So Please Tell me, Bulb Experts

organic_kitten(8)March 27, 2011

I live in central Alabama, (South of Birmingham) and I planted a lot of tulips this fall.The ones I ordered from Colorblends were pre-chilled. The other 150 were not pre-chilled.

I planted all of them at about the same time, and they did very well (The Hot Pink color and half of the purples were pre-chilled,

The Pale Pink (Impression) and the other purple as well as the very dark "Queen of the Night" were not chilled:

Both sets of tulips did beautifully. Should that have happened? I really didn't expect the ones that weren't chilled to do well.

We probably had a little more cold weather than usual, but not out of the ordinary. It was a happy surprise, and I just wondered if those of you who know bulbs have any kind of idea as to why it would happen this way. TIA


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Hey Kay, Not an expert, just wanted to say how pretty they are. I luuuuuuuv the second pictures combo of colors. Love the dark and light mixed together. Glad they all worked out for you and so beautifully. Judy

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 10:26PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Well Kay it appears you had enough hours of chilling this year. This has been such a cold year for us, we might have had enough! Six weeks is considered the minimum chilling time but I usually chill twice that. Al

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 10:13AM
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iris_gal(z9 CA)

Queen of the Night - my favorite!! Love it with Impression.

It's out here in zone 9 where the soil stays warm we have to worry about chilling. I have had some 2nd year bloom off Queen-Night left in the ground but after that, adios. Guess she doesn't naturalize even in cold winter zones. Anybody know?

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 5:23PM
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Thank you so much for the responses. prettypetals, There are three colors in that border, Pink Impression, Quees of the Night, and Cum Laude. I loved them together.

Al, It may well be that we had enough cold. It di seem cold for quite a while.

Iris-gal This is the first time I have planted Queen of the Night.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 10:12AM
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I am not an expert either, but based on what I have read, I think it is not so much HOW cold it was this winter as HOW LONG the cold lasted. In fact, I gather spring bulbs don't need that much cold, they just need a minimum number of weeks of cold, and if the ground only mimics the temperature in your refrigerator, that is usually sufficient. I even think I read somewhere the ground doesn't even need to get below freezing point as long as it is close to it for at least three months.

I don't know what kind of weather you had down South (I am in guaranteed bulb success land, in Quebec, where winter lasts up to half the year), but I suspect that your unchilled tulips did well simply because you had steady low temperatures for a couple of months at least.

Did you get lasting snow cover? If you did, that may explain it as well. A persistent snow blanket is the best thing you can give your bulbs - they get a steady temperature no matter how the temps fluctuate above the snow cover (fluctuating temperatures are bad for any kind of plant) and even when there is a warm spell in the middle of winter, the bulbs don't notice unless the snow melts away. My designated snow dumping area in my yard in spring is the bulb bed. :D I know you people in the South exceptionally all had amounts of snow similar to what we get here each year (it was interesting to see how helpless you all were in the same snow we walk in with high heels), and that kind of snow doesn't melt overnight, so that may have helped.

My tulips have just started leafing out, so your pictures are a welcome shape of things to come up in the breezy, bulb-loving, lily of the Nile-hating North.

P.S.: About those Queens, they may be one of those short-lived tulips. I planted two kinds of tulips last fall, and I made sure to plan my planting in a certain way, because my Angeliques are lasting tulips (up to seven years if they like where they are) while my Kings of something (I don't have my notes with me to name them exactly) are meant to only come back once after the first bloom and then they are gone. Needless to say, I planted those Kings in such a way that they will be easily replaced next year without disturbing anything nearby.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 11:08AM
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Hi Vicrtoria5,

We actually had one snow that lasted several some places a couple of days, but we had an ample uninterrupted period of what is cold weather here (which means below freezing, but only scattered days of under 20 degree temps.) Snow cover is big news in this part of the world and very occasional and short lasting (a week is a very long time for snow if it ever does fall)

I usually have something blooming until sometime in December when winter finally decides to give us a little kiss. The lower temps (sub-freezing) were continuous, but not longer than 2 1/2 to 3 months.

