In the Bay Area most all the professional and commercial gardeners plant newly purchased tulip bulbs each year. Rarely do we find any of these profes-sionals replanting bulbs that they have saved from year to year. There is a basic reason; the first is that in order to have bulbs that will rebloom you have to cut the current bloom off. If you don’t do this the energy that goes into the bloom will reduce the ability of the bulb to form and create the next year’s bloom. I can just see these people cutting off the show of color before it gets a chance to please the audience.
If you think that tulips come from Holland, you would be correct as to the bulbs you purchase, but they are indigenous to the rugged areas of Turkey, Afghanistan, and China, including the forbidding mountainous regions of central Asia. These wild forms of the tulips do not match the beauty of today’s hybrids, but are the proud parents nonetheless. Although the flowers do not equal the beauty of our hybrid varieties they will grow year after year without having to be replanted each year. They can be special ordered from many mail order companies. You can Google that information.
The bulb grower’s year goes something like this: They plant seed bulbs (small bulbs) in October, covering the bulbs’ beds with a winter cover of hay or alfalfa, cut the heads off in March, April, or May and harvest in July and August. From here they are back by themselves before the harvest. It is at this time that the bulbs have reached their proper size.
In her book, “The Tulip”, Anna Pavord describes many of her adventures in Turkey and other none too friendly countries as she traced the history of the tulip. It is excellent reading to be sure. The temperatures and the soils in which native tulips grow emphasizes drainage, winter chill, and warm summers. Without these three natural conditions, tulips will not naturalize nor bloom well the succeeding years. This is why professional gardeners and com-mercial landscapers plant with new bulbs each and every year.
Most all of the tulip bulbs that are available have been prechilled and so it isn’t necessary to put them in the refrigerator. For the best display in our area you should look for the Darwin hybrids. They have long stems so that if the weather warms up at blooming time they will still give a good display with long stems. So many of the other, more fancy varieties will bloom with short stems if the weather turns warm. As with other bulbs size is important. This is especially true if your soil is on the heavy side. Without a larger sized bulb, there may not be enough energy to push the bloom bud high enough to make a show of the flower. It is important to condition the soil properly so as to make it possible for the bulb to send up the bloom bud. The less energy used the better the bloom.
My own personel experience with tulips becoming naturalized is a mix. Most of the time I run out of energy to replant every year and so I just leave them
to do their own thing. This usually works for three years, but after that time they peter out. I’m in the process of rethinking my front planters with tulips in mind along with other flowering plants. I’ll keep you informed how this goes.