Tulips first evolved in the mountain regions of Central to Western Asia near present-day Turkey and Kazakhstan. That area of the Earth naturally has cold winters, spring that supplies ample rain, followed by long, hot and dry summers. As a result, not surprisingly, those are exactly the conditions in which tulips thrive best.
But recreating those conditions can be difficult. Many places around the U.S. and Europe have similar conditions, but many others do not.
Even the climate of Holland, long associated with tulips, is more maritime than continental and certainly not mountain-like. Summers there can be hot, reaching 86F (30C), but more often the highs peak around 77F (25C).
On the other side winters range between 50F (10C) to 23F (-5C) on average. Good tulip weather, to be sure, but not the same as ancient Persia.
So the question still will be: Can tulips be grown indoors?
Thanks to human ingenuity, we don’t have to rely solely on what nature provides. A greenhouse can control the climate the tulip experiences to a very large degree, and with minimal effort.
Greenhouses range in size from a box about the size of a doghouse to giant glass enclosures larger than many homes. A modest-sized greenhouse that is readily affordable by avid gardeners will be large enough to walk around in and hold dozens of pots.
Tulips, luckily for those gardeners, ‘enjoy’ a pot almost as much as residing in the soil of your backyard. With the proper pot selection and soil preparation, and very moderate care, a potted tulip will grow large and healthy in only a few weeks.
Insect management is also often much easier in a greenhouse/pot scenario. A little malathion spray and many pests can be kept at bay.
Adequate light control is equally easy in a greenhouse. Many offer simple installable kits of louvers, blinds or other mechanisms to ensure that plants don’t receive too much sunlight. Some are even automated so it’s easy to set a timer to open and close them at desired times of the day.
That will rarely be a problem with tulips, though. They thrive in partial to full sun. A minimum of three hours daily is recommended and tulips can readily do well in up to six hours per day. More sunlight than that would be hard to obtain in all but a very few places. When the problem is in the opposite direction – too little sun – lamps can be used to compensate.
Humidity control is also straightforward with a greenhouse. Sometimes simple vents are enough. For more extensive control it’s simple and inexpensive to install a fan to move air in or out of the greenhouse at any needed rate. For increased humidity, a mister system is helpful. But, unlike many orchids for example, tulips prefer conditions to be dryer.
Local moisture levels near the plant can be a little harder to control. A fan will help, but care has to be taken not to cool the plant in summer. They like the heat. A separate section cordoned off from the other plants isn’t too difficult to arrange, though.
If that proves inadequate, having two greenhouses – one for plants that like humidity, others that prefer it dryer – can be a cost effective solution.
Tulips – Potting Guidelines
The tulip’s nature and the specific cultivar dictates the type of pot that should be selected. Some dwarf Darwins will only grow to about six inches. Other Darwins may grow as high as 30 inches. Triumphs range everywhere from ten to 16 inches high. The taller you expect your specific cultivar to be, the deeper pot you want to consider.
That isn’t merely an issue of providing enough room for root growth, though that’s important. It’s also an issue of having a pot that is aesthetically matched and provides sturdy support. A very tall stalk in a very short pot looks unbalanced to the eye. It’s also physically unbalanced and can topple more easily.
The second aspect determining pot size is flower size. Some tulips have relatively small flowers, that open narrowly. Others may reach a ‘wingspan’ of six to eight inches and fully extend their petals almost horizontally.
The larger the flower, the more stress it puts on the stalk, especially if the pot is placed where it is subjected to wind. That stress has to be supported either by the pot or a stake or both. Get a pot wide enough to provide ample support.
If the pot is placed in an area that gets a little windy from time to time, add 10-30% to the size, depending on the peak strength of the wind.
One of the advantages of potted tulips is they can go through a procedure called ‘forcing’. That’s a process of refrigerating the bulbs for a few weeks to a couple of months or more, then warming the soil to fool the plant into thinking it has entered spring after winter.
The specific length of time varies by species. That makes it possible to have lovely tulip flowers even at Christmas. Just select some bulbs at least an inch and a half in diameter and be sure to keep them away from fruit. The ethane given off by ripening fruit damages the developing buds.
Now, on to planting.
Fill the bottom of a pot with holes with a layer of pebbles about one inch deep to ensure good drainage. Then fill the pot about halfway to two-thirds full with a mixture of potting soil and peat moss. Always keep the soil at least an inch below the rim in order to facilitate watering. There’s no need to add any fertilizer at this stage.
Dig holes the size of the bulb into the soil. The soil should be damp but not wet. Then place the bulbs in with the flat side of the tulip bulb facing outward in the pot, this is toward the rim, not the center. The top of the bulb should just sit at the surface.
Keep the whole pot in the refrigerator for about 8-10 weeks at about 40F/4C. Then remove the pot and allow it and the soil to warm up gradually, preferably in stages if it can be arranged. A cold room in the house can be useful here.
Once the soil and pot warm to about 60F/16C for a week or so there should begin to be some visible action.
Depending on tulip type the stalks may pop up anywhere from two weeks to a month later. Flowers will bloom starting anywhere from Late March to late May when planted outside, owing to the different categories (Early, Mid-Season or Late).
But pots can produce flowers at Christmas time if the procedure has been carried out correctly.
Some suggested varieties for forcing are:
* Apricot Beauty, Bing Crosby, Edith Eddy, Mirjorma, Yokohama, Jingle Bells, Attila, White Dream, Princess Victoria, White Swallow, Estella Rijnveld
* Pickwick, Rembrance, Flower Record, Peter Pan, Purpurea Grandiflora
* Amethyst, Blue Jacket, Jan Bros, L’Innocence, Pink Pearl, Delft Blue, Hollyhock, Anna Marie, Violet Pearl, Gypsy Queen, Carnegie
* Blue Spike, Early Giant
Daffodils and Narcissi
* Barrett Browning, Bridal Crown, Dutch Master, Ice Follies, Paperwhites, Golden Harvest, Spell Binder, Salome, Pink Charm, Flower Record, Louis Armstrong, Unsurpassable, Tete-a-Tete, Jenny, Barrett Browning, Cheerfulness
* Snowdrops, Dutch Irises, Blue Squill, and Glory-of-the-snow
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