Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist University of Vermont
Although the outdoor landscape may be bleak right now, the greenhouse industry has found a way to bring spring into our homes. And that’s by fooling tulips and other spring flowers into blooming early indoors.
The cut tulips you find at your florist shop, local greenhouse, and supermarket this time of year are “forced” tulips that were grown in greenhouses in the United States or the Netherlands. Growers have used special temperature treatments to confuse the biological clocks of the flowers and force them to bloom on a different schedule than they would if grown outdoors. It allows them to produce flowers of uniform height and quality for sale during winter months.
When properly cared for, cut tulips will stay fresh in a vase of water for seven to ten days. For long-lasting tulips, recut the stems when you first get them home. Lay the bouquet on its wrapping paper or newspaper, and cut the stems diagonally, removing about one-half inch of stem.
Rewrap the bouquet in paper (making a cone shape) so that the tulips are standing straight. The tops of the tulips should not extend above the top of the paper although wrap the bunch so a few inches of stems stick out. Place the wrapped bouquet in water for an hour or two, with the paper above the water line.
Recut the stems to the desired length before rearranging, again making a diagonal cut. Fill the vase with water, adding floral preservative–a powdery mix of plant food and bacteria inhibitors available at all floral shops. Although many people believe that adding a dash of carbonated lemon-lime soft drink, a teaspoon of sugar, a penny, or even a bit of bleach to the water will help extend the life of the flowers, none of these folk remedies are as effective as commercial cut flower food.
The general rule of thumb for arranging flowers is that the bouquet should be about one and one-half times the height of the vase. Tulips work well in tall, straight vases although can be arranged in a fan shape in a low, wide bowl. For the latter you will need to anchor the florist frog or block of florist foam to the bottom of the vase to support the arrangement.
The interesting thing about tulips is that they actually continue to grow after being cut, up to an inch or more. They also conform to the shape of the container, straight up if in a tall container, twisting to fit into a flat or irregular shaped vase.
Place the bouquet out of direct sun, and away from heating vents or drafts. Top off the water level daily to keep arrangement fresh.
Finally, here’s an interesting bit of trivia. The American Floral Marketing Council conducted a survey half dozen years ago on preference of tulip color by men and women. In order of preference, men purchased red, yellow, pale pink, hot pink, white, and purple tulips. Women liked pale pink, pale purple, hot pink, peach, red, and yellow. It’s just something to consider when buying a bouquet of tulips for a member of the opposite sex although bouquets of mixed colors or bicolor tulips are sure to please everyone.