This page includes a number of different subjects on growing and care for your bulbs. We have organized them into the following categories for your convenience: Basic Plating, Basic Care, Digging & Storing, Landscape Ideas, Forcing Bulbs/ Warm Climates, Container Planting, Diseases & Viruses, Dealing with Animals, Cut Flower Care, and Tulip Trivia
1. Plant in partial to full sun areas that drain
- Tulip bulbs will not last out of the ground, so it is important to plant them when you receive them. Plant your bulbs in the fall, usually September through October, before the ground freezes. High soil temperatures create an environment for many diseases that attack bulbs. For this reason we recommend that you don't plant your bulbs in the fall until soil temperatures start to cool. (fall below 60 degrees)
- Plant your bulbs in partial to full sun so they don't spend extra energy looking for light. Plants in full dark will be taller, thinner-stemmed and weaker as they look for light. The extra energy spent looking for light also makes them more susceptible to disease and less likely to bloom again.
- Be sure to plant in well-drained soil. Most bulbs will rot in standing water so avoid areas prone to flooding such as the bottom of hills or especially under drainpipes!
- Each garden contains its own micro climate. Bulbs planted against the southern side of your house may bloom up to a week earlier than the same ones planted on the north side. Bulbs planted in dense shade may be twice as tall as those planted in full sun. Cities tend to be warmer than rural areas. Bulbs planted by a warm sidewalk may push out of the ground earlier due to the warmth absorbed by the concrete. Early shoot growth in the fall doesn't seem to affect the bulbs ability to bloom in the spring.
2. Dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and mix granular fertilizer into bottom soil
- Dig a hole a few inches deeper and wider than the bulbs you are planting. Place bulb fertilizer in the bottom per directions and cover with a little soil. Gravitropism is a big word that means your bulbs are internally programmed so that the roots grow down and the shoots up! So relax if you think your 3 year old planted them upside down, the bulbs will figure it out. The only exception is Hyacinths they will grow upside if you plant them with the point side down.
3. Place bulbs 2-3 inches apart in hole, cover, pack soil
- Tulips and daffodils are usually planted 6-8 inches deep and 2-3 inches apart. Officially spring blooming bulbs are planted 2.5 times deeper than the bulb is wide.
- The brown outer covering of a tulip is called a tunic. This often protects the bulb early in the summer but by the time we ship them to you, these have broken off or cracked. This doesn’t hurt the bulb and actually makes it easier for the bulb to root.
4. Water (if soil is dry)
- Water is critical for spring flowering bulbs. Water your bulbs after planting unless it has already started to rain and the soil is moist. Water is needed in late winter and early spring when the plants emerge. At this time most bulbs require about 17mm of water a week. This is especially critical for potted bulbs where missing a watering can result in an aborted flower or yellowing foliage. After flowering however, it is natural for the foliage to yellow and dry out. When this starts to happen, discontinue watering.
- In late January and February, inspect for "fire heads" on tulips. This appears as gray fuzz on the tips of the foliage. These are actually botrytis spores and can spread to all your tulips. Pull out the entire infected plant and bulb, and discard to control the disease. Botrytis is called Fire Flight because of its rapid spread (do not mulch diseased plants; it will only create a bigger problem).
- Fertilize with granular bulb fertilizer in the late winter/early spring when the greenery first shows up. Liquid fertilizer can be used on the leaves when bulbs are blooming.
- After your tulips finish blooming, the seed pods need to be snapped off before the flowers start to seed. This allows all the nutrients, energy, in the stem and leaves to flow to the bulb for next year's bloom. Do not bend the stems or tie with a band. Let the stems die naturally. Perennials and annuals can be planted over the top of your bulbs to give color through the rest of spring and summer as the bulbs rejuvenate for next year.
- You do not need to dig and divide your tulips every year. Just make sure they are not in an area of the yard where they will be watered all summer. Too much water over the summer will rot/kill your bulbs. If the bulbs are planted where you have to water, try to water only once a week or less.
DIGGING & STORING
1. Snap Seed pod off
- When you take the flower head, seed pod off the stem you are letting the bulb know that it can start taking nutrients from the leaves back for a healthier bulb.
