Questions on: Tulips

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service


Q: I purchased a tulip plant in a large vase with water covering the roots. It has flowered beautifully. What can I do to maintain this plant? Do I need to trim the stems? Should I keep it watered? Can I plant the tulips in soil? How can I create my own? What is their lifespan? (e-mail reference)

A: I have never heard of a tulip plant with water covering the roots. Do you mean tulip bulbs that flower in the spring? If so, then the bulb should have the water removed. Since I am not clear as to what exactly it is you are talking about, I cannot answer the other questions for you.


Q: Some of the tulips I planted a few years ago aren't getting attention because the rest of the garden has developed nicely around the plants. I can see that they would look better in another spot. Can I lift them out and transplant them to another spot while the flower color is still visible? They seem to be healthy, despite the fact that the other plants are stealing their visual show. They have propagated nicely in the five years that they have bloomed. (e-mail reference)

A: It's not a good idea to transplant them now. For now, use wooden stakes to mark where the various colors are. Digging them up now, before the foliage has a chance to make some new carbs for next year, will hurt their chance of survival and being productive next spring.


Q: After several weeks of warm weather, a severe cold snap descended across Michigan. I planted 1,000 tulip, alium, daffodil and hyacinth bulbs last fall. All of them were emerging when the cold snap hit. My sprouting bulbs, especially the well-developed tulips closest to the home, are now wilting in the snow. Have I lost these tulips? Is there anything I can do to save the season? After a week of severe frost unlike anything I've seen in April before, I can't imagine a vibrant spring garden. (e-mail reference)

A: If it is any comfort, we suffered through the same weather as you! Normally, established tulips will tolerate reverses in weather, but apparently yours are long gone. If you purchased your bulbs locally, they should be able to tolerate reasonable swings in spring temperatures, but I think we can agree that the weather this spring has been anything but reasonable!


Q: I bought a tulip a few weeks ago. It flowered for few days after I purchased the plant, but then the stem bent, became dark green and eventually made the flower point toward the ground. I thought it was due to a lack of water, so I propped it up and have been keeping the soil moist. Yesterday, the flower began to wilt. Is my tulip dying or is this normal tulip behavior? Can I save the tulip bulb if I cut the flower off and wait until the leaves turn yellow? (e-mail reference)

A: In a nutshell, the answer is yes! The bulb can be planted outdoors this summer and will or should produce some flowers for you the next spring.


Q: I just got a pot of some beautiful tulips for Valentine’s Day, but I have no clue what I should do with them. Do I leave them in the pot? Do I put them in the yard? If so, where should I put them? How much watering do they need? (e-mail reference)

A: Allow the foliage to die down naturally. Don't remove the foliage while it is still green. When it completely yellows, you can tug the leaves off the bulbs and throw them away. Allow the pot to dry down. Keep the bulbs in the soil and store the bulbs in a cool location in your house until you can plant them outdoors this spring. They will do best in a full-sun location and planted about 6 inches deep. Give the bulbs a good watering and leave them alone. If they are hardy bulbs for your geographic location, they will come up next spring and have beautiful flowers.


Q: I received my tulip bulbs in late December. The ground was frozen, so now I have 24 unplanted bulbs. I also have the same amount of daffodils that are unplanted due to the frozen ground. What should I do? Will they still be OK to plant? Someone told me to freeze them, but didn't know for how long. When can they be planted if they are still good? (e-mail reference)

A: The best thing you can do is pack them in dampened peat moss and store them in a refrigerator or outdoors. Freezing will not hurt them. When the soil thaws, plant them, even if they are starting to grow.


Q: I bought some tulips for my daughters to enjoy. They are amazing! They grew about an inch a day and after three weeks produced 14 beautiful bulbs. My wife and I wonder what to do with the bulbs. Will they bloom next year in the same container or should we buy new bulbs next year? (e-mail reference)

A: You are better off making new purchases next year. These bulbs have "blasted" their flowers and foliage for this year and will not have stored energy to come back again.

Q: I have a question about tulips bulbs. I have a bunch of excess bulbs that we dug up last summer, but did not get them all planted last fall. They are stored in a cool, dry place. I was hoping to use them for our 4-H club. We made a bunch of planter boxes for our community last year and I thought of taking the boxes indoors, planting the bulbs and have them bloom this spring. Do you have any advice as to when the bulbs should be planted? Should the boxes be put outside so the plants bloom normally? If so, how long should the boxes be inside after the bulbs are planted? (e-mail reference)

A: You have a sound plan for the tulips to bloom this spring. Get everything set up with pasteurized potting soil and then get the bulbs planted and watered as soon as possible. Set the plants outdoors as soon after as possible. Everything will freeze solid, which is OK. If you want to control the emergence of the flowers in the spring, move them to the north side of your house to slow them down. Put the plants on the south side of the house to speed up flowering. Your biggest problem will be with rabbits and voles nibbling on the new growth. Have some Liquid Fence or similar product available as a preventative. Rabbits and voles can wipe out your efforts literally overnight!


