The Q&A Archives: Stunted Tulips

Question: I am new to gardening. Last fall I planted tulip bulbs, and they began to grow vigorously as soon as it began to get warm this spring. Then we got snow! The foliage died but reemerged when the weather warmed again. Since then only a few of my bulbs (including the ones that had not begun to sprout before the snow) have bloomed. Many of the rest of them produced healthy foliage, but the bulbs are dry and close to the ground. Others produced foliage which has a pinkish tint and is very sickly looking. I am afraid I did something wrong. I tried very hard to plant them at the depth on the package (I bought them at a plant store). What did I do to them, and is there any way I can help them out so they will be healthy next year?

Answer: Don't worry, Matt -- I don't think you were at fault here. Here's what I suspect happened: bulbs that don't get enough chilling (for tulips, about 12-14 weeks of temperatures between 32 - 40F) often don't blossom, or are malformed when they do emerge. To try and extend the life of your tulips, clip off the dried flower buds and allow the foliage to grow. Don't tie it up or cut it back, just let it naturally fade. As the foliage grows, it builds up the bulb, and a healthy bulb will produce flowers next year...if it gets enough chilling. One thing you can try to prevent early emergence of the foliage is to mulch over the tulip bed after cold weather sets in. Mulch should help maintain an even soil temperature, and prevent early warming. Feed your tulips this spring with a fish emulsion or other liquid fertilizer mixed according to label instructions. Also, sprinkle some compost or composted manure over the area to build soil fertility. These practices will also help the bulbs bulk up.

If your tulips still don't perform well next year, replant with varieties that are known to be well adapted to your area. Your extension service Master Gardeners (ph# 929-6034)can probably make some recommendations, or you can get in touch with Wayside Gardens in Hodges, S.C., and they can help you out:

Good luck!

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