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Answers from the Tulip Expert

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Answers from the Tulip Expert
Special thanks to Mary Hockenberry Meyer for providing her time and expertise in responding to your questions below.

From: Cook Elementary School
Midland, Michigan

Q: Our tulips emerged on March 25th. This date is also when we heard frogs sing for the first time. Is this just a coincidence or do 'Red Emperors' and frogs (Chorus and Spring Peepers) have something in common to make them come out of dormancy/hibernation at the same time? This is our first year of planting tulips and tracking frogs, so we don't have any past data to refer to. Thanks, The 4th and 5th Grade Science Club, Cook Elementary

A: WOW! I never thought of this, frogs and tulips flowering, good for you to see this. However, I believe they are both just common signs of spring, both happen after winter. Tulips need several weeks of cold temperatures: 6-14 weeks of near 35 degrees for the flower buds to form. I do not know much about spring peepers, although I love to hear them.

From: Ferrisburgh Central School
Ferrisburgh, Vermont

Q: What makes the different colors in tulips? Sometimes when the tulips are starting to grow, the leaves are red. What would cause that? Alex Grade 4.

A: Alex, you have sharp eyes!! Flower color is determined by the genes within the flower itself, different genes determine different colors, much like eye color in people. Some tulips are known for red or bluish color, almost like stripes, in their leaves. Some species tulips may have this, but most hybrid tulips do not have colored foliage. Tulipa fosteriana, and Tulipa greigii often have red striped foliage. It seems to me, that most of the species with red striped foliage usually have red flowers.

From: Seaford Elementary School
Seaford, Virginia

Q: Our school garden club planted our tulips according to the instructions from Journey North. The soil was ammended with compost and permatil was added to discourage voles and improve drainage. They began emerging in late Feb. Currently we have only 2 buds. The rest of the tulips have a green bloom stalk, topped with what appears to be a brown, shriveled, undeveloped bud. I have checked my master gardener references, as well as our local extension office and can find no information on this problem. I have a very disappointed garden club, could you please help? We're especially interested in how to prevent this in the future.

A: What a disappointment, especially tough to face when you have waited for a beautiful display of flowers. My suggestions as to what happened: 1. the bulbs were planted too shallow or too deep. Can you dig a couple up to check the exact depth?
2. too dry last fall and the bulbs did not develop enough to bloom properly, this has been the case for us here in the midwest for 2 years: poor bulbs due to so dry in fall and winter.

3. the bulbs were exposed to conditions prior to planting that caused them to fail to bloom, such as ethylene gas exposure prior to planting, or

4. the bulbs were of poor quality before you planted them. Without a complete history and knowledge of your conditions, I hope one of these suggestions will help.

From: LaGrange Elementary School
LaGrange, Kentucky

Q: Hi, my name is Cortnie. My class planted a tulip garden and our tulips bloomed 2 weeks ago. When we were looking at data maps we noticed that there are not many tulips that are planted in Canada, and none near in the Arctic. We were wondering if tulips can grow in that climate.

A: I believe tulips can grow quite well in southern Canada, but they will not grow in areas where there is permafrost, which covers much of the Arctic.

Credit Gayle Kloewer


Q: We also checked our soil temperature under a blanket of snow, and when it was 30 degrees outside, we discovered that it was 50 degrees under the ground. Can scientists measure the temperature under the ice at the North Pole, and is it warmer under there, just like it is in my area?

A: Good for you to check the soil temperature!! Soil is a wonderful buffer and keeps temperatures much higher than the air. Snow can further buffer from the air and depending on when it snows, soil can be much warmer than the air, just as you found out. In Minnesota where I live, our soil temperature stays close to 30 degrees all winter even though the air may be much colder, even minus 20 degrees. I cannot say exactly for the North Pole, but I think the air would be colder than the temperature in the ice.

Q: Hi, My name is Savannah and Alyson. We have a tulip question. We planted our tulips with our whole class and we made sure we controlled the variables. We all planted the same day, same time, same garden, same amount of fertilizer, same tulips, and everything the same. But our tulips did not emerge and bloom the same. In fact, most of our classmates' tulips are finished blooming, and ours have still not bloomed. Why, when everything we did was the same? It even gets the same amount of sun!

A: Did you measure to make sure you planted your bulbs at exactly the same depth? Is so, then the only difference would be the variation in the bulb itself, something you could not see from the outside was not the same for the flower bud that is on the inside. Also, could there have been a rock or other obstruction that you could not see under your bulb, was there something in the environment that affected your bulbs and not others. What a disappointment, it's hard to know exactly what caused the variation.

Q: We were also wondering why there are not any tulip gardens planted in the middle part, toward the western part of the United States. It seems like most of the tulip gardens planted are all in the east. Why is that? Don't tulips grow in states like Oklahoma and Colorado?

A: Tulips will grow in both of these states, although they may need additional water in the fall and spring to grow properly, dry in the summer is ok, but not in the fall and spring when the plants are growing.

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

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Since 1995, experts have contributed answers to students' questions about each Journey North species. These questions and answers are archived in our FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) section. You can use today's Answers from the Expert above, along with those from previous years, in the activities suggested in the lesson, "FAQ's About Journey North Species"

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