Q: I wanted to buy soil to grow tulip bulbs indoors, but I ended up buying white sphagnum peat instead of soil. What would happen if I grow my tulip bulbs in peat instead of soil? If I do have to buy soil, is it OK to mix it with peat? I do not have a garden, so I need to use the peat somehow. (e-mail reference)

A: Tulip bulbs will grow and flower without soil the first year, so it doesn't make a difference what medium you decide to plant them in. The bulbs will grow in soil, sand or peat. Enjoy!


Q: What will happen if tulip bulbs are not planted 6 inches deep? I just planted a large bed of bulbs, but don't think I got the bulbs deep enough. I would rather not have to dig them up. What do you think? (e-mail reference)

A: They will pop up and grow next spring anyway and should produce nice flowers. However, the tulips might grow earlier in the season than if they were planted at the proper depth. It depends on where they are located in the landscape. You always can reset them next fall.


Q: Can tulips grow through new sod or do I have to relocate them in the fall? (e-mail reference)

A: Tulips can grow through new sod.


Q: I just found out how to harvest tulip seeds. I’m planning to harvest my tulips because we are moving to a new house. While waiting for them to finish blooming, my grandfather passed away. At the funeral, there was a beautiful bouquet of cut tulips. Will I be able to harvest any seeds from the bouquet? They have just lost their petals, so I need to know if I can cut the seed parts now or wait for the stems to dry out. Any advice is appreciated. (e-mail reference)

A: If pollination took place, there probably are some seeds in the pods. If pollination did not occur, then the pods will be empty. All you can do is wait. Usually, florist flowers are grown in a greenhouse (I don't think tulips are, but am unsure). If so, it is in their interest to keep pollination from taking place so the flowers last longer.


Q: I was wondering if you could answer a question about tulips. I have several tulips that have bloomed. Do I need to do anything to the tulips once the blooms have wilted? Do I need to cut off the flower and leave the stem or just leave the whole thing alone? (e-mail reference)

A: Once the bloom is spent, cut off the stem. Allow the foliage to remain until it turns yellow and then pull it gently from the bulb. The tulips should bloom again next year.


Q: I just (late April) bought some tulips that are beginning to open their buds. Is it too late to plant them in the yard and what is the best way to do so that they will come up again next spring? I know nothing about planting tulips, but think they are beautiful. Where is the best place to plant them? What should I do once they finish flowering? If it is too late to put them in the ground, what should I do with them until I am able to plant them? Thanks for your help! (e-mail reference)

A: Plant the tulips as they are in the pot and plant them in a sunny location. If you try to separate tulips out of the pot, they will wilt and die. After the foliage fades in June, dig up the potted bulbs, pull off the spent foliage and store the bulbs in a cool, dry location until mid-September. After that, plant them outdoors where you want. They do well in full sun or partial shade.


Q: I just purchased a historic home loaded with French tulips. We moved in last October. This spring, we had hundreds of beautiful, colorful tulips. I am wondering how long these tulips will live. I would love them to last 10 years, but I was told two to three years. I don't know how long they have been planted here. I suspect for more than three years because the house sat vacant for a year before we took possession. (e-mail reference)

A: I think someone gave you some wrong information or you got it confused. Tulips will last much longer than two to three years, but they often need to be dug up and spaced every three to five years to maintain their blooming vigor. I would suggest that, this fall, you dig them up and reset them with more spacing and possibly in some new locations.


Q: My mom has some tulips, but she doesn't know what to do with the dead buds. (e-mail reference)

A: All she has to do is snip off the flower stem when the flowers begin to fade. She even can leave the flowers on without damaging the plants. However, most homeowners are not interested in tulips setting seeds, so removing the flower stems saves the energy of making seed. That energy can be stored in the bulb for next year's bloom.