- Flower bulbs are nature’s natural computer chips. They record the season’s temperature, moisture and air quality and when certain requirements are met, specific things happen. For example, when you plant your bulbs in the fall, a certain amount of moisture is needed for the roots to emerge. During the winter, most spring flowering bulbs need a certain amount of cold units before they will bloom. After blooming and the plant have dried down, the bulb keeps track of heat units. When they receive enough, a flower is formed for the coming season (for tulips, sometime in late July).
2. Let Tulips Die Down
- To best care for your bulbs, the leaves MUST be left alone until they are dry. This is because the foliage manufactures the food that is being stored in the bulb for NEXT year's flower. Bulbs are actually a storage organ that helps the plant inside survive dormant periods. Sprinkle the seeds of wallflowers or Forget-Me-Not's over your bulb planting in the fall. These fast growing plants will cover the leaves of the bulbs once the flower is gone in the spring.
3. Dig Up
- June is a good time to lift tulips. Once the foliage on the plant has turned brown and dried, the bulbs are ready to be dug. Use a garden fork rather than a shovel to help minimize the risk of digging through any bulbs.
- Tulips in cooler locations (hardiness zones 8 and under) do not have to be dug every year. To keep tulips healthy and productive, dig most tulips every three years.
- Tulips do not like to be crowded, that is the more bulbs in a hole the smaller the bulbs become each year, the fewer flowers produced. Small bulbs produce only leaves, but if replanted and cared for, the small bulbs grow into larger bulbs that produce flowers the following year. In other words, if you have lots of leaves and little flowers it is time to dig up the bulbs and spread them out so they have room to get big enough to produce a flower. If you only have a few leaves and small flowers the bulbs are probably getting too much water over the summer.
- Once the bulb is lifted from the ground clean off the old roots, they should separate easily from the cluster of bulbs. Separate all the bulbs; there may be different sizes and numbers under each plant. Different varieties of tulips produce bulbs in different amounts and sizes. Of course, some years the weather may also affect your production. It is important that the bulbs are completely dry before storing or they will rot. To dry bulbs, put on a mesh tray in the shade outside for a day or two before storing them.
- Store the bulbs for the summer in mesh bags, for plenty of air circulation, hung up in a cool place. An open box of wood or cardboard can be used also, but mice may more easily invade an open box. Remember the bulbs are alive and will suffer damage if stored in plastic or in boxes filled more than five inches in depth with bulbs. Good air circulation in storage is also important and never ever store in an airtight container. Keep the temperature below 90 F for best flowers in the spring.
- Plant a variety of spring blooming bulbs; it will give you a longer bloom time. As a rule, planting bulbs in clusters is more effective and striking than planting in uniform rows. Try alternating plantings with different blooming times so that the garden continues to provide color over a longer season.
- The number of bulbs to use in each area or bed is determined by the gardener and the requirements of the particular bulb species. Some people like to plant them thicker, whereas others prefer to spread them out. The following numbers are given as a guideline:
|The following numbers are given as a guideline: (# of bulbs per square foot)|
A quick way to figure the number of bulbs you will need is to spread your fingers and think of each hand as being a group of 5 bulbs. Each handprint that fits in your flower bed counts as 5.
|Below is a quick reference chart for large plantings:(# of bulbs needed)|
|Sq. Ft.||4" apart||6" apart||8" apart||10" apart|
FORCING BULBS / WARM CLIMATES
- The trick to growing bulbs such as tulips, crocus and hyacinths in warm weather gardens (USDA zones 9 & warmer) is to give them a "Cold Treatment" to fool them into thinking they've gone through a cold winter. Place the bulbs in a mesh bag or plant in pots. Refrigerate the bulbs for 13 weeks at 48 degrees without any fruit. Making sure that the bulbs are not exposed to fruits or open bottles of wine is important. Fruit gives off a gas that will destroy the flower that is in the bulb. Open the refrigerator once a day for air circulation. Once they have been in the refrigerator for at least 13 weeks plant loose bulbs in the ground. If planted in a pot while cooling remove from the refrigerator, place in a particle to full sun area and water regularly.
