Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
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. When properly cared for, cut tulips will stay fresh in a vase of water for seven to ten days.
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 as far away as 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. This is similar to the method you can use at home with potted tulips, placing them at around 40 degrees (F) in fall for at least 10 to 12 weeks before bringing back into warmth.
For long-lasting tulips, buy ones very “tight” or unopened, with buds still green and just showing some color. Recut the stems when you first get them home. Lay the bouquet on its wrapping paper or newspaper, or over a sink, and cut the stems diagonally using a sharp knife or scissors, removing about one-half inch of stem.
Place the stems directly in the vase, or if holding for a while just in water, recut the stems before placing in the final vase. Many recommend cutting stems under water or under running water, so no air enters the stems to block the water vessels there. Make sure the vase is clean before using.
Fill the vase with lukewarm water, not ice cold, which is taken up better by the stems. Use a floral preservative— a powdery mix of plant food and bacteria inhibitors– available at all floral shops, and often coming with the bouquet you buy in stores.
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. While some say that a preservative is not needed for cut tulips, a study published in 2012 (Kumar and others, Journal of Applied Horticulture) showed that any of 10 different preservatives kept flowers longer than if just in water.
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 they can be arranged in a fan shape in a low, wide bowl. For the latter you will need to keep the flowers in place, anchoring with a florist “frog” or block of florist foam, these held to the bottom of the vase to support the arrangement. Don’t mix tulips with cut daffodils, as the latter exude a sap that clogs the water uptake of other flowers.
Make sure and check the water level daily, as tulips use much water, and for longest life you don’t want the vase to dry out. Place the bouquet out of direct sun, and away from heating vents or drafts. Top off the water level daily to keep the arrangement fresh, and replace every 3 to 4 days or when it becomes cloudy.
An interesting fact about tulips is that they continue to grow after being cut, up to an inch or more. They are “phototropic”, bending towards the light, so rotate containers daily to keep stems more upright.
Want to buy some cut tulips for Valentine’s Day, but not sure about the color? Then consider these facts from a research study published in 2010 on color preferences (by Yue and Behe in the HortScience journal). Both men and women chose a red or bronze color most often then, followed by a peach or pink color. This makes sense, since red is considered a color to express love. Yellow was the least chosen color then, as well as overall through the year.
Of buyers of cut flowers through the year, 70 percent were women and 30 percent men. Women bought 44 percent of cut flowers for themselves, 56 percent for gifts with only 6 percent bought on Valentine’s Day. Only 6 percent of purchases by men of cut flowers through the year were for themselves, 96 percent bought for gifts, with 23 percent of their yearly purchases on Valentine’s Day.
While cut tulips are a lower cost flower gift for Valentine’s Day giving, and make great gifts through the winter and into spring too, you may find tulips planted in pots. If buying these, similar to the cut tulips, buy with buds still unopened, and keep in cooler temperatures for longest life. Since most tulips are not perennial, they likely won’t rebloom in future years if planted outdoors in spring.
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