Q: I planted some beautiful tulip bulbs at the recommended depth last fall. To my dismay, the bulbs were dug up and eaten. Could it be squirrels that dug up the bulbs? How did they know there were fresh bulbs in the ground? Can squirrels smell new bulbs or dirt? Actually, I don't really care, but I want to know how I can prevent squirrels from eating my bulbs! (e-mail reference)

A: You can. Mix some dried blood with the backfill soil and sprinkle some on top. It will have to be reapplied after a rain or irrigation. Squirrels are clever bounders and will try to outfox us at every opportunity!


Q: We are in the process of moving and would love to take a few tulips with us (for special reasons). Can I transfer the tulips into a pot until we move into our new house? The tulips have started to sprout. (e-mail reference)

A: You can try, but keep your expectations low. I have found that moving tulips after they have started growing is a loser, but perhaps you will have better luck. If possible, try to come back later in the spring, as the foliage turns yellow, to move them.


Q: I bought tulips with the bulbs still attached. Now that the flowers are dying, can I salvage the bulbs? Do I cut the stem and store them or replant right away? (e-mail reference)

A: You can attempt to save the bulbs, but usually the effort is futile. If you want to give it a try, here are some tips. Keep the tulips in the containers they came in. Set the containers outdoors so the plants get sunlight and keep the plants watered. If you are lucky, the foliage will die down slowly and turn yellow. The job is finished when you can separate the foliage from the bulb by gently tugging on it. You then can plant the bulbs.


Q: I recently salvaged the tulips from my mother-in-law's garden after she passed away. They were very crowded. I separated them and planted them again. That was last fall. They are coming up nicely, but very few have more than one leaf. Does that mean they will not produce a flower? If so, is there anything I can do to increase the chance of flowering next spring? (e-mail reference)

A: No, just let them mature to yellowing this spring. They need to get to a larger size and store more carbohydrates before they can flower.


Q: My first question is about iris corms. My sister and I purchased some new plants yesterday and have them in cold storage. Can they be planted outdoors at this time? Iris winter OK once they are planted, so we think they could be planted when the ground is thawed enough to dig. What is your opinion? My second question is about tulips. I have several that are in clumps, so the original bulb must have several bulblets on it. I want to dig these after blooming, then separate the plants and replant to get more tulips. Most of what I have read says this doesn't work. Would I be wasting my time or will I get new plants? I figure they must do this somewhere to get new bulbs to sell. I live in zone 4. (e-mail reference)

A: You can plant the iris after the frost is out of the ground. The tulips can be dug up and replanted after they finish blooming and the foliage dies down. While they will not produce large flowers the first year or two (likely remain vegetative), they should do well after that. This practice is done all the time, so I don't know where you found information to the contrary. Have a good spring!


Q: Your Web site at www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/hortiscope/flowers/tulip.htmwas a great find! Thank you for the comprehensive column. Over the last few years, I have fallen helplessly in love with tulips! Your column answered almost all of my questions. I have three pots of tulips at home that have finished blooming. I have removed the deadheads at the base and am waiting for the green foliage to die. (e-mail reference)

A: Keep the tulips moderately moist until the foliage begins to yellow and then stop watering to allow the bulbs to dry. You can store the bulbs in a cool, dark location and in dry soil until this fall and then plant them outdoors for next spring. If your intent is to use them as potted tulips, take them out of the pots after they dry. Keep them in a dry, cool, dark location until about 60 days before you want to begin bringing them to flower. At that time, place them in the vegetable crisper surrounded by sphagnum peat moss (milled or unmilled) or moist sand. When new growth appears at the tips, repot and place them where you want to show them off. Try to keep them in a cool environment to extend the flowering period.


Q: I planted a large grouping of tulips under some trees last fall. Later this spring I would prefer to remove the bulbs and plant late-spring flowers. With the watering that is required to keep grass and trees alive, I understand the tulip bulbs will rot. How do I remove the bulbs properly and store them? (e-mail reference)

A: You would be overwatering everything if the tulip bulbs rotted! You can leave the bulbs and plant your flowers among the fading tulip foliage. It’s done all the time. If this is not acceptable to you, then I would suggest that you pull or dig the bulbs up as the foliage begins to fade after flowering. By the way, cut off the flower as they start to fade so the plant doesn't put energy into making seed. Store the bulbs in a cool, dark location until you are ready to replant them this fall.


Q: I planted tulip bulbs in the fall. It is February and my flowers are starting to grow, but we are expecting a cold snap with snow. What will happen to my flowers? Is there anything I can do to prevent them from growing so we can enjoy them in the spring? (e-mail reference)

A: You have lots of company this year. Unfortunately, there isn't much one can do except to play with a mulch covering during the cold snaps. Tulips are tough and can survive well in our northern winters. I wouldn't write them off just yet.


