When tulips begin to bloom, gardeners know that spring is near. Tulips grow from bulbs and produce bright blooms, including shades of red, yellow, purple, orange and pink. The flowers come in single, double, speared and a variety of other blossoming shapes. Noted for their long sturdy stems and long blooming life, tulips are a well-known cut flower and are widely celebrated in the Netherlands, where a large portion of the flower bulbs sold in the United States come from.
The tulip flower is recognized around the world as the representative of the Netherlands, and tourists travel to the area just to view the miles and miles of colorful tulip fields. The tulip did not come from the Netherlands, but grew first in the wilds of Central Asia. The tulip was not introduced to the Netherlands until the 17th century, when a famous biologist, Carolus Clusius, planted the bulbs in the Netherlands, which led to the famous tulip fields and eventually the worldwide bulb trade industry.
Tulips grow from a compact bulb that looks very much like a small onion. The tulip bulb acts like a storage unit for all the nutrients the bulb will need until time for it to grow. Tulip bulbs require a period of cold storage, so the flowers automatically appear every year in zones that get a cold winter. To grow tulips in the warmer western areas of the United States, bulbs need an artificial cold period.
Some tulip blossoms have dramatic variegation that split them into two colors. It is not unusual to see a white tulip with an orange, fiery-looking design or a yellow tulip with a pink design resembling a flame. These interesting variations in blooms are surprisingly created from an infection known in the tulip growing industry as Tulip-breaking virus. The virus can be spread by aphids, so these types of tulips, which are sometimes called Rembrandt, should never be grown close to solid-colored tulips.
Plant tulips according to package instructions, usually at least 5 inches deep. Tulips need to get no less than 5 hours of full sun every day. For the rest of the day, tulips should receive light shade. Tulips prefer rich, well-drained soil, a moist winter and a dry summer season. Tulips can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 8, but in warmer areas, tulips need to undergo a cold period, which can be produced by storing the bulbs in the refrigerator until planting time. Be sure to choose bulbs that don't have any signs of rot. The larger bulbs will produce better flowers.
Tulips make excellent cut flowers and are widely used by florists. Cut them with scissors and wash their stems under a faucet as soon as you cut them. Pick your tulips when the bloom is just barely opening. Stems can continue to grow up to 6 inches after cutting, so a taller vase works well. Cut tulips can also be displayed in smaller vases. Tulips will have a natural look as they bend over the edge of a short vase.