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  • Writer's pictureJulia Watson

About Tulips

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

red tulips
Parrot tulips in my garden, 2018

Let’s talk about tulips. I’m posting this the day after Thanksgiving, which, unfortunately, is too late to start tulip bulbs here in Northern California. Yeah, I know you saw some in the nursery just last week, but I hope you didn’t buy them because you won’t have time to chill the bulbs before planting, and without chilling they won’t bloom properly. I suggest you grow tulips vicariously through me; I’ll tell you all about the tulips I've grown, including the ones we're planting this fall, and then in the spring we’ll look at the blooms and gloat over them together. Next year you’ll know all the steps and you can have real tulips of your very own.

Pink and orange tulips
Tulips in my garden, 2019

Tulips bloom in early spring, but to do that they need some winter cold. Not freezing temperatures, but weeks and weeks of temperatures in the thirties. In climates where winter isn’t cold enough for long enough, we fool the bulbs by chilling them. For over twenty years I’ve done that every year—buying bulbs and putting them in my refrigerator in October. Every year they crowd out the Thanksgiving turkey and my family laughs at me. I try to get them planted as soon after turkey day as possible, then they get watered by our winter rains.

Right to left: three different varieties of tulips: 'Parrot King,' 'Akebono' and 'Amazon'

This year Don and I will be growing tulips for our cut flower business, so we ordered pre-chilled tulip bulbs. Don prepped our parking-strip growing bed and dug it out to 6” deep, then we planted 1700 bulbs. You read that right—1700. Bulb numbers always sound impressive, but that’s only a 4’ x 20’ space.

We're growing five varieties for 2021: Parrot King (shown above), Belicia, Mt. Tacoma, Orca, and Blue Diamond. I’m posting photos from catalogs, but in the spring I’ll share photos of our own, in real time.

Here's a fun fact - tulips keep growing after you cut them and put them in a vase. I once filmed that process using the time-lapse setting on my phone. Below is a video of cut tulips over about an hour.

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