Answers from the Tulip Expert
thanks to Eve Blanchard for providing her time and expertise in responding
to your questions below.
Is there any way I could have tulips planted in my yard here in Tucson,
From: Seattle, WA
Q: We came to school today to find all 50 of our Red Emperor tulips in glorious bloom! As one student commented from across the playground, it looks like part of the school garden is on fire! The tulips, while being just beautiful, seem stunted in height, and we are curious as to why this might be... It is important to note that the same is true of MANY of the tulips in our larger neighborhood.....Throughout the Seattle area, tulips seem to be a bit vertically challenged this year! We are wondering if this may be due to a frigid cold snap that occurred in March, after a couple of weeks of higher than normal temperatures and sunny days..... Still, they are just fantastic, and everyone is commenting on how wonderful the huge patch of red is in our school garden. We wish everyone involved in The Journey North a happy arrival of Spring!
A: Good thinking, Lafayette students. Yes, a drastic change in weather can cause tulips to be stunted. (They are a bit more heat-sensitive than daffodils and other spring bulbs.) This often happens when a warm spell is followed by a cold snap. When I looked at this 3-month graph of average temperatures in your area, I saw some real fluctuations!
Your warm January weather (or a warmer winter in general) could also break your bulbs’ “dormancy” too early. Most tulips need 12 to 16 weeks of underground chilling in order to grow and bloom well. But it sounds like you have beautiful blooms, so I’m sticking with my theory that temperature fluctuations were to blame.
If you had told us that only your tulips were stunted, but not tulips elsewhere in the neighborhood, I might have made one of these conclusions: 1) you planted them too late, so they weren’t chilled long enough or 2) they were in soil that was overly compacted or wet.
So, you see, even “experts” have to consider the data and try to come up with explanations that seem to fit. No one knows all the answers. That’s what is so exciting about science!
Q: How can I keep cut tulips from flopping over the vase? They were perfect, then I changed the water in the vase and even before I could get them back into the vase they were all wiggly!
A: Good observation! I suspect that many of us have seen that happen, but few of us wonder why it does. Unlike most flowers, tulip stems keep growing in the vase -- sometimes as much as an inch or more after being clipped. As the growing stem responds to sunlight and gravity, it bends, twists, and weaves. This “dance” can actually be recorded on stop-action film. To keep your tulips from flopping, you can try cutting them very short. TRY THIS: Make an experiment! Cut and measure a few tulips then put into a vase. Periodically measure the length of the tulip stems. Also watch to see what happens as the light hits the tulips from different angles.
From: Gainesville, Florida
Ms. Brady's Fourth Grade
Q: This is the second year we have planted tulips. Last year our bulbs were improperly stored near some fruits and vegetables and had some visible mold. They emerged beautifully, but the blooms were white-ish and shriveled at best. We thought the mold was the culprit and were very careful about storage this year. This year our bulbs were very healthy at planting time. Again our bulbs emerged looking very healthy, but come bloom time they were deformed. We planted in the same spot as the year before. Can the mold live from year to year or do you have any other insight? We plan to plant in various locations on campus next year to test our hypothesis, but thought you might know what the disease is called and how to avoid it. Thanks!!!
A: I’m glad to hear that you’re testing your hypothesis by planting in different locations. You are clearly thinking and acting like scientists! Tulip bulbs can develop different types of molds when they’re stored. For instance, if the mold looks blue or green, it is probably penicillium, which can severely damage tulips. Gray mold, which thrives in wet soil, starts on the root end and attacks the bulb. It can cause the emerging plant to wither and die. Did you dig up any bulbs and observe what was happening underground?
Good thinking! Mold spores can overwinter on plant remains and in soil. You’ve already suggested a good solution: Plant new bulbs in a different location. Please let us know what happens to your bulbs next spring! Here are some other ways to avoid bulb diseases:
• Don’t plant bulbs that are badly damaged or moldy. Tip: Healthy tulip bulbs will sink in water, but decayed bulbs will float. Try testing some yourselves!
• Plant tulip bulbs in well-drained soil.