I am delighted that the bulbs have done so well, since many of them received only the chilling they got in the ground.

I cannot imagine winter lasting so long as it does where you live, but I really appreciate your input on this.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 4:21PM
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It's quite amazing what a difference a few USDA zones can make. I am in zone 5 (the hottest of all zones in Quebec and people on the outskirts of town are quite jealous because I can grow a few things they can't) and you are just two zones away, yet snow cover is big news over there!

You have colour in December? And here I was thinking how lucky I am to have some blooms in October (namely physostegia and an occasional pink and lavender when summer manages to be really long and we get a second stray bloom)!

I guess then we need to be a bit temperature specific to figure this one out. I think that if you can provide your bulbs with about three months of temperatures in the lower thirties or lower, they should be fine and you shouldn't have to use chilled bulbs.

Actually, this is the first time I ever heard of "chilled bulbs" being sold. Now that I think of how much shorter and warmer winter can be farther down South, it does make sense that such a thing exists. But if you do get temperatures in the low thirties for three months and chilled bulbs are considerably more expensive than traditional bulbs, you may be wasting money.

I mulch heavily here, and the reason why is that we get what I like to call "hot snaps". Last spring, we had some prolonged summer temperatures in March, when March is considered to be part of winter up North. This messes with our bulbs - they come out too soon, then we get back to normal winter temperatures, and they all wither away before they get a chance to bloom. So we mulch to keep the ground nice and cool. This helps to ensure that the soil warms slow and steady, and when those hot snaps come, the bulbs don't even notice.

Maybe in your area, mulching could help ensure that those bulbs stay cool long enough to make a pretty bloom. Do people mulch around your whereabouts for this purpose?

I am glad your bulbs came out so nice. My tulips are showing buds! My alliums are leafing out! I do have experience with crocus and daffodils, but these are actually my very first tulips ever (same goes for alliums, quamash, fritillaria and anemones), and it seems they all made it through the winter nicely. If things keep looking up, I will add snowdrops and irises this fall. I just love bulbs, they are the neatest things ever. Now, if there were more fall blooming bulbs, I would be one happy girl. I just might try and find some colchicums all the same...


    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 6:40PM
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It took several freezes to kill the roses in mid-December, and I even had zinnias still blooming then. Thereupon, it decided it was winter and the freeze was on. We had quite a few nights of teens, and feezing was the norm.

Then February came, and suddenly spring was breathing down our necks.. Yes, we had some freezes and some light frosts, but no more prolonged icebox.

We may have had a full 3 months of ground cold enough, but I would say it was more like 10 weeks.

Colorblends chills your order for $20, reasonable enough that I am happy to pay that for chill insurance. (I have 300 bulbs on order from them for fall).

Mulching here is done, but it is more likely to be done for the sake of conserving moisture than to maintain cold ground. At the moment, I am being very cautions about mulching since I have been fighting the vole wars, and mulch obscures the vole's above-ground tunnels. They can get a foothold before I realize they are in a specific bed.

I really appreciate your taking the time to talk to me about this, and I will certainly try the mulch this winter for your stated reason.

Our weather is irritating because it is likly to be very hot and humid, but even with the humidity, it often doesn't rain...which is very hard on plants and require supplemental watering.

There are many lovelies I can't grow here due to the lack of chill.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 1:17AM
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Please take a look at the book "Garden Bulbs for the South" by Scott Ogden. He describes several species tulips (as well as crocuses and other bulbs) that return reliably in the South.
Are you coming to the central Alabama spring swap on May 14 at 10 am in Oak Mtn State park? Details are on the Gardenweb Alabama Forum webpage. You will meet many great people there and get a lot of good advice. I am planning to attend and hope to see you there.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 12:51PM
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Actually, I have the book, but I am frequently pushing my zone.

I will not be at the swap this year, but after this year, I will have retired, and no longer be working every Friday and Saturday night.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 12:19AM
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The Queen of the Night does reproduce, but mine didn't until the second year. I have them planted with Ice Princess.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 8:00AM
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