Tulips are so gullible. They can be fooled into thinking spring has sprung months ahead of schedule. All it takes are a few tools, a big chill and patience.
Tulips can be temperamental, so choose the right bulbs, such as Darwin hybrids, single- and double-early and Triumph tulips. The National Garden Bureau also suggests shorter-growing varieties such as T. humilis or T. puchella, both species tulips. Always select large, firm bulbs.
It’s past time to start tulips for Christmas bloom. That should start in October. If forcing begins in September or October, tulips need 12 to 16 weeks to bloom, but the NGB says they need only 8 to 10 weeks if started in December.
Gather your materials: Soilless potting mix or a good quality potting soil, clean pots with drainage holes, bulb fertilizer and water. For whatever reason, tulips grow best in clay pots. Gauge pot size by the bulb — tall tulips need deeper pots; shorter tulips need shallow pots.
Fill container with mixture of soil and a pinch of fertilizer for each bulb, leaving room at the rim. Arrange bulbs close together, but not touching, as many as you can fit. Fill in with soil. Pointy ends should be poking up out of the soil. Water thoroughly.
Bulbs need to chill out in a fridge, unheated garage, basement, root cellar, outdoor cold frame or trench. Keep at 32 F to 50 F. In a fridge, don’t let bulbs and apples share space. Apples produce ethylene gas that prevents flowering.
Keep pots moist; check periodically. When sprouts appear, bulbs have broken. Bring them in from the cold and into the light.
Place in bright, indirect light at 50 F to 65 F for two weeks. Flowers appear faster — and stems are shorter — in warmer rooms. When shoots are 2 inches tall, move pots into a sunny spot at 68 F. Flowers should appear within a week or so. Remember to water.
Compost bulbs after flowering. They won’t rebloom.
Early blooming tulips: “Abba,” double early, red; “All Seasons,” Triumph, cherry red; “Princess Irene,” single early, orange with flame markings; “Monte Carlo,” double early, bright yellow; “Christmas Dream,” single early, rosy red; “Negrita,” Triumph, deep purple;”White Dream,” Triumph, ivory white.
Late blooming tulips: “Angelique,” double late, pink; “Arabian Mystery,” Triumph, purple with white edge; “Page Polka,” Triumph, deep red, striped white; “Red Riding Hood,” Greigii, carmine red edged in yellow.