By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Humans, being what we are, tend to like instant or near instant results. That is why it is so hard to wait until spring temperatures have warmed enough for flowers to decorate the landscape. There is a simple way to get flowers, like tulips, in your home earlier than they will appear outdoors. Growing tulips in water is easy, and gets the season off to a jump start with indoor blooms for which you don’t have to wait. Can tulips grow in water? There is one basic chilling trick you need to be aware of when growing tulips without soil. Read on to learn how to grow tulips in water for early enjoyment of these beautiful blooms.
They say hunger makes the best sauce, but I am too impatient to wait for results in my landscape. Growing tulips without soil is a DIY favorite trick to get these Dutch darlings faster into the home. Tulips have a chilling requirement of 12 to 15 weeks, which they get outside naturally unless you purchase pre-chilled bulbs. You can also do it yourself in your refrigerator at any time and be that much closer to a bounty of blooms.
Farmer’s markets have buckets-full of tulip blooms for sale in spring. But you don’t have to wait until spring to enjoy the flowers if you plan ahead. Pre-chilled tulip blooms make an impactful display when grown in a glass container on rocks or glass beads.
Growing tulips without soil allows you to see the rooting process and keeps the project simple. The first things you need are healthy, big bulbs. Then you need to choose a container. A glass vase is a good choice because its height gives the tulip leaves and stems something to lean on as they grow. You may also opt to purchase a forcing vase, which is curved to allow the bulb to sit just above the water with only the roots in the moisture. These designs minimize rot when growing tulips in water.
Pre-chill your bulbs in a paper bag in the refrigerator for 12 to 15 weeks. Now it’s time to plant them.
In a couple of months, you can move the sprouted bulb out to a lit area and grow it on. Choose a bright sunny window to place the vase. Keep the moisture level the same and continue to change the water. The sunlight will encourage the bulb to grow more and soon you will see the curved green leaves and rigid stem of a mature tulip. Watch as the bud forms and then finally opens. Your forced tulips should last a week or more.
Once the bloom has faded, allow the greens to remain and collect solar energy to feed another bloom cycle. Remove the spent greens and stem and pull the bulb from the vase. There is no need to store the bulb because those that are forced in this manner will rarely bloom again.
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Bloomaker Tulips are available in the U.S. in various grocery stores and retailers (find ones near you here)
We know you want to regrow your tulips and keep your Bloomaker bulbs healthy all year long. Here are our instructions for regrowing your tulips in two different ways: in soil and hydroponically.
After your bulbs have finished flowering the first time, clip the dead flower off the stem, and let the remaining foliage die off while maintaining water level in the glass vase. When the foliage has completed drying out, you may see new little bulbs beginning to form, leave these.
Cut the foliage, but leave the roots, and store the bulbs dry and as cool as possible until early November. Then plant them in your garden according to what zone you live in, using a good mix of soil and compost, and be sure to water them thoroughly when first planting them.
You can find your planting zone here: USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map which will help you determine the best time to replant the bulbs after drying them out:
Zones 4 & 5 - September or early October
Zones 6 & 7 - October to early November
Zones 8 & 9 - November to early December
Zone 10 - Late December to early January
If you live in zones 8 through 10, you should refrigerate the tulips bulbs for six to eight weeks before planting. Before refrigerating, place them in a paper bag and keep them away from ripening fruits (fruits produce ethylene gas, which can destroy the flower bud within the bulb).
Tulips grow best in full sun in well-prepped soil with fast drainage. Avoid planting the bulbs where water collects or in locations that are prone to late frosts.
You will have the best chance at success when growing them via soil, but if you’d like to attempt to grow them in water again, here are the steps we recommend taking.
Before attempting to force bulbs in water, we recommend letting them recover in soil via the instructions above or pre-chill your bulbs in a paper bag in the refrigerator for 12 to 15 weeks.
Once you’re ready to plant them, fill your old Bloomaker vase 2 inches deep with rock or glass and then place the tulip bulb on top with the pointed area upright. The idea with this is to use the beads or rocks to hold the bulb itself out of the water while still allowing roots to receive moisture. Fill the vase with water until it comes just 1 inch from the bottom of the bulb. Then move the bulb and vase to a cool dark location for 4 to 6 weeks. You should change the water often, about once a week, and keep an eye out for sprouting.
Once the bulbs begin sprouting, you can bring them into the open again and begin caring for them the same way you did the first time they bloomed.
If you find success regrowing your Bloomaker bulbs, we love to see photos of our bulbs reblooming! Be sure to tag your photos on our social media pages (Instagram and Facebook)! Looking for more tips? Subscribe to our newsletter below!
