One of the first signs of spring is the emergence of the tulip through the snowy ground. For those in the north, this is a hallowed moment and one that is celebrated after a long, cold winter. For other parts of the country, it is just a happy occasion that spring has arrived and the tulips are opening. If you don’t know much about tulips, read on. They have a very interesting beginning!

Tulip History

The tulip is not native to Holland, but it seems like it is. The tulips origins began way back in 1593, in Holland. A botanist by the name of Carolus Clusius is believed to have planted the first tulip bulb in Holland, with the purpose of using it to study for medicinal purposes. Clusius studied botany in other countries and brought several of the bulbs with him when he traveled to Holland. He planted a small garden of tulip bulbs and once they blossomed, they attracted much attention. All of his neighbors wanted one, but he wouldn’t comply.

The first tulip breed he used isn’t known for sure, but it was probably red with a small yellow or black center. The natives were smitten with the tulip and all clamored to have tulip bulbs of their own to brighten their gardens, but he wouldn’t sell them. This created even more demand for them. So one night, his garden was broken into and the bulbs were stolen. The thieves were even bold enough and created the Dutch Tulip Trade. The bulbs were sold and some grown to multiply and continue selling to others. Tulip bulbs became such a hot commodity, that people were going bankrupt in order to buy the bulbs. And since the bulbs were so valuable, they were not planted in the gardens for fear of being stolen.

The tulip bulb is even credited with ruining several businessmen in later years. The bulbs were grown and given such a high value, that the economy of Holland balanced upon the success of tulips bulbs. But, every good thing comes to an end. The tulip trading business crashed, out of speculation on bad bulbs and the inability of growers to produce enough to meet the demand. Tulips lost their value and people began to plant them again.

Now, with the demand equal to production, over half of the farmland across the country is set aside to raise tulip bulbs. Growing tulips in Holland has become one of the biggest industries in the country. Over one billion tulips are sent to the United States and other places around the world each year! Tulip bulbs are grown in other regions, but Holland is the main supplier to the world and has the largest number of heirloom breeds.

Where to get Tulip Bulbs

Tulip Bulbs can be purchased from a variety of sources, but their quality may not always be the same. Home improvement and garden supply stores carry a wide selection of colors and styles of tulips. They will get in bulbs from other countries that might not have high standards of quality, but are cheap. Be sure to check over your package or bulb carefully to make sure you are getting quality bulbs for planting.

Mail order catalogs and online flower sites also carry hundreds of types of tulip bulbs. Be sure to thoroughly investigate an online order site or a catalog to see if they offer a guarantee or money back policy for damaged goods. The prices for the bulbs will all vary, as well as the shipping costs, so be sure to inquire about added fees before you place your order. Just because a bulb is higher priced doesn’t mean that the quality will be too. See if they list references or happy customer comments.

Where Tulips Grow

Tulips are a perennial bulb. They need the cold winter months to be dormant in order to grow again the following season. Therefore, tulips will not grow in tropical regions very well. They can be tricked to grow indoors, and then placed in cold storage for a few months. They might not last as long or grow as big, but manipulation may work for one or two seasons.

How to Select Bulbs

A healthy tulip bulb will have several dry, brown layers covering and protecting the bulb. Some small roots may also be coming out of the bottom of the bulb. The bulb should be firm all over with no soft spots or dark colored spots that look like rot. It should be dry and not damp or wet in any place. Depending upon the type of tulip you are looking at will determine the size of the bulb. Some bulbs for dwarf tulips are only an inch or two in size, while larger tulip breeds have three to five inch bulbs. If there is one small bulb within a batch of larger ones that are all the same variety, it is probably not healthy.

Tulip Varieties

Tulips have been bred to grow in all sizes and colors since their initial beginnings. Now there are over one-hundred species of tulips to plant and admire. Their colors range from shades of yellow to pink to red to white. The centers all have different markings, but usually are yellow and black with black or gold stamens and a gold pistol (center). The petals can be smooth and waxy like a traditional tulip. Special breeds of tulips now have feathery petals that are soft and not waxy looking. There are single colored tulips and there are variegated varieties, with petals of pink and white. Dwarf tulip varieties grow to be about four to six inches tall while other kinds can grow to be twelve to fifteen inches tall. There is a type of tulip for taste of gardener.

How to Plant

The fall is the preferred time to plant tulip bulbs, but early spring will also work. Dig a hole several inches deep and loosen the surrounding soil. You may even want to layer a bit of compost in the bottom of your hole for extra drainage and organic material. Place the bulb root side down and cover with soil, packing it in lightly. You may not want to water the bulb, since it is dormant for a few months to come anyway. The rain and snows during the fall and winter months will be enough to sustain it until it does begin to grow in the spring. Space tulips two to four inches apart and plant in clumps or in straight-line borders.

Care of Tulips

The spring will bring your tulips to blossom. There isn’t much work required of your tulip. Watch it sprout and then open up in to a glorious colored bloom. If you want to bring the beauty indoors, you can cut the stems and they will last for a few days in a vase. The petals will fall off after a few days and the flower will die.

The summer suns make the tulips cease their blooming. The leaves will remain green for the rest of the summer, but there will be no more blooms. You can clip off the dead flower heads or just leave until the fall.

In the fall, your tulip bulbs will need a little maintenance. You can cut back the greenery if it hasn’t already dried up and fallen off. If it has been several years since their planting, you will want to dig them up and separate the bulbs. The bulbs keep growing every year and can be split into several bulbs after a few growing seasons. This allows you to have more tulips without buying more bulbs. Replace back in the ground after separating the bulbs.

The bulbs do not have to be dug up and stored inside for the winter. If they were dug up, they wouldn’t get the chance to bloom in the early spring since you probably won’t be out planting in the last remnants of the snow! If winter is hard in your area, you may want to consider covering them with leaves or mulch or a plastic container on top. Check the container carefully though, since bright sun could give the bulbs a false sense of spring and begin to bloom in the heat.

Famous Tulips

Tulips are such a popular flower that several festivals are held in their honor every year. The country of Holland has a Tulip Festival that draws hundreds of thousands of people each year. It is scheduled to coincide with the tulip blossoming and celebrate another prosperous year. Vendors sell products of every kind with a tulip decorating it. The Tulip Festival will have food vendors, tulip sales, and all types of activities going on for several days.

In the United States, Holland, Michigan also holds a Tulip Festival in May. The city has the most tulips planted of any city in Michigan, and even some other states. They mimic the festival in the real Holland with vendors, food, activities for the family and of course, lots of tulips.


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