It’s a Catch 22. You live in San Diego. Or maybe Baton Rouge. Or Key West. You live in some perma-balmy, or maybe even desert-like location. The weather is ideal (or at least not frigid) 365 days a year. It’s perfect.
But…you can’t grow tulips. Not perfect. Tulips think your weather is…well, a bit *too* mild. But there’s a hack, we’ll show you how to grow Tulips in hot states!
Tulips, like many other fall-planted, spring-blooming bulbs (such as Snowdrops, Daffodils, and Muscari) need cold temperatures for at least 6 weeks before they can bloom. Sitting in soil below 40 degrees for a prolonged period of time lets the bulbs establish strong roots. Good news, warm weather gardeners, you can still grow Tulips and Daffodils as long as your refrigerator is running.
Why do these bulbs need cold weather to grow? I’ve asked them many times, but they’ve never given me a solid answer. (Tulips talk in riddles. They’re so weird). But I pride myself on being a bit of a plant whisperer, so here’s my theory: If I was a little Tulip bulb, buried in the dirt, literally chilling out as autumn settles in, I would probably be thinking, “Dang. My pointy little head is getting pretty cold… but my butt is not so cold.” (Right? Because the cold will settle into the soil starting from the top, and working its way down.) So then I would think, “Well, I’m a little solar-powered battery full of energy. I can’t just sit here doing nothing. I’ll use some energy to send some roots down to where it’s warmer for now, and when it heats up above me, I’ll send some shoots up there.” Then, as the winter settles in, I would think “Nope. Too cold. Too cold for everything”, and I would go into dormancy. (Truth be told, this is actually what I do in winter).
So what you can do, dear citizens of zones 8-10, is put your bulbs in the refrigerator to trick them into thinking it’s winter time. Here’s how it works:
Dedicate a crisper drawer to your bulbs. You don’t want to put them in the drawer with any other produce, because fruits and vegetables release ethylene gas in the fridge, and that will rot your bulbs. We ship your bulbs to you in cute cloth bags, which are perfect for fridge storage, as they let a little air in so the bulbs don’t get funky. Be sure to put your bulbs in the fridge before Dec. 1st. After that, it’s too late, because they need a minimum of 6 weeks in order for their dormancy to be properly mimicked, and you want to take your bulbs out and plant them at the coldest part of your year.
Now, a bulb can’t exactly put down roots while it’s in a bag full of its buddies, without soil to root into. So this method will result in short blooms. While the blooms will still be exquisite, they might even bloom nearly on the surface of the dirt. This is because they have had such limited time to grow roots, once planted. Think: as above, so below (Tulips with short roots will have short flowers).
To get nice long stems on your Tulips and Daffodils, you can step it up a notch by planting your bulbs in a pot first, and then sticking the pot in the fridge. The good news here is that you can maximize pot space with bulbs, and plant bulbs so close they practically touch. But don’t let them touch; if one bulb develops rot, it’s all over (that’s why they say “one rotten apple ruins the bunch…” it’s not because that one apple gives all the other apples a bad rap - it’s because rot spreads).
If you want to chill your bulbs properly, for longer stems, plant your bulbs into your cutest pot, water them well, then stick the pot in the back of your fridge next to that ancient box of baking soda (but in this case, make sure all your produce stays in those crisper drawers, so the bulbs and the produce don’t mix). Check the dirt periodically by sticking your finger in it; if the soil gets dry further than an inch or so down, give the pot a good watering again.
Once it’s been over 6 weeks (roughly January - February), you can take your pot of bulbs out of the fridge and stick them in a sunny spot outside. You can even keep them inside, as long as you have a really sunny windowsill for them. After 2-5 weeks, they’ll start thinking, “Hey, it’s getting kind of cozy in here now…let’s push up some fun!” and before you know it: blooms!!! You have tricked your tulips into enjoying that perfect San Diego weather, just like the rest of us.