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Tulips and My Winter Color Surrogate

By James Parker, February 18, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by James Parker

Tulips Pink Tulips - California Every year right around the start of February I start yearning for more color in my life. The part of the world where I live is not uniformly white in the dead of winter, but like most places the California coast is not as vibrant as it is other times of the year. What makes me start to search out color is an unconscious anticipation of spring - brought about by the first of the winter rains. That first speck of moisture has turned the normally brown wild grasses green and the Acacia trees are starting to put out their tiny yellow blossoms (jam packed with pollen by the way). The ornamental fruit trees are blooming but the "real" fruit trees' fragrant blossoms are weeks away and the poppies, foxgloves, and sunflowers of summer are still little more than seeds. What I crave are the true colors of spring - and tulips are my winter surrogate.Tulips Red/ Orange Tulips - My Kitchen The tulip of choice does not come from my yard (I found out the hard way that gophers love tulips) but rather from a small greenhouse producer in Soquel, California that I buy at a little farm stand on the way to my son's school. I say on the way because I am generally disappointed if I wait until the afternoon to buy some- like me it seems many others need a reminder of the coming spring. This farmer is tiny - producing flowers off of a mere quarter million bulbs every year. But the quality of the product is spectacular and every year it seems there is a new color or variety. Greenhouse Tulips Greenhouse Tulips - California Another thing I like about tulips is that they are an incredibly diverse and successful perennial - of the 2.5 billion tulips produced worldwide every year, most can be grown in the same geographic area they are sold. In a world where the production of flowers has become a global business and supply chains can stretch for thousands of miles, the tulip has the advantage of being able to literally put down roots almost anywhere. You may not be fortunate enough to have a tulip producer right up the street but chances are there is one fairly close by. Tulips in cold storage Bulbs Just Out of Cold Storage - Virginia Tulips are a cool climate plant that require a period of dormancy every year in order to produce a flower. This is done commercially by storing bulbs in giant coolers until they are ready to be planted or placed in a greenhouse. Growers can also use this method to regulate the size of their crop - chilling larger or smaller amounts to match demand. This makes the ramp up in volume for holidays like Valentine's Day much easier. Tulips Valentine's Day - Texas Tulips have been commercially cultivated for 400 years and their origins date back even further. Indigenous to Central Asian countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey, the tulip (or lale) was so highly valued its bulbs were once used as currency. Even today the rights for a new variety will cost upwards of a million dollars. Holland has long held the reins as the center of the tulip universe - but France, Japan, New Zealand and Chile are all major bulb producers. Tulips in Green House Greenhouse Tulips - California For me the lofty tulip has a much simpler purpose as part of my "winter emergence" routine - I buy a bunch towards the end of the week and for the next several days I watch the mystery of cell expansion unfold. When tulips are harvested the cells of the plant are tight and compressed.  As the plant ages these cells open up making the bloom larger and the stems longer (and weaker). This "goose neck" effect is another in a long list of things I love about this elegant flower. White Tulips Prized White Tulips - Virginia Mostly though, it's the color - the tulip is another example of the timing and artistry of Mother Nature. Just when you think winter will go on forever, we get a short intense reminder that spring is not far away. Tulips Thanks to James Flagg, Josiah Leet, and Bob Flood for contributing to this post.

Category: Floral, Local




Sandi says ...
Last year for valentine's day I ask my husband for tulip bulbs instead of cut flowers. I planted the dozen tulips in big pots, 4 to a pot. This year I have 30 leaf sets coming up so hopefully, I'll have a wonderful display. They didn't bloom in time for valentine's day but the green leaves are a promise that they are near. I didn't realize that they propagated so easily.
02/18/2009 11:08:43 AM CST
Pat Branham says ...
Tulips are my bright spot during the dreary months of February and March. I always buy tulips weekly when they are available.
02/18/2009 11:12:49 AM CST
Hannah says ...
I bought some Tulip bulbs that already bloomed and died off from a local store here in Mississippi when would be the best time to plant them in the ground?
02/19/2009 9:29:06 AM CST
parkerj says ...
Hi Hannah- if the bulb has already put out a blossom for the season the best thing to do is removed it from the pot and soil, make sure the bulb is dry and store it somewhere cool until the fall. I store my bulbs in a paper bag in my garage but if yours is not cool enough you might think about your pantry or some other cool spot in your house. In October they will need some chill hours (about 6 weeks worth) so if where you live does not get cold for that long you can put them in the vegetable chiller in your fridge. In most places in the south you can put tulips in the ground as early as Christmas
02/19/2009 4:32:54 PM CST
Hannah says ...
Thank so much for the information. I really appreciate it.
02/20/2009 12:40:56 AM CST
Paboo says ...
I like the picture of tulips. It is my favorite flower. Thanks for your beautiful pictures.
02/21/2009 7:58:28 AM CST
Jack says ...
Hi, I was wondering where in NY can I find Tulip bulbs right now of time? Thank You!!!
04/01/2009 8:08:40 PM CDT
parkerj says ...
Hi Jack, if you can find non-sprouted tulip bulbs right now they will likely not be worth buying. Like some fruits and vegetables, flower bulbs are highly seasonal- most nursery’s start bringing bulbs in late fall with the goal of selling out by the end of January. You can however preserve bulbs in potted tulips and other spring bloomers after they have finished but just a blub for sale is very rare in March/ April.
04/03/2009 9:24:29 AM CDT
Theresa says ...
I live in Ms. and my boyfriend and I bought some potted tulips for Valentine's Day. I would love to cut the dead stems and store the bulbs in my refrigerator for apps. 6 weeks; will I be able to plant them when the last frost is no longer a danger?
02/24/2013 9:52:00 PM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@THERESA - Great question. I was able to contact a specialist to find an answer for you! She said that you can certainly plant the bulbs. She usually plant tulip bulbs in the fall. These will not bloom again until spring of 2014. Forced bulbs do not return with the same vigor as bulbs that have not been forced. It takes a lot of their energy to produce those forced blooms. But they might surprise you! You should let the foliage die back naturally – it sends energy back into the bulb so don’t cut it off! Let the plant go dormant through the summer and plant the bulbs this fall. Let us know how this works out!
03/04/2013 2:05:16 PM CST
Winda says ...
Hello James, I have been planting tulips for the last 2 years. And every year my tulips bulbs is gone gradually because of hunger squirrels. I am living in the north where winter time is quite hardy. This year, instead of cursing squirrels all the time - :) I am going to plant tulip in a pot. Can I put the pot inside the house during dormant period? e.i from Fall to Spring? and after it dies after Spring, can I just leave the bulb inside the pot and store them in the basement instead of digging them up? Need your valuable advise :) - Thanks so much.
09/03/2014 12:17:54 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@WINDA - Here is what James said: Hello- I’ve had some success keeping bulbs in pots but I have also lost a few this way. My challenge always seems to be moisture related- if you leave it in the soil it’s hard to tell if it is too dry (resulting in the bulb drying out) or too moist (the bulb can rot). I also live in a place that does not get enough chill hours for tulips so I have to remove mine from the pot so that I can get them into my refrigerator. I feel your pain about the outdoor threats to tulip bulbs though; mine are gophers and I’m pretty sure I am cursing them just as soundly. You might have more luck in your climate with the process you are describing; my advice is to take you question to your local nursery. They will know the best way to store bulbs in your area. Good luck!
09/12/2014 4:52:52 PM CDT