Tulips are our first crop of the season and in typical Bindweed fashion we plant big, between 20,000 to 30,000 bulbs each year. The first blooms are ready in early spring, before Easter, long before the frozen snow covered ground outside has thawed and we continually have tulips available through Mother's Day. We extend the typical tulip season of three or four weeks to ten or twelve, providing a steady supply for an equally steady demand. We do this through succession planting
Even if you don’t succession crop you can lengthen your harvest season by choosing early, mid-season and late varieties, moving from Impression Series (early season bloomers) to Maureen, Avignon and other late blooming tulips so that bloom times come over a period of three to four weeks. If you have a cooler, you can keep late bloomers yet another week or even two so your market window swells.
To make an even longer season that lasts over ten weeks you need a roll-up hoophouse and a greenhouse to move the market period back. Since tulips need a 14 week period of cool temperatures you’ll want to make sure the ground temperatures in your house stay below 45 degrees for that long, so take soil temperature readings during the winter before you decide to plant. If you live in zone 5 this shouldn’t be a problem, but warmer areas might want to check, as the heat generated by a sealed greenhouse might keep soil too warm to stimulate blooming.
Tulips planted on our farm in late September to late October will invariably begin emerging under plastic about February first. We turn on the heat at that time to make sure leaves don’t freeze, but we don’t heat above freezing as we like to keep energy use low. Six weeks from the moment we start heating the first tulip blooms. If you aren’t afraid to use fuel for heating, you can raise your minimum temperatures to 45 or even 50 and get tulips to bloom 4 weeks after emergence.
An unheated hoophouse with rollup sides provides an area to bridge the gap between early greenhouse tulips and those planted outside. Hoophouse tulips won’t begin emerging quite as soon as those planted at the same time in a greenhouse and will grow more slowly. They’ll bloom as the greenhouse tulips finish if you’ve chosen early and late varieties carefully so that late greenhouse tulip blooms move into early hoophouse flowers. The hoophouse tulips, since they aren’t protected with heat on cold nights, may suffer some damage to the leaves and as a consequence may be more susceptible to fungal problems on dying foliage, but we’ve seen them take thirteen degrees with no damage to the bloom. If you expect a nasty night, harvest any tulips showing color as these are more susceptible to damage. The hoophouse tulips should finish blooming just as your outside tulips enter the harvest period.
You can get tulips even earlier by buying pre-cooled tulips, but we’ve never wanted to begin our season that early so we haven’t tried it. The winter tulip market may be just as good as the spring market, particularly if you choose to target Valentine’s Day, so if you’re up to winter sales give it a try.
If you have any questions check out Part II in our book, Season Expansion has loads of information on extending your season. If you have specific questions feel free to ask us, you'll find all our contact information on the contact tab.