Q: I am forcing some tulip and crocus bulbs. I have the bulbs in potting soil and stored in a cold, dark place. The bulbs are starting to sprout, but there also is mold forming on the top of the soil on one of the pots. It is a light, cottony mold. I think one of my mistakes is that the soil is a little too moist, which I am sure promotes mold growth. Is there anything I can do to kill the mold? (e-mail reference)

A: This is just a saprophyte feeding on the organic matter and usually is not a pathogen to the plant. You can scratch the surface of the soil to loosen it and aid in drying it out. I wouldn't apply any fungicides because they’re not needed in this case.


Q: We received some potted tulips and (daffodils?). They're in a very light potting soil. There are 15 to 18 plants or bulbs. They're sprouting in the kitchen window and I want to keep them healthy. I'm assuming that they're old enough to bloom. I need to know how to keep them healthy and blooming. I'm guessing that they should be very lightly watered and left in their pot until they die back, then planted in very light soil with lots of sunlight. When would be the best time to put them into the ground to insure their survival and health? We have heavy soil. Do I need to amend the soil to the same consistency as the potting soil? When and how often should the bulbs be dug up and split? Is it OK to leave them in the ground and not bother with splitting them? (e-mail reference)

A: You are right in all of your assumptions while they are indoors. When spring weather arrives where you live, you can plant them about 6 inches deep (from the tip of the bulb) without amending the soil. They will go through the winter cold and flower for you again the following spring. Dig and divide the bulbs when the blooms begin to become less vigorous, or about every three to five years. I have tulip bulbs that were planted 20 years ago. Unless they were dug up when we planted annuals, perennials or other woody plants in the area, they never have been dug up. While their blooming is not as fantastic as it once was, it is good enough for us. It is a lot easier than digging them up and trying to decide where to plant again.


Q: I salvaged some tulip bulbs that were going to be destroyed by a construction project. They were done blooming, but the leaves were still green. I dug as carefully as I could to keep the foliage, but don’t know what I should do with them now. Also, there were about a gazillion little
bulbs. Are they worth planting? I’ve never grown tulips before. (e-mail reference)

A: Yes, all are worth salvaging if you like tulips. The small ones eventually will flower for you once they get big enough. Get the tulips with foliage on them planted as soon as possible. They need to die down gradually to get carbohydrate storage built up again. If that happens, they will flower for you next year.


Q: I have a number of tulip and daffodil bulbs. Some are dry and some are in pots. I’d like to get them into the garden. I know that one is supposed to plant them in the fall, but what would happen if they went into the ground now? Would the bulbs die, rot, never bloom again or what? (e-mail reference)

A: I don’t know, so take your pick. If you can, try to keep them dry and cool for now, and plant them in September. Then hope for the best next spring. I think everything will turn out better for you if you can wait until then.


Q: In early November, I planted many tulip bulbs. I was thrilled when every single one popped up out of the ground earlier this spring, but I am concerned about the leaves. They are twisty and do not lay close to the stem. I keep them watered, but not too much. I read the description of tulip fire disease, but I don’t think it is that because there is no brownness or gray fungus. Is it normal for the leaves to be a little twisted? (e-mail reference)

A: It sounds like a reaction to a herbicide that may have been used in the planting bed or the adjacent turf area. Unless you have very dry and sandy soil, you don’t need to water tulips once they are established.


Q: I planted some tulips for the first time last fall. They bloomed nicely, but all of the petals fell off some of the plants. Will they rebloom or will I have to wait for the next season? (e-mail reference)

A: Tulips bloom once during a growing season and then gradually go dormant. They will rebloom for you next spring, if you allow the foliage to die down naturally.


Q: I planted some tulip bulbs last fall. They are not flowering, but I do have green stems. What is wrong? (e-mail reference)

A: It could be rabbits, voles, grubs, etc. Take your pick. Allow the leaves to remain and then die naturally. After that, carefully dig a few up and see if the bulbs are OK. If they are, reset them and dust the area around them with sulfur powder. When new growth comes up next spring, spray the plants with hot pepper spray. Pepper spray is an excellent animal deterrent.


Q: Could you help me with a problem I am having with my tulips? They came up, but the leaves are very short. The blossom stems look like they are at ground level. Any suggestions? (e-mail reference)

A: It appears to be an environmental issue because there have been several questions concerning this problem. The problem could be too much rainfall or some other environmental event. There is nothing you can do about it except watch if the bulbs will grow out of this situation.