Last Updated: September 1, 2020 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Ben Barkan. Ben Barkan is a Garden and Landscape Designer and the Owner and Founder of HomeHarvest LLC, an edible landscapes and construction business based in Boston, Massachusetts. Ben has over 12 years of experience working with organic gardening and specializes in designing and building beautiful landscapes with custom construction and creative plant integration. He is a Certified Permaculture Designer, is licensed Construction Supervisor in Massachusetts, and is a Licensed Home Improvement Contractor. He holds an associates degree in Sustainable Agriculture from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
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Tulips are brightly colored, upright flowers which bloom from early spring to early summer. Native to the foothills of the Himalayas and Eastern Turkey, tulips grow best in areas with cold winters and dry, hot summers. Tulips are relatively easy to grow and do particularly well in flower beds and borders. For detailed instructions on how to grow tulips, start with Step 1 below.
Q. After my tulips are dormant, can I plant another flower on top of the bulbs? There are gaps in the garden in front of my house that are not so pretty! Thanks,
Mike: Last Spring I heard you say that the reasons we here in the US (as opposed to Holland) have problems getting our Spring bulbs to flower year after year are that:
Your advice was that once the greenery had died back it was better to dig the bulbs up and place them, layered by type, in a pot, separating the layers with a mix of alternating layers of peat and vermiculite. You advised (I think) continuing to water them albeit not any more frequently than a normal rain schedule would provide. So I did this. But then I searched the Internet for corroboration, and the information I found implied that it would simply rot the bulbs and provide a buffet for local field mice and/or squirrels (and deer if they found the container). I "watered" the collection once after that, they just got rain. Did I do right?
A. You got it mostly right, Tina. Your biggest mis-hearing was the watering part. I HOPE I said NOT to add ANY water, just to allow rain to hit the container they're in.
But let's start back at the beginning. This advice came from one of the best interview guests we've ever had on the show, British gardening writer Anna Pavord, who was on tour in April of 2000 promoting her beautiful 1999 book, "The Tulip." During the interview I mentioned that failure of tulips to return reliably was one of our most frequent questions. Her instant reply was "that's because you Americans plant annual flowers overtop of the bulbs and then water and Miracle-Grow the hell out of them, rotting the poor bulbs underground."
In their native mountains of Russia, Turkey and Afghanistan, Spring bulbs have evolved to survive in a fierce and mostly God-forsaken climate, she explained. When heavy snow and freezing cold finally gives way to a fairly pleasant Spring, the bulbs that have been hiding send up their shoots, flower, absorb lots of solar energy and then the above-ground growth fades away and the bulbs hide again, this time from a dry, glaringly hot summer.
So their DNA doesn't know from summer moisture and food they know hot, dry and desolate, explained Pavord. That's why they don't take well to beds that are watered and fed all summer to keep marigolds or begonias or petunias alive.
She added that she too has limited garden space, didn't want to leave her bulb beds empty over summer, and so learned this lesson the hard way herself. When she did realize what was going on, she began lifting the bulbs, storing them for the summer and replanting them in the Fall. It worked very well, she assured me and my listeners, with a fair amount of margin for error.
I tried it that summer and every summer thereafter, have never done it exactly the same way twice and it has always worked. That first year, I dug up the bulbs after their greenery had faded and took them to the back of the garden, out of sight and out of range of the sprinkler. I banged a bottomless box together out of junk wood, put a couple inches of soil in the bottom, then a layer of one kind of bulb, then more soil, more bulbs, etc., until it was filled to the top. It only got watered when it rained. And when we had long rainy spells, I covered it with a tarp. I dug them out in mid-October, re-planted them around Halloween and had great results.
After a couple of years, the box rotted to nothingness and I switched to big pots that had cracked or ripped or were just plain ugly to begin with and had never gotten any better. This works just as well. Sometimes I mix in a fair amount of peat and/or vermiculite and/or perlite and/or nice light professional potting soil blend if I have it but if I don't I just use my compost-enriched garden soil. I've never had mice or squirrels muscle in and never lost more than a few to rot (and they were probably already damaged by my tender digging-up style, which involves a lot of creative swearing). I love the image of Bambi chowing down through several inches of dirt in the hope that treasures lurk below, but I don't think that even deer are that dim.
Here's my basic 'make my Spring bulbs return' plan:
The tulip is a plant that adapts particularly well to the pot culture.
In autumn, plant 3-4 bulbs of tulip per pot then cover with potting soil about 10 cm.
Leave your pots outside in winter, except in case of a very harsh climate where it will be necessary to put them in the cool but safe from strong frosts.
In the spring, take the pots out on the terrace and water if it does not rain.
At the end of flowering, wait for the leaves to turn yellow before cutting foliage.
Remove the bulbs until autumn in a cool, dry place before replanting them or leaving them in the pot.
Greenhouse gardening offers numerous benefits to greens aficionados who dare to take their gardening experience to the next level. Aside from acting as a shield against the effects of inclement weather, a mini, hobby, or semi-pro greenhouse can also serve as a protective layer that keeps harmful bugs and critters at bay.
What’s more, its enclosed structure allows you to control your plants’ growing conditions including the temperature, light, moisture, and ventilation of the greenhouse’s internal environment. With a controlled environment, you’ll be able to extend growing seasons and grow plants that aren’t native to your area.