• Clean up leftover plant material once bulbs have bloomed and leaves have died back.
P.S. Factors other than mold can cause your tulips to be deformed. For instance, in your area, warm winter weather could break bulb “dormancy” too early. Most tulips need 12 to 16 weeks of underground chilling in order to grow and bloom well. Did that happen in your area this past winter?
From: Franklin, New Hampshire
Raidant living homeschool club
We started a family tradition up here in New Hampshire. Each Fall,
Dad and his 2 sons plant 100 tulip bulbs and 100 daffodil bulbs. This
has gone on for 9 years - slowly filling up the back row of our yard.
Every year ALL daffodils return, but only 2 out of 20 tulips return.
More tulips return the first year, then it quickly declines. Question:
Why? I have heard dig em' up, too crowded, BUT in 1-2 years????? :>
Hum...... with warm regards, thanks!
From: Fairfield, Illinois
Why would two blooms come from one bulb? (picture submitted to M.
Hosier) Our hypothesis is that two bulbs are planted right on top
of each other. It would have been planted that way by accident. Another
thought was that the bulbs were so close they grew together.
Winds also play a role. Our Pacific Coast has fairly steady temperatures, because prevailing winds come from the west over mild Pacific waters. But these westerly winds come across the extreme temperatures of the continent before reaching the East Coast. When you looked at both coasts on Journey North tulip maps, did you notice a difference in tulip emergence or bloom dates? Look at this map of minimum temperatures in the United States. What patterns do you notice? How do they compare with patterns on Journey North tulip maps?
From: Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Q: We have not had a lot of rain and our tulip beds are dry and cracked. Should we water them? Please give specific details. Thank You.
A: Yes, tulips should get about 1 inch of water each week in the spring. Otherwise, these living things will dry out. If you don’t have much rain, you’ll have to do the watering yourselves!
Q: We are having trouble putting our observations on your site can you please send a detailed instructions. thanks We love this project. Thank you.
We rely on all the
citizen scientists involved with Journey North projects to help us
create the "Big Picture" about animal migrations and seasonal
change. We want you to be successful reporting in to the site!
From: Nottingham, New Hampshire
Marsch Island Homeschool
Q: I planted tulips inside and outside. The sprouts inside were green and the sprouts outside came up red at first, then turned green! I've really wondered about this. Does it have something to do with the weather?
A: That’s a tough one! Here’s my guess: The red is actually a pigment in the tissues of the tulip plant. When the tulip is under any kind of stress, which could be the cold temperatures at ground level during emergence, the red will be visible. You can see this kind of pigment showing on leaves in the autumn when the movement of water and food is cut off the leaves before they drop.
Q: On my Journey North tulip garden maps, it looks like most of the tulips that emerged and bloomed first, are near a coast of an ocean. Why is this? Thank you very much! -Jillian age 10.
A: You’ve asked a great question! Ocean water holds heat longer than land does, so land temperatures near oceans are very steady. They don’t change as much during the year as inland temperatures do. Inland areas have much more extreme temperatures: very cold winters and hot summers. So it can take longer for spring temperatures to rise enough for tulips to emerge. Look at this map of minimum temperatures in the United States. What patterns do you notice? How do they compare with patterns on Journey North tulip maps?
From: Collegeville, Pennsylvania
Perkiomen Valley HS
We know that the flower that bloomed this year was actually made by
the plant during the growing season last year. When we planted our
bulbs just after Thanksgiving, we had some bulbs left over that just
didn't fit in the beds we made. We planted those extra bulbs in pots
and kept them in the refrigerator all winter. They emerged four days
earlier than the bulbs in the ground! However after growing on the
window sill, they produced healthy leaves, but the flower buds were
just shrunken nothings. Why didn't the pre-made flowers develop like
the ones outside are doing?
Expert, Eve Blanchard
How to Use FAQ's About Journey North Species
Since 1995, experts have contributed answers to students' questions about each Journey North species. These questions and answers are archived in our FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) section. You can use today's Answers from the Expert above, along with those from previous years, in the activities suggested in the lesson, "FAQ's About Journey North Species"