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.

From: California
Torrey Pines Elementary
Ms. Isom and Kinder-GARDENERS

Q: What would you recommend we do with our old bulbs? All of our tulips have gone by and as an activity we pulled them up to observe how the original bulbs reproduced "off-spring" and had numerous roots. Then we planted another variety of hardy, drought tolerant plants, succulents. So, the big dilemma: what to do with our old bulbs? Should we just put them under the sink until fall? Dying to know in La Jolla.

A: Many types of tulips put on a great show the first year, but won't return the next year. The Red Emperor tulip we use in the Journey North experiment can bloom for two or more years. But they need some help! Do your tulip bulbs still have leaves attached? If not, you may be out of luck. In that case, think about cutting your bulbs open and exploring them from the inside out. Toss them after that. You'll have to plant new bulbs this fall.

If your bulbs still have leaves attached -- and they haven't dried up -- you could try removing the flower stem and replanting them. Here's why leaves are important: Tulip leaves make food so the bulb has energy to flower again. If you want a tulip to bloom again, you snap off the flower stems at the base once flowers fade. Then you let the leaves continue to grow until they die back naturally. If your bulbs were growing in rich, fertile soil, they may bloom again the following year. Since your bulbs have already been pulled, replanting may be a long-shot. But investigations like this are part of being a good scientist! Let us know what happens.

(By the way, some gardeners separate and plant the tulip "offspring” or “offsets” in the fall. These are the smaller bulbs near its base. They bury them a few inches deep in well-drained soil. But you need patience for this method. It could take up to 4 years to get any blooms!)

From: CA
Camino Union Elementary School

Q: Why do we have some tulips emerged and blossomed and others just emerging? We also have several that are "missing" -- as many as 50% of the number planted. We suspect a gopher, but cannot be sure. These are very different results than we've seen in the past.

A: Your tulips might have experienced different temperature conditions. Did you notice that the late-emerging tulips were in one section of your garden? If they were in the shade, they would have received less sunlight than the others. So it would have taken longer for the soil to thaw out, dry out, and warm up. The taller shoots of your early bloomers could have created even more shade.

If the tulips that are late to emerge were mixed in with the others, and not in a separate section, perhaps they were simply planted deeper than the others were. You mention that many are missing altogether. Have you seen signs of a gopher (fairly large holes)? Squirrels also love tulip bulbs, and voles and other tunneling animals will nibble them, too. Keep your eyes peeled and try to figure out what's happening. Try digging down in a couple of spots to see if there are holes or tunnels (or signs that the bulbs rotted from disease). Some gardeners enclose bulbs in a sunken wire cage when they plant them, or they cover the bulb garden with wire mesh, to deter furry thieves.

Good luck. I hope you still have plenty of blooms to enjoy!

From: TX
Live Oak Elementary

Q: Most of our bulbs emerged, but only one (it emerged a little later) bloomed. We wondered if the buds on the ones that emerged earlier got frozen (they are small, brown, and dried looking), and the bud on the one that emerged later did not. We also wondered if they got enough rain at the right time. Are those possible causes and what are other ones for why some emerge but don't bloom?

A: Good thinking. It sounds like your early-emerging buds got frozen. Tulips can withstand snow and even cold temperatures. But if the flower buds have poked up, and the temperature drops to around 20 degrees F, the buds could be damaged. No blooms would appear that year. This sometimes happens when a warm spell (which causes bulbs to emerge) is followed by a cold snap. Do you recall the temperatures getting that cold once your bulbs were up? Perhaps the later-emerging bulb that did bloom was planted a bit more deeply, or in the shade. That could cause it to come up later once temperatures had warmed.

What other things could affect why some bulbs emerge but don't bloom? Very dry weather could affect the bud, but the leaves would also show signs of stress. Another possibility is that slugs ate the tulip buds. But if that happened, you would probably notice some damage on the leaves, too. Insects called aphids can also damage emerging buds. In this case, I think your theory about frozen buds is the best one!

Q: About how long do the blooms usually last? We had some heavy winds for several days and wondered if that shortened the bloom time.

A: Tulips usually last about 2 weeks in full bloom before they begin to wither and drop petals. Different factors can affect the specific timing. I can't say for sure whether the wind shortened their bloom time. The best way to find out is to keep your eyes peeled! How long were your tulips blooming before they started to fade away? How would you answer your original question now that you've had a chance to observe your blossoms over time?

From: PA
Robeson Elementary Center

Q: Our school purchased 100 bulbs for the tulip experiment. Half of the bulbs are thriving and some even have buds. The other half have not even emerged. I dug one out today and it is rotten and the outer skin is very thick. We believe half of the bulbs must have been "sick." What do you think? We remember that the bulbs came in two mesh bags. The bulbs that are growing were in one bag and the bulbs that aren't growing were in the other bag. Could they be faulty bulbs?

A: If you had said that the bulbs were in two different parts of the garden, I might have guessed that one part had heavy wet soil that didn't drain very well. If it were also shady, it would remain wet. Bulbs grown in this type of soil are likely to rot.

But it sounds like the bulbs that didn't emerge came in just one bag. It's possible that your bulbs were damaged by a fungus called "gray bulb rot." It could have been in a section of your soil already. It might also have come in on some of the bulbs you bought. If you find that lots of bulbs are rotten, you might want to contact the company that sold the bulbs to you. In any case, the fungus can live in the soil for several years, so you should not grow tulips in the same area next year. I'm sorry about your "sick" bulbs, but hope that the other half of your garden has loads of blooms to enjoy!

From: MI

Q: Next week it is going to snow, they say, in Michigan. My tulip plant is already coming out. What should I do to protect it?

A: You may already have found that the tulip plant did just fine on its own. They are tolerant of cold, and snow will actually help insulate them even further. Sometimes the leaves will show some damage, but the plant should go on to flower. If the buds were actually opened and the temperatures dropped down to 20 degrees, the buds could be damaged and fail to flower.

From: Arizona

Q: I was sent a brochure from Breck's Co. advertising tulip bulb planting for spring. I live in Flagstaff, Arizona and I ordered the bulbs plus others for spring planting and now I am told that you can only plant bulbs in the fall.The bulbs just came and now I am afraid to plant them. I don't think they will keep until fall as summer gets pretty hot here. Can I go ahead and plant them now, in April? Please help me.I don't know what to do.

A: Hmmm. You're question is puzzling. I'm not sure just what you received from Breck's. I don’t know of any tulip bulbs that can be planted in the spring. (Was it perhaps a sale on spring bulbs for fall planting?) But you say that they sent you the tulip bulbs. Tulips need a period of chilling before they bloom, so they are planted in the fall in areas with cold winters. In regions that don't have cold winter temperatures (such as warmer parts of Arizona), tulips need to be chilled for many weeks or bought pre-chilled. But even those are planted in December. So I remain confused about your dilemma.

I suggest writing to or calling Breck's with your tulip question. Here is a link to their contact information: Please let us know what you learn from them! (By the way, any "summer-flowering" bulbs you ordered, such as gladiolas and cannas, should be planted this time of year.

Tulip Expert, Eve Blanchard
Science Educator and Writer