Q: I planted tulip bulbs last fall and the foliage came up normally this spring. They have started to bloom, but the flower has no stem. It looks like the bloom is sitting on top of the soil. Is this a disease or a genetic oddball? (e-mail reference)

A: It’s not a disease I’m familiar with, so it must be some kind of genetic mutation.


Q: I purchased four groups of tulips at a local store. The flowers are beautiful. On the pot it says the tulips should be allowed to bloom indoors and then planted outdoors. What is the best way to do that? (e-mail reference)

A: Allow the foliage to yellow in the pot. When the foliage can be pulled off with a gentle tug, then plant them where you want them to come up next year. It couldn’t be simpler!


Q: The tulips I planted last fall are blooming at ground level without a stem. What is causing this? (e-mail reference)

A: The tulips could be planted too deep, are dwarf forms or were damaged by overly wet or compacted soil.


Q: I just purchased a pot of fully bloomed tulips. They are beautiful, but I don’t know anything about tulips. When should I plant them outside, how far apart and do they multiply each year? If so, when can I separate them? (e-mail reference)

A: Congratulations on purchasing a beautiful plant. To get them to last as long as possible, store them in a cool location when you are not admiring them. You could put them outside on the north side of your house if you don’t have any wandering rabbits. Once they have finished flowering, remove the spent blooms to keep them from setting seed and allow the foliage to turn completely yellow. Dig where you want them to go and place the bulbs. Remove the completely yellowed foliage. Be sure the tips of the bulbs are 6 inches below the soil surface. Cover the bulbs and give them plenty of water. They should come up next spring.


Q: I just wanted to write about my experience with tulips. I also have some questions. I bought six bulbs from a local hardware store. At the time, I did not know how, when or where to plant them. I planted three of them in my box and saved the others. I stored them incorrectly, so I lost half of them, which made me start to do some research. I read on a Web site that they have to be in a fridge for 90 days, depending on where you live (California). Since I already had planted them, I decided to start watering the plants with ice and ice-cold water. Luckily, that worked. Now I have three beautiful tulips. Now for my questions. I would like to harvest them, as in putting them in a vase. Is there a procedure for this and what do I use to cut them? I’ve read on your Web site that I can get seeds from them. How do I do that? I don’t understand some of the gardener’s language, such as deadhead, on your Web site. Can you explain it to me in plain English? (e-mail reference)

A: Deadheading is simply the removal of the spent flower, by hand, with a pruner or a knife. Obtaining seed from tulips is possible if you allow the flower to go through a complete life cycle. The little knob left on the top of the flower stem is the source of seed. Allow it to remain on the plant until the foliage yellows and then harvest. Tulip flowers are not known for their longevity. Cut them in the early morning while the flowers are young and still closed, but have developed full color. Get them in water as soon as possible and use a preservative (available at florist shops). If you get more than a week out of them, let me know. The way to extend the bloom is to move them into a cooler or refrigerator when they are not being viewed, such as when you are sleeping. Congratulations on your success with ice water!


Q: I received a vase of tulips and want to know how to keep them alive as long as I can. I keep finding material about treated and planted tulips, but mine are cut. (e-mail reference)

A: Tulips as cut flowers are very short-lived. You can help extend their beauty by changing the water often (daily), making fresh cuts on the stems and keeping them in a cool location out of the sun. When they are not going to be viewed, put them in the refrigerator to help extend their beauty.


Q: We just moved into a new home and found out we have tulips. I have a few questions because I don’t know much about them. Do they prefer full-sun or part-shade? I would like to move them because I don’t like where they are planted. When is the best time to transplant and what do I need to do to get them ready? (e-mail reference)

A: Tulips will grow well in full-sun or part-shade. The best time to transplant is in the fall, after the Labor Day weekend. Be sure to tag where they are now so you don't damage them when digging for them in the fall.


Q: I am considering harvesting tulip pod seeds. Should I let the pods dry and crack them open or do you break into the moist, fresh pod? When do you plant the seeds and what's this stuff about storing them in a refrigerator for 90 days? (e-mail reference)

A: Allow the pods to dry on the plant. Carefully harvest the pods and break them open on a table or counter covered with white butcher paper (or something similar). This winter, let them go through the cold period naturally. You can push them by storing the seeds in the crisper of your refrigerator for about 90 days, then sowing them. When planting, barely cover them and keep them moist, not soggy.


