The Q&A Archives: Tulips

Question: I would like to plant some tulips. Do they grow well in my area? If so, when is the best time to plant?

Answer: Due to the mild winters throughout a large portion of California, certain popular bulbs do poorly here. But on the bright side, we can leave in the ground many bulb species that would never make it through a New England winter! Unfortunately the hybrid commercial tulips like the Darwins and Triumphs are poorly adapted here and need special treatment to bloom well. Tulips should be purchased as soon as offered in early September, then stored in the refrigerator (not the freezer) until the weather cools off in late October or early November. Without this chilling, the plants will emerge stunted, and the flower stem will not elongate, resulting in the flower blooming down in the base of the leaves. Try to get the bulbs into the ground within a half hour of removing from the refigerator, Don't leave them sitting in the sun for a few hours while you are digging your holes; that will undo a lot of the artificial chilling. Plant deeply, about nine or ten inches down. After blooming the tulips will multiply into several smaller bulbs that will not bloom next year, and these never seem to grow on to flowering size. Thus tulips are considered an annual, and are replanted fresh every year. Because of this it is best to shop around to get the best price on bulbs, since you are only going to get one flower from each bulb. The large home improvement stores are generally the best source for cheap tulip bulbs. A few species tulips will naturalize here. Look for T. sylvestis, bakeri, clusiana and saxatilis.

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