- The bulbs that are on the shorter side will do better in pots. Plants that get taller than 20 inches need to be in very large pots or in the ground.
- The container needs to have good drainage holes and use soil that does not have a lot of peat moss or moisture retaining material, the deeper the pot the better.
- Fill the pot half full with soil, fertilize per package directions, little soil, bulbs and cover with soil. When placing bulbs they need to be 1-2 inches apart from one another and 1-2 inches away from the sides of the pot. Don’t forget to water newly planted areas.
- If you plant your bulbs in containers, watch the weather for prolonged cold spells that could freeze your pots solid. When this happens, the water in the soil freezes and expands, damaging the bulb. Although the tulip has a protective layer of scales around its core, a long hard freeze will destroy it. Move these inside or mulch heavily. This also applies to areas where the soil freezes deeper than the planted bulbs.
DISEASES & VIRUSES:
- Tulip fire is a fast spreading disease that affects tulips and can be prevented by rotating tulip bulbs every three years; removing flower heads before petals fall; and removing diseased or moldy looking leaves. If you notice your flowers are affected remove the diseased plats and surrounding soil as soon as you notice, and throw away. Never compost diseased or infected looking bulbs as that will cause it to spread. At fall time dig up and inspect remaining bulbs and plant in a different location to prevent further spreading. If you catch the disease in the early stages you may be able to save them. Spraying foliage diligently with chlorothalonil; Bonide Fung-onil is an example of multi-purpose fungicide available at your local Al's; this will help kill the disease
BULB ROT (A disease, not just too much water)
- The best treatment is prevention. Healthy bulbs are firm at the base and feel heavy for their size. When you transplant your bulbs check that they feel healthy and discard those that have disease. Do not compost diseased plants.
- Herbicides like “Casoron” prevent the weeds from growing but they also can make your bulbs come up deformed or not at all. Herbicides can spread with watering so be very careful around your bulbs. Hand weeding is best around your bulbs.
GRAY MOLD & FUNGAL DISEASES
- The plants will look stunted, yellow and moldy. Remove the diseased plant by pulling the leaves and stem, causing the bulb to either come up or to die. Do not compost diseased plants. Having space between your bulbs will help prevent this disease. Using a fungicide on your bulbs like you do your roses will also help prevent the disease. High nitrogen fertilizers may also increase fungal diseases.
- The most obvious symptom of viruses is that the color of the tulip has turned striped. Beautiful to look at, but the bulb will not last and aphids will spread the disease to other tulips. To remove the diseased plants pull the leaves and the stem. The bulb might come up, if not, it will die because it has no leaves for nutrients. Do not compost diseased plants. Using clippers can also spread the virus so clean them with a bleach solution; or just use your hands.
DEALING WITH ANIMALS:
GOPHERS, MOLES, MICE:
- Gophers love to eat tulips. Moles don’t usually eat tulip bulbs unless the bulb is trying to rot and has bugs. Mice will use the runways of the gophers and moles to damage your bulbs. For control of rodents check with your local master gardeners.
- To keep animals like moles away plant bulbs distasteful to rodents such as daffodils, alliums or fritillaries.
- Smells such as castor oil, coffee grounds, or used kitty litter placed at the entrances of mole tunnels near your flower beds will keep moles from invading your flowers. Another way to keep these rodents away from your bulbs is to plant in containers. These containers can be above ground or “mesh/wire” containers in the ground.
DEER, SQUIRRELS, RACCOONS:
- Deer love tulips, but not usually daffodils, fritillaries or alliums. By planting daffodils around you tulips can help keep deer out. There are a lot of deterrents but the deer will get use to them so you need to keep changing what you are using.
- Physical barriers such as clear fishing line or strips of aluminum foil around the perimeter of your yard or motion detection sprinklers create a sudden burst of water will help scare or keep deer out.
- Deer are repelled by strong odors; staking or shaving strong-smelling soap around the perimeter of your yard or things with strong human or predator scents like hair clippings or urine sprinkled around your flower beds is a repellent for deer.
- Squirrels and raccoons can be attracted to freshly dug soil so be sure to water and pat down the soil when planting. Making sure that you have planted the tulips and daffodils the recommended 6-8 inches also helps deter the animals.