Q: I rescued a flower bed of tulips from someone who did not want them. Most have a flower bud. I want to replant them, but the only space I have right now is in a spot where my basset hound will eat them. Is it possible to store the bulbs until the fall or until I have a more ideal place to plant them? What should I do to prepare them and where is the best place to store them? Since they were already sprouting, have I damaged them by digging them out? I have put some in planters but would rather have them planted in the ground. Should I thin out the bulbs or plant each bundle? (E-mail reference)

A: Get them in the ground somewhere as soon as possible without disturbing the bundles. Keep them there until the foliage turns completely yellow, then pull it off. Bring the bulbs inside and put them in a cool, dry, dark location or in the crisper of your refrigerator. Pack them in damp, unmilled sphagnum moss. When you plant them in their permanent location, divide out the "bundles" and add some 10-10-10 as you are setting them.


Q: The leaves of tulips and lilies are spotted with a rust colored, small, circular dot which extends to the flower petals. Last year I planted 100 tulips and only six returned. The leaves of the tulips are not only spotted, but also deformed and twisted. Nothing appears to be wrong with the bulbs. Could this be a late frost problem? (E-mail reference)

A: I doubt it is a frost problem. Tulips are one of the coldest tolerant bulbs on the market. They can grow and bloom even if there is still snow on the ground. My guess is you had some kind of herbicide residue in the soil when you planted them or had some herbicide drift. The fact that the bulbs themselves appear sound is an indication that the problem isn't likely biological.


Q: I have to share an experience with you. Last year I forced some hyacinths and tulips to grow. I always leave them in the pots to dry down and plant them in the garden the next summer. Last fall I forgot about them so they didn't get planted. I believe it was early January when I found them on a shelf in the garage where I had thrown them into a flowerpot. They still looked good even after being there through the heat of summer, etc. I planted them as thickly as I could in a pot. I watered them and put them on the garage floor to go through the cool period. I found them coming up a few weeks ago. I moved them to the house and now have beautiful blooming hyacinths with buds on the tulips. I had planned to only keep them alive until I could plant them outdoors but am now enjoying them instead. We are always told to toss forced bulbs because they have spent their energy and will not amount to anything.

A: You write of a good experience with tulips and hyacinths. I'm glad everything worked out for you. Thank you for being a loyal reader of this column.


Q: My mother received some tulips for Valentine's Day. I’d like to know when I could transplant them. Also, where on the stem do you deadhead? Some say right under the flower while others say close to the bottom of the stem stalk. (E-mail reference)

A: From the plant's point of view, you want to keep it from setting seed as that expends energy that could be used in building a bulb for next year. Cutting it back just under the flower would do that very nicely. From the standpoint of aesthetics, cutting the stalk back to the base will do the same thing and look a lot better. Plant them outdoors after the foliage has completely yellowed and can be pulled off. You should try to keep the foliage in as much direct sunlight as possible to build carbohydrates for next spring's bloom.


Q: I just bought about 60 tulip bulbs. I have always planted my bulbs in the fall, but I have no idea how to get them started so they come up next spring. Is this possible? (McClusky, N.D.)

A: Where on earth did you find tulip bulbs at this time of year? If they were already cold treated, they will bloom this spring. If not, they will remain vegetative. Try planting a few in a pot to see what happens. If they bloom, plant them outside as soon as the frost is out of the ground. Usually the forces of Mother Nature will push them into growing no matter where you store them.


Q: I planted several tulips around our wishing well. As they finished blooming, I planted mums among them for fall blooming. May I spread a thin layer of shredded cedar bark or eucalyptus bark around the mums after the tulip leaves have dried up and I've pulled them? Or would water leach anything bad from the bark and hurt my tulips or mums? ( Watertown, S.D.)

A: It should not be a problem as long as the bark is not fresh. It should be weathered in a pile for about a year.


Q: I have a tulip that has a very distinct color. I have been unable to find any bulbs like it so I’m thinking about trying to collect its seeds. Do you know how to do this? Do they need to be dried and when is the best time to plant? (E-mail reference)

A: Allow the pods on top of the flower stalk to dry, then harvest and clean. Sow the seed to encourage bulb development in mid-September to probably early October if you live south of North Dakota. Keep them cool and dark in a brown paper bag.


Q: What causes tulips to not flower? A friend of mine separated hers and gave me around 20 bulbs last year. I planted them in late fall and now only have healthy looking single leaves. They were not planted in one spot, which makes it even more strange to me. And my friend has the same problem with those she replanted. (Detroit Lakes, Minn.)

A: There are a couple of possibilities. They could have been planted too deep; damage was done during the digging and transplanting or the bulbs were undersized when transplanted. More likely than not they will flower next year if you can leave the foliage on until it dies down by the end of June.


