Whether you are cutting tulips in the spring or planting them in the fall, these tips gathered from gardeners and floral designers featured in Flower will help you get the best results. But first, here are some of our favorite tulip arrangements to inspire your springtime creativity.
Favorite Tulip Arrangements
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Palm Beach floral designer Tom Mathieu created a blaze of orange by combining Dutch parrot tulips and ‘Ad Rem’ tulips. Photo by Jessica Glynn
Designer Mimi Brown shares an easy-to-assemble tulip arrangement to dress up your home in an excerpt from Living Floral by Margot Shaw. See step-by-step instructions. Tulip varieties: Residence, Crossfire, Jan Buis, Apricot Parrot, Cerise Parrot. Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner
In Lewis Miller’s book, Styling Nature (Rizzoli New York, 2016), the floral designer breaks down his method of arranging. These parrot tulips remind us "that the silhouette of an arrangement will change over time. An arrangement is a living thing; by day three the flowers will have taken on a new shape." Photo by Don Freeman
“Layers, lines, shapes—all of it to me is like a soft, sculptural, breathing puzzle,” says floral designer Kate Holt. Flower List: parrot tulips, fringed tulips, ranunculus, Japanese sweet peas, California lilacs, honeysuckle vine, and Pieris japonica. Photo by Elizabeth Messina
Tips for Growing Tulips
When to plant: Plant tulips when temperatures average 60 degrees or lower. (This could be September in the North and December in the South.)
To pre-chill or not to pre-chill: Check with your local cooperative extension service to see if you need to pre-chill your bulbs prior to planting. If you pre-chill bulbs in the refrigerator, keep them away from vegetables, which release a gas that can keep bulbs from flowering.
pH: Bulbs like soil with a pH of 6 to 6.5. Have a soil test performed prior to planting in case you need to add lime or aluminum sulfate.
Sun and drainage: Be sure to plant in a sunny area with well-drained soil. Tulip bulbs rot in standing water.
When to go off book: Plant large bulbs a little deeper than recommended to ensure strong stalks.
Fertilize in fall and early spring with a bulb fertilizer to ensure stronger bulbs and a slightly longer bloom time.
Water your bulbs after planting. You should not have to water them again unless you live in a naturally dry area.
Tips Harvesting & Arranging Tulips
Harvest the flowers to bring in your home just before the bud fully blooms.
For cool storage: Carefully dig up the bulbs with the flowers still attached, says flower farmer Natasha McCrary of 1818 Farms in Mooresville, Alabama. “With the bulbs attached, I then tuck the tulips into crates to be stored dry in our cooler. Dry means they are not placed in water. Because the tulip is still connected to its food source, they can be stored for up to one month in the cooler.” She also wraps a bungee cord around the stems in the crate to keep them upright in the cooler. “This encourages tulips to straighten and extend their stem length,” she says.
Put cut stems in water immediately. If you are purchasing tulips from a store, wrap the cut stems in wet paper towels to keep them from drying before you get them home.
Cut each tulip stem at an angle with a sharp knife or floral snips. This will make the tulips last longer and make them easier to insert into the arrangement.
Remove unwanted leaves by gently pulling them back and peeling them away from the stem.
In case you have a droopy tulip, you can wire it around the stem from top to bottom to hold it upright. (Of course, for a naturalistic or artful look, downward curving stems may be just what you are after.)
To keep tulip petals from opening up any further, take a straight pin and prick each tulip through the stem just beneath its bloom.
For more open tulips: “An insider trick I picked up is to manually open up tulips,” says New York event designer Mimi Brown. “Gently flip back the outer petals; this can be just a smidge, or it can be pulled way back. (If a petal splits, don’t worry.) Doing this can dramatically change the look of the flower.”
Experiment with letting tulips open fully for a dramatic look. California-based floral designer Lauryl Lane says, “I love letting them pop like that. Of course they don’t last very long after they’ve fully opened, but if you time it just right, they are stunning in event arrangements.”
Finally, you’re not imagining it! Your cut tulip stems will continue to grow in the vase.
By the editors of Flower magazine