Tempting Tulips

Winter is on its way – and so are all the wonderful winter bulbs that we are able to get here in sunny South Africa.

Among them all the one that gardeners are always excited to get their hands on is the Tulip. Many gardeners tend to shy away from planting these bulbs as they are often perceived as being tricky to grow – a gross misrepresentation of the tolerant tulip. 

However, as they do best in cold climates, tulips are not often grown in warmer South Africa. They need a period of cool dormancy, known as vernalization to flower well, thriving in climates with long, cool springs and dry summers.  Fortunately, new hybrids are being developed all the time and some more suited to our climate are available locally.

The tulip bulbs Hadeco offers are known as ‘treated tulips’. What goes into making them work better for us? It’s all about programming them to flower earlier and more reliably. Hadeco does this by giving tulips a cold treatment before they get to you. The process of temperature treating is determined by the flowering cycle of the bulb, which consists of periods of wakefulness and rest governed by the seasons. To achieve the best results from bulbs it is always best to mimic the environment in which they grow naturally.

Now, tulips are dormant through the hot summer months and wake up with the arrival of cooler temperatures. So to mimic this life-cycle, during their dormant periods the bulbs are lifted and stored in rooms with carefully monitored temperature and humidity. The temperature is first raised to 24ºC to imitate summer, and is then dropped to 5ºC. If you control the temperature that surrounds the bulb it can be tricked into flowering earlier. When you plant the bulb in June the soil temperature, although still relatively low, is warmer than 5ºC. So the bulb behaves as if spring has arrived and it will grow more vigorously than untreated bulbs. The treated tulips are more tolerant of warmer conditions and are a better choice for containers.

Just bear in mind – as soon as the treated bulbs are removed from the cool conditions of storage they begin to grow. As a result, treated bulbs must be planted within 10 days once you have them in hand (or if the weather is still too warm, store them in the fridge). And although many hybrids are treated as perennials in temperate regions of the world, in South Africa they are often treated as annuals, and it is best to buy fresh bulbs each season. 

If you were lucky enough to treat yourself to Tulips, we hope you enjoy planting these brightly coloured jewels.  

Oh, and PS – Did you know? If you dig up a tulip bulb in midsummer, it’s not the same bulb you planted last autumn. It’s her daughter. Even while the tulip is blossoming, the bulb is dividing for the next generation….