Q: How and when do I plant tulip seeds? Also, what do I spray my flower and strawberry beds with to control weeds? When do I transplant fruit trees that are only 3 feet tall now? (Roscoe, S.D.)

A: Tulip seeds can be planted in mid-September. There are a number of herbicides that can be used in flower beds and strawberry plantings. If the herbicide is registered for a particular crop, it can be used on that crop and the crop consumed, providing the label instructions are followed.

Transplanting of young fruit trees can take place this fall, after they have dropped all their leaves. At that point they are considered dormant. Fall planting allows for the root system to get re-established before the winter closes in. The trees will take off much better the following spring.


Q: My tulips did real well this year. I have done as you are supposed to and let the leaves dry up undisturbed. I notice several of them have produced seed pods. Can I harvest the seed and grow it in the hope of a new color? If so, when and how do I go about harvesting them? ( Jamestown, N.D.)

A: Simply collect the seed and scatter them where you want them to grow in barely disturbed soil, lightly cover with soil, and see what comes up. I have never done this, but from what I understand, it takes about three years of growth to produce bulbs of decent size that will produce flowers.


Q: I'm having a terrible time germinating tulip seeds. I saved a tulip pod last year, planted the seeds in little flats, and they germinated after a few months at the back of the refrigerator. The tulip seedlings came up, grew into little green threads, and then withered back, seeming to have formed tiny little bulbs. It wasn't damping off disease, and nothing I've tried so far has gotten them to come up again. If you know what the next step is, or what I'm doing wrong, I'd really appreciate some help! (E-mail reference, Canada)

A: You are asking me about something I have never done, so my answers are going to be based on what I think is a logical sequence to follow. If they truly formed little bulbs, then they need a cool period, refrigerator levels, for at least 90 days. Then take them out and plant them in some potting soil where they can get warmth and light. They should sprout again, making foliage but not flowering. This procedure will probably have to be repeated for another season or two before the bulbs reach a "planting" size for the outdoors.


Q: I have had high water problems with my foundation which will necessitate excavating the outside as soon as the ground thaws. My problem is that most of my tulips are planted there. How can I save them? Can I transplant them into the garden with the plan of replanting them next fall?

Also, I have two small saguaro cacti growing in pots. They are several years old and are growing slowly. I haven't found a comprehensive guide to their care. Should they be repotted? How often? When should they be watered and how much? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: Allow the tulips to emerge, then when excavation is necessary, remove and replant. If the foliage has not turned yellow yet, that is OK. So to answer your questions in a word: yes!

Saguaro cacti will stay small in a small container and get larger when placed in a larger one. Generally people keep them in the container size they are happiest with. They don't require much in fertilizer or water.


Q: What do I do if my tulips start to come up with the nice weather lately? Will it damage them or kill them if we have a cold snap? (Gardner, N.D.)

A. Don't do anything. Tulips are very cold hardy and adapted to our climate. You will likely have more damage from the cottontails that rove the state looking for freshly sprouting tulips. To prevent rabbit damage, I suggest covering them with a wire mesh or wire cages as they begin to emerge.


Q: Can a person put crabgrass preventer on in the spring over a piece of ground that has been sown with grass? Also, can I spray Roundup over tulips and lilies that are not up so I can kill quackgrass? (e-mail)

A: There is only one pre-emergent crabgrass herbicide that can be used that way -- Tupersan (Siduron). All others will take out the desired turfgrass seed as well. Roundup is deactivated as soon as it hits the soil. As long as there is not green showing above ground, the tulips will be safe.


Q: I have a nice tulip area in my garden. I noticed this fall there are tulip bulbs or corms on top of the ground. Why is this happening and what should be done with them? (e-mail)

A: Those are likely the "seeds" from the flowers of this past spring. You probably didn't dead-head them all after flowering, and some set seed and fell to the ground, did a little growing on their own, and are now "bulblets." Plant them about 2 inches deep, and they will come up next spring and produce some small flowers, possibly. Try it, see what happens and let me know.


Q. When is the best time to plant tulip bulbs, and how deep should they be planted? I also would like to plant some iris. Would I plant them the same as tulips? (Donnelly, Minn., e-mail)

A. Generally, tulips are planted about 6 inches below the soil surface and planted en masse at a site rather than individually. Think in dozens rather than individuals.

Iris, on the other hand, are planted just below the soil surface--about 2 inches. With iris, you are likely better off planting them in the spring to allow the roots to get established in the new location. I'm afraid they could be winterkilled from heaving if planted in the fall.