- Avoiding the use of bone meal will help keep animals away, including the cats. Bone meal can be smelled by animals, by not using it they won’t be curious about what’s down there.
- Place ground chili pepper; (Thai chilies, habaneras, cascabel) in flower pots and garden beds. The capsicum in peppers makes it unpleasant for digging animals
SLUGS & SNAILS:
- Slugs can be a major pest of bulbs. They will eat holes in tulip and hyacinth leaves and although daffodils bulbs are poisonous, the flowers are a tasty delicacy. If your daffodil flowers are not opening right, look closely, slugs don't eat the foliage of daffodils, but they do eat the flower.
- Slugs and snails are notorious plant eaters. They start eating the new growth even before the shoots are above the soil. They will also climb to the top of the flower stem to eat the new bud. Slug and snail bait can prevent this. To keep away from animals it can be hidden under established plants.
CUT FLOWER CARE
1. Snip end of stems
- Unlike most cut flowers, tulips keep growing in the vase, sometimes up to 6 inches or more! For the longest enjoyment, buy cut tulips when the buds are still closed but the color of the flower is evident.
- For longer lasting flower arrangements, remove foliage below the water line. This foliage will decompose quickly and spoil the water if left on. Also keep cut flowers out of direct sunlight, protect from heat and drafts and add cold water as needed. Start with a clean vase as bacteria in a dirty vase can shorten the life of your flowers.
2. Fresh Cold Water
- Avoid adding gin, vodka or pennies to the tulip water, brushing the blooms with egg whites or piercing the stems just under the bloom. None of these "home remedies" has ever proved to have any real benefits. Cold fresh water works best.
3. Place in Vase
- Before combining cut tulips and daffodils in one vase make sure to place daffodils in their own water first for 4-8 hours; if you don't, the sap like liquid that daffodils emit will plug the tulip stem and ruin your tulip flowers.
- Fresh cut tulips are geotropic and phototropic, meaning that their growth is affected by gravity and light, respectively. Blooms will always curve upwards and bend towards sources of light. If you find your cut flowers bending make sure that they are not searching for the only light in the room.
4. Repeat every few days
- To keep cut tulips fresh and vigorous, be sure to keep the water in the vase "topped off" with fresh cold water every day or two. Flowers kept in a cool location in a room will also last much longer. Change the water completely every couple of days. This will prevent harmful levels of bacteria from developing in the water, reducing the life of the flower.
- The cut flowers you buy at our farm have been "Hydro-cooled", that is, placed in water after picking to help ensure a long life and placed in a cooler at 32 degrees to slow down the respiration and breakdown of the flower. Flowers are also picked prior to opening and placed in protective sleeves to help prevent bruising and other damage to the flower. These flowers will open in a few days and last much longer than flowers that are picked open.
- Our flowers travel well and will survive many hours without water. When you arrive home, just re-cut the ends of the stems, keep in plastic sleave, and place in clean cold water. Even very limp flowers will revive.
- Many spring flowers are sensitive to the weather. Tulips and crocus close during chilly and stormy weather. When the weather warms and the sun comes out, they open wider, and when the sun goes down and the temperature drops they will often close back up. Often you will see a completely different flower shape and color.
- All parts of tulips are edible and the bulb can be substituted for onions (although they are a little more expensive and less flavorful). The petals have little taste but can be used to garnish a dish, chop a few petals and throw them in a salad, sugar them to decorate a cake or use the entire flower for a fruit bowl, just pinch out the pistil and stamen in the middle.
- According to early Persians where tulips are native; Red tulips were a declaration of love, Yellow tulips meant hopeless love, Variegated tulips meant the recipient had beautiful eyes, Tulips with a black center symbolized a heart burnt by love.
- In 1945 toward the end of World War II, the citizens of Holland were reduced to eating tulip bulbs in the infamous "hunger winter".
- Tulips are found in the wild in N. Africa, Southern Italy, Southern France, Turkey, China, Japan and Korea, all at an average latitude of 40 degrees.
- Although Holland has become synonymous with tulips, tulips originated and were first spotted in Central Asia, and cultivated by Turkey