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Ask the Expert

Special thanks to Dr. Mary H. Meyer for providing her time and expertise in responding to your questions.

Springfield Elementary School

Q. We would like to move or replant our old tulip bulbs. When do we dig them up? Do we dry them before planting?

A. Dig up your tulips after all the foliage has turned yellow and died. Be careful to dig a wide hole, so you do not slice into the bulb itself. If you have a spading fork, that works well. It is best to replant the bulbs right away into their new location, but they are dormant all summer and can be replanted in the fall. If you hold them out of the ground in the summer, they should be stored at about 50-60 degrees with dry conditions.

Q. When can we plant them?

A. Plant as soon as possible, dig them up and replant the same day if possible.

Q. How do these compare to new bulbs and why?

A. New bulbs are always the biggest and best. Commercial growers have been producing their bulbs under the best growing conditions and giving them the best soil, fertilizer and growing conditions...we can usually not grow bulbs as good as they do!!

Breck School

Q. When do the roots first come out of the bulb?

A. The roots begin to grow in the fall, shortly after you plant the bulbs. The roots continue to grow as long as the soil temperatures are above 45 degrees.

Q. Are the number of ("furry little things inside the flower") stamens always equal to the number of petals?

A. Usually in tulips the stamens = the petals, but the stamens vary in number from the petals in other flowers. Tulips are monocots in the Liliaceae or Lily family where the flowers have flower parts in 3's or 6's. So usually there are 6 stamens and 6 petals on tulips.

Q. What makes a tulip red? Yellow? or striped?

A. Its genes !!! Just like one boy or girl will have brown hair or blond hair, different plants have different genes for flower color. The striped petals are fun and were highly prized in Europe in the 1600's. Today we know sometimes the stripes indicate a virus disease, but most of the bicolors are just due to the plants unique flower genes.

Q. Why are some of the leaves so wide? (14 cm across!)

A. Again, this is just the nature of a tulip. As they age and often lack flowers, one big leaf will come up. This is usually a sign that the bulb is getting old and it is time to replant with new bulbs.

Q. What is the most number of years in a row a tulip will bloom?

A. Good question!! It depends on the soil and site were the plants are growing. Tulips like a dry summer location in full sun. Yet they like moisture in the fall and winter. Depending on the kind, most hybrid tulip will only bloom for 3-5 years.

Q. What makes those little bulbs grow attached to the main bulb and would they each be able to make a flower?

A. This is the plants way of propagating itself. It is normal to have these small bulblets or offshoots. Yes, under ideal conditions, each bulb could grow and become a larger bulb and flower, but most sites are not ideal and most of these offshoots do not develop flowers.

* For more information visit:

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

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