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Answers From the Tulip Garden Expert
Spring 2014
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Special thanks to University of Minnesota Professor Mary Meyer for providing her time and expertise to respond to your tulip garden questions.

This page contains questions and answers from 2014.

 

Mary Meyer

Minnesota
Q:
With a proper back-end greenhouse environment, chilling equipment to simulate winter, and so on, would it be possible to produce flowering tulips year round? If so, would there be parts of the country better suited for this type of display or would location matter if the flowering tulips were always "under glass"?

A: It may be possible to do this, however there are a couple of issues. Blooms in spring and early summer are fairly easy, however once you get to Sept and Oct, these bulbs would have had to been in a 'holding pattern' in cold storage for 3 months longer than normal, and at some point respiration exceeds stored food reserves and the bulbs begin to die. The temperate, cool climates are best for bulbs lasting a long time. If it is 45-60 degrees the flowers last the longest; heat makes them die quickly. Under glass would be ok, as long as it was cool, which is hard to do when the sun's angle changes as it does in the summer.

Saint Mary's Hall, Texas
Q. Our tulips are disappointing for the second straight year...after having had fabulous displays of blooms in previous years. The bud seems to wither and die before it has had a chance to bloom. The few that do bloom are quite dwarfed in size to what we've seen in the past. What causes that? We are doing everything just as we always have. Last year we added some squirrel repellent. Could that have this effect? HELP!

A: How disappointing! Waiting and then seeing no flowers is very disappointing! I assume the supplier and the quality of your bulbs has remained the same, so you are using healthy bulbs that have been precooled, or you live in a cold climate that gets 6 or more weeks of cold weather. Are you measuring for planting a the proper depth? Planting too shallow, or too deep will affect the quality of flowers. Tulips should be planted 6-8" deep measuring from the base of the bulb. Very dry or very wet conditions in the soil can also affect bulb health and survival. If there was very little rainfall after you planted the bulbs, they may have dried up; if it was very wet, they could have rotted. I hope next year will be better. If you think this site may be the problem, try a new location next year.

Ashley River Creative Arts School, South Carolina
Q:
Mrs. O'Neill's third grade class at Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary in Charleston, SC observed that a few of their test garden tulips were not like the others. For instance, one or two had a green stripe down one petal while all the others were solid red. Students thought perhaps that the green stripe may be part of the leaf that had been integrated into the petal. Another tulip had a mini petal growing inside the bloom that looked like a tongue and one or two others had double blooms. What would cause these differences or abnormalities?

A: This difference is simply genetic variation between the bulbs. While they are all the same kind, differences occurred when the flowers were developing that created these visual differences we now see. Something happened to the floral cells when they were differentiating and developing to case the abnormalities we see now.

Q: They also would like to know why the brown skin or casing of the tulip bulb is lined with fine hairs/fuzz. And why when students press a tulip's leaves between their fingers the area turns darker in color

A: The hairs on the brown skin or covering are further protection of the bulb itself. Protection is important for the flower to develop and grow. Pressing on the tulip leaves, can kill some of the cells by damaging the cell wall and membranes, causing water in the cells to leak out, making the leaf look darker.

Q: Also, at what stage of a tulip's life cycle (underground, emerged or blooming) does it need the most water?

A: Tulips need the most water in the fall when the roots begin to grow, just after planting; and again after in the spring after the flowers have developed and the leaves are storing food for the following year. In the summer, the bulbs are dormant and water then can be fatal, causing the bulbs to rot.

Central Park Elementary, New Jersey
Q: How long do tulips usually stay alive, and do they live longer in the warmer climates?

A: Tulips can live for many years in the proper climate. In good conditions, some species of tulips live for 10-20 years. They live the longest where the winters are cold and wet and the summers are dry.

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