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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Sep 16

Tulips: A Pretty Face

Posted on September 16, 2016 at 8:14 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

  Tulips (photo by Ann Vallee)
Tulips are my nemesis. Time and again I plant them and admire their beauty for one season. They are so pretty, and every year the internal debate is whether I should give it one more try. The challenge for me is to get them to bloom consecutively year after year. But they almost always let me down.

The inability to get tulips to perform is a conundrum. Bulbs, for the most part, are so easy to grow. They typically require very little attention. Spring flowering bulbs go into the ground right now and within months we find an array of beautiful blooms without the need for pruning, cultivating, training, or securing. They store their needed food and water after they finish blooming as the spent leaves and stalks replenish the bulb for next year's performance.

Oh, don't get me wrong. There are a few higher maintenance spring bulbs such as begonias, which want to be lifted from the soil and stored in a dry location when they have finished blooming. Yet these shade-loving beauties produce abundant flowers and bloom the duration of the summer months. I tolerate the special attention they require since they pay me back with color all summer long.

And then there are tulips. A friend suggested I get the tulips that grew for years at her mother's place in Tomales. She called them Rembrandt tulips after the Dutch painter of the 1600s—which is also when these specific tulips were developed during the period in history called Tulipmania. These tulips are supposed to come back year after year. One can only hope so with that legacy. They earned the name Rembrandt as the flowers are streaked with various colors—as if a painter's brush swiped lavish striped colors across the blossoms.

Studies show that tulip bulbs want extreme cold winters and hot summers to promise repeat performances as expected with daffodils and other perennials. This type of environment is how tulips grow in their native Turkey mountainside. Duplicating this growing condition may require refrigerating the bulbs for a few weeks, and then planting these chilled bulbs on the southwest side of your home for maximum winter warmth to force them from dormancy.

After the bulbs complete their bloom cycle, do not water. They will rot. To assure that tulip bulbs will perform year after year, they must be lifted out of the ground once the foliage withers so the nutrients are fed back into the bulb. Then store the bulbs in a dry airy location until the following September. At that time, after chilling the bulbs, they can be worked six inches into wire-protected ground or containers since gophers and squirrels find those bulbs quite to their liking. In other words, we are talking about a high-maintenance plant.

As I write about tulips, the song Sucker for a Pretty Face by the Eric Martin Band reels in my mind. A few lines in the lyrics state, That girl's got a bad reputation. I'm under the spell of her action. I'm a sucker for a pretty face. I can't judge a book by its cover … The same ol' story.

And, to answer your question: The tulips I ordered are due to arrive on the 19th. Can Lassen County mirror the Turkish climate? Stay tuned ...


Anonymous User
September 18, 2016 at 10:47 AM
There are certain varieties that are advertised as reblooming year to year. They are not as interesting as the others, in my mind. Online Dutch bulb companies are helpful, so one can see the final product. Planting over 400 bulbs are my tribute to Autumn with the exciting payoff after months of waiting and watching. Ever been to the Keukenhoff Gardens out of Amsterdam, Holland? Unbelievable! Pat in San Anselmo
Anonymous User
September 19, 2016 at 1:43 PM
Hi Pat. No, I have not had the experience that you described of viewing the tulips in Holland. The picture posted in the blog is one that Ann Valle of MMWD took when she was in Holland this past year. I can only imagine the splendor! What a wonderful vision you must have with 400 blooming tulips! Lucky neighbors that can also enjoy the fruits of your labor! Thanks for sharing! Always, Charlene

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