Q. How and when do I plant tulip seeds? Also, what do I spray my flower and strawberry beds with to control weeds? When do I transplant fruit trees that are only 3 feet tall now? (Roscoe, S.D.)

A. Tulip seeds can be planted in mid-September. There are a number of herbicides that can be used in flower beds and strawberry plantings. If the herbicide is registered for a particular crop, it can be used on that crop and the crop consumed, providing the label instructions are followed.

Transplanting of young fruit trees can take place this fall, after they have dropped all their leaves. At that point they are considered dormant. Fall planting allows for the root system to get re-established before the winter closes in. The trees will take off much better the following spring.


Q. Can you tell me why my tulips have wide leaves and no stem for the blossom? I am wondering if they are too close together and that is what is causing them to not flower. (Watertown, S.D.)

A. Being too close is usually not a problem with tulips flowering. However, they are at the top of the list for bunny food, which makes me suspect them as the perpetrators of the damage!

It probably wouldn't hurt to dig them up and re-space them again either.


Q. I have some daffodil and tulip bulbs in my refrigerator and I was wondering when I should start these to hopefully get them to bloom by Easter? (Stratford, S.D., e-mail)

A. Get some stones or peat moss and place them in pots, trying to keep them as cool as possible, and giving them as much light as possible. If you can get the nights down to 55F or lower, this would be best. Enjoy! I'd be surprised if some of them are not already sprouting!


Q. I received 150 tulip bulbs from Amsterdam this week and have no idea how to plant them. I would like to plant them in my garden as a large group and don't want to replant them every year. Can you help? (Fargo, N.D., e-mail)

A. If you can, check into our web site, http://www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu. There you should find the guide for planting bulbs. To be on the safe side, I am sending a bulb planting guide for your reference, "Flowering Bulbs for North Dakota" (H-992). In the meantime here is what I would suggest: Excavate the area to be planted down to about 6 inches to 8 inches. Try to get the base as level as reasonably possible. Then set the bulbs into this area, spacing them about 4 inches to 6 inches apart, depending on the size of the bulbs. Try to keep the top perpendicular to the soil surface. This will make for a dramatic show next spring. Now carefully cover the bulbs, making sure you don't knock any off center, and water in completely.

Word to the wise: Squirrels love tulips! Get some repellent or some wire covering to keep the little bounders out.


Q. I planted some tulips and most came up. Some have hard buds. Others look like buds, then yellow (if you look closely, there is a black center with leaves folded over and around center). I have a lot like this that do not bloom. (Bismarck, N.D.)

A. Thanks for writing and the good sample.

Your tulips need a site with better drainage. I suggest digging them and moving them to another location, or improving the drainage at the present site.

Most of the time this would not be important, but with the heavy snow accumulation of recent years, and the resulting in-soaking from the heavy melt-off, drainage is becoming more critical with all horticultural plantings.


Q: While visiting the East Coast I fell in love with the beautiful tulip poplars. I've been checking catalogs and some say that they are hardy in this area (Breckenridge).
Would they be hardy and bloom here? (Breckenridge, Minn., e-mail)

A: The Liriodendron tulipifera, or tulip poplar, is an easy tree to fall in love with, and it may survive for a time in your location. It can tolerate a
temperature to minus 25 F without injury but will most likely never get to the size of the ones that you saw back east--70 to 90 feet tall. It does prefer a
slightly acid soil pH 6.5 and is subject to sunscald and is sensitive to moisture stress.


Q: I need to know what to do with the dead tulip stems. (e-mail)

A: Tulip foliage needs to die out naturally. When it has yellowed completely, it should separate easily from the bulb with gentle tugging. If you remove the foliage too early, the bulbs will not flower next year. The foliage is making the food for that show next year right now, as long as it stays green. You can rubber band the leaves together and plant annuals around them in the mean time.


Q: I have collected some tulip and seeds from other spring bulbs, and want to plant them. I saw in another question that they should be planted in September. If so, can I expect to see any growth this fall or do they wait until spring? Should I do anything special when planting?  There are many wild rose plants near where I work. If I take some of the seed pods can I just plant the seeds? Do wild roses have any problems being around more cultivated roses? (E-mail reference, Amherst, N.Y.)

A: Yes to all of your questions, except the last one. Tulip seeds can be planted shallowly this fall, and will germinate the following spring. I would mulch them lightly with peat moss after the soil freezes initially. The same with rose seed. Wild roses will not have any problems with being around domestic ones. 


Back to Flowers Menu
Back to the Hortiscope Table of Contents