs, but today we know this is a virus and usually doesn't affect the health of the bulb.

Q. Why do daffodils grow faster than tulips?

A. Daffodils seem to have more energy than tulips, they flower often earlier and have more foliage, and their bulbs often last longer. I think in part this has to do with more foliage and thus more food is produced and stored. Dffodil bulbs tend to live longer, just genetically they are different !

Q. How come the ones that sprouted first did not bloom first?

A. Good question !! I do not know why. Perhaps the first to flower are the strongest bulbs, with the largest amount of stored food.

Thanks for your questions !! Talk to you again soon.

Mary Meyer

Dr. Mary H. Meyer
Extension Horticulturist &
Assistant Professor
University of Minnesota
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
3675 Arboretum Drive
Chanhassen, MN 55317

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