Thursday, February 23, 2017

Tulips Emerging Early by Donna Duffy

Late season tulips emerging in February, photo by Donna Duffy

This recent surge of warm weather has created conditions for some spring-blooming bulbs to emerge early. You’ve probably noticed crocus blooming, especially if they are near a wall or rock. Crocus are tough, low-growing flowering bulbs, and can tolerate snow and cold. I also noticed that some of my late-season tulips  have just broken ground, and that is more unusual. Here are some tulip tips for late winter from Ron Smith, Horticulturalist at the North Dakota State University Extension Office.

Photo courtesy

Question: 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? 

Answer:  Unfortunately, there isn't much one can do except to increase mulch covering during the cold snaps. Tulips are tough and can survive well in our unpredictable winters. A key consideration is how far along your bulbs are in their emergence and bloom cycle. If the foliage emerged fairly recently, you probably don't have much to worry about. Foliage is not often damaged by cold. If it is, the plant still often recovers fully and goes on to bloom without any adverse affects.

Question: What will happen if tulip bulbs were not planted 6 inches deep? I planted a large bed of bulbs, but don't think I got the bulbs deep enough. 

Answer: They will pop up and grow in the 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.

Photo courtesy

Question: I 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? 

Answer: 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 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.

Don't despair! Most spring-flowering bulbs can handle whatever Mother Nature throws at them.