Tulip Test Garden Map Journey North for Kids Journey North Resources Report Your Sightings! Tulip Home Page Tulip Home Page Tulip Home Page Journey North Home Journey North in the Classroom Journey North Garden News

Frequently Asked Questions
Students' Questions and Experts' Answers
Contributed by Tulip Expert Eve Blanchard
Ways to use in the Classroom

Special thanks to Eve Blanchard for providing her time and expertise in responding to your questions below.


Van Meter Community School
Van Meter, IA

Q. Students are wondering why our tulips in earlier gardens from 3-4 years ago are smaller with smaller and fewer blossoms each year. Do tulips wear out? Thanks for answering our question. Van Meter Comm. School 5th graders

A:
Yes, most tulips do wear out! Unlike daffodils, which come back year after year, many types of tulips don’t even bloom the second year. So you were lucky to get a few years of blooms from yours. But some types of tulips will return. The Red Emperor tulip we use in the Journey North experiment can bloom for two or more years. But it needs some help from you!
First, a bit about what makes tulips tick: In order to bloom, a tulip uses the energy stored in the bulb. (It has everything it needs the first year!) The leaves then make food (through photosynthesis). This restores the bulb’s energy and prepares it to flower again. But if you cut the leaves back too soon, if they died back for other reasons, or if the soil isn’t very fertile, the bulbs may not have had enough energy to bloom again.
Here are some tips for coaxing your tulips to flower another year:

  • Plant new bulbs in well-drained soil enriched with a low-nitrogen fertilizer such as well-rotted cow manure or special bulb fertilizer.

  • Each fall and spring, fertilize the plants as above.

  • After your tulip blooms fade, snap off the flower stems at the base. Let the leaves continue to grow until they die back naturally.

  • Journey North tulips must be planted 6 inches deep. But, tulips are more likely to bloom again if you dig them up and plant them 8 inches deep (from the bottom of the bulb to the top of the soil).

Barb Horton
Florissant MO

Q. We had a single bulb grow two stems and both bloomed we were wondering why?

A: Interesting! Most tulips have only one bloom. Have you dug up your bulbs? If you found two, you could conclude that the bulbs were planted on top of each other. Another possibility is that a parent bulb formed small offsets (“daughter” bulbs). It takes a few years for these to bloom, but when they do, they can come up so close together that they look like they came from one bulb. Here’s one last possibility: Some types of tulips – called “bunch-flowering” tulips – do produce many blooms from each bulb. (Journey North’s Red Emperor tulips are not in this category.)
What did you find when you dug up your bulbs? Did it support your theory?

Q. we planted our bulbs the same way but some were only 8cm. tall and others were as much as 27 cm. tall? We think it's because of the sun not reaching all the sprouts equally but what else could it be?

A: Good thinking! Assuming that all the bulbs were the same variety, the differences in height were probably related to sunlight, but indirectly. Temperature was probably the real culprit. A sunny area can be several degrees warmer than a shadier area, so the soil will thaw faster and shoots will grow more quickly. The tall shoots then shade the others even more, further stunting the growth of the late tulips.


Wisconsin

Q. Why the second year after planting new bulbs, all I get is large leaves and no flower?

A:Tulips are not reliable perennials. They put on a great show the first year, but many types peter out after that. But some types of tulips will return. The Red Emperor tulip we use in the Journey North experiment can bloom for two or more years. But it needs some help from you!
First, a bit about what makes tulips tick: In order to bloom, a tulip uses the energy stored in the bulb. (It has everything it needs the first year!) The leaves then make food (through photosynthesis). This restores the bulb’s energy and prepares it to flower again. But if you cut the leaves back too soon, if they died back for other reasons, or if the soil isn’t very fertile, the bulbs may not have had enough energy to bloom again.
Tulips can be tricky, but here are some tips for coaxing them to flower another year:

  • Plant new bulbs in well-drained soil enriched with a low-nitrogen fertilizer such as well-rotted cow manure or special bulb fertilizer.
  • Each fall and spring, fertilize the plants as above.
  • After your tulip blooms fade, snap off the flower stems at the base. Let the leaves continue to grow until they die back naturally.
  • Journey North tulips must be planted 6 inches deep. But, tulips are more likely to bloom again if you dig them up and plant them 8 inches deep (from the bottom of the bulb to the top of the soil).
    • Another way to get new blooms is to dig up an older bulb and look for smaller “daughter” bulbs near its base. If you separate and replant these 6 inches deep in well-drained soil, they should bloom in 2 to 4 years.

Gretna Green
New Brunswick

Q: In the winter when the ground is frozen how does the tulip bulb get its water?

A: During the winter, your buried bulb is in a dormant state. Its leaves and roots died back and dried up during the summer. In the fall, cool moist soils trigger root development; this stops during the winter. As rain and warmth return in the spring, the roots again take in water and the bulb sends up leaf shoots and a flower bud.
You might enjoy this slideshow about bulb survival >>


Gracia Roemer

Q: How can you tell whether your tulips were destroyed by the wind or children? Mine have horizontal rips about 2/3 of the way down the petal, which I've never seen on wind-damaged tulips before. The rips go about 2/3 of the way across the petal, too. Thanks!

A:
You’ve stumped me! Wind, dogs, cats, children, bunnies, moose? If you don’t see tracks of any kind, I’d vote for wind gusts.


Stiles Point Elementary School
Charleston, NC

Q: Our tulips are in terrible condition for the second year in a row! Last year only about 1/2 of them bloomed. This year NONE of them have bloomed and the leaves are brown and dead. We're wondering if it has to do with a very warm January both years followed by a very cold February. Or should we check the soil conditions and add fertilizer? Any suggestions? We are so disappointed!

A: Good thinking. Yes, a cold snap that follows a warm spell can damage tulip leaves and in some cases, prevent flowers from blooming. Tulips are fairly cold tolerant and if they have snow cover, they are well-insulated and usually do fine. Even cold- or frost-damaged leaves shouldn’t prevent a tulip from blooming. But if the temperatures drop to around 20 degrees F, the bud could be damaged and no blooms would appear that year. Did your February temperatures drop this far? If your leaves had survived, they would have photosynthesized (made food) for the bulbs, and the tulip could have bloomed again next year. But it sounds like you’ll have to re-plant this fall.

Tulip Expert, Eve Blanchard
Science Educator and Writer

Journey North Home Page   Facebook Pinterest Twitter   Annenberg Media Home Page
Copyright 1997-2014 Journey North. All Rights Reserved.   Contact Us    Search