Tips for Using Tulips as Cut Flowers
Tulips have been stealing the hearts of gardeners and florists for centuries. Their bold, brilliant blooms light up the spring garden with color, and a vase of tulips will fill your home with freshness, beauty, and cheer.
I vividly remember the first tulip I held in my small hands. There was an old cherry tree outside our dining room window, and each spring its fallen pink petals created a cozy blanket around the bright red tulips below. Naturally, I couldn’t resist heading into the garden to pick at least one crimson tulip to call my own.
While the tulips of my childhood were grown for garden enjoyment, I now grow mine for cutting. I love pulling the first tulip from the earth and hearing its familiar squeaky foliage between my hands. I plant hundreds of tulip bulbs each fall and enjoy a colorful harvest come April.
How to Plant Tulips for Cut Flowers
I find the best way to grow tulips specifically for cutting is to plant them in large trenches. These tulip trenches can be located in landscape beds, long rows, or raised beds. Dig your trench 6-7 inches deep and, if possible, 3-4 feet wide (wider than 4 feet makes it difficult to reach into the center of the bed to harvest). Plant the tulip bulbs as if you are filling an egg carton, with the bulbs almost touching. Then, backfill the area with soil and water well if the soil is dry.
If you have had trouble with squirrels digging up your bulbs, cover the planting area with chicken wire and secure it to the ground with landscape staples or rocks. Remove the chicken wire in spring when green shoots begin to emerge.
How to Harvest Tulips
Gardeners like myself who grow tulips for cutting, usually treat them as annuals and plant fresh bulbs each fall. If you want to try for a second year of blooms, be sure to cut short stems and leave at least 2-3 leaves behind — to replenish the bulb’s energy. Be aware that first year flowers are usually significantly larger than flowers produced the second or third year.
For the longest vase life, single tulips should be harvested in bud stage when the color is evident but before the bloom is completely colored. Wait a bit longer to harvest parrot and double tulips. Their buds should be fully colored, but not yet open.
When harvesting, it’s best to pull the stems rather than cut them. Reach down to the base of the stem and pull out the entire tulip with the bulb attached. This will give you an additional 5-6 inches of stem length. Removing the bulb also immediately frees up the planting area so you can turn around and fill it with another crop.
Unless you’re planning to use the stems immediately after harvest, leave the bulbs attached and store the tulips in a cooler set at 35°F. Stand them upright or bunch and wrap the stems in paper to keep them straight during storage.
When you are ready to arrange your tulips, cut off the bulbs and rehydrate the stems in water. Leave the stems wrapped in paper while rehydrating. Though it may be tempting to replant the bulbs, I can assure you that it’s a waste of time and energy.
Tulip stems continue to lengthen after harvest. When working them into an elaborate design, anticipate the stems growing and sink them deeper into the vessel. Adding floral preservative to the water will extend the tulips vase life and help maintain their vibrant color.
Lastly, heavy headed tulips have a tendency to bend downward after harvest. You can solve this problem by puncturing the top of the stem right below the bloom with a needle. This slows cellular division and will prevent the heads from drooping.
Best Tulip Varieties for Cutting
When selecting tulips for cutting, choose varieties that are at least 16 inches tall. Longer stems are more valuable and versatile. Although popular varieties such as La Belle Epoque are beautiful in the garden, their stems only reach 12 inches. Similar, yet taller varieties include Finola, Foxtrot, and Margarita. Here are some of my personal favorites.
Exotic Emperor – This gorgeous tulip stole my heart four years ago and never let go. It is an elegant, early blooming tulip with layers of creamy white petals that are brushed with lime green highlights. As the blossoms mature, they open wider each day to reveal a golden yellow center.
Apricot Delight – This Darwin Hybrid’s thick, ivory petals are brushed with rose, pale pink and peach. The big, long-lasting flowers are held high on strong, weatherproof stems.
Angelique – Angelique’s lovely soft pink, fragrant blooms have the same romantic charm as a peony. It’s been one of the world’s most popular tulip varieties for 60 years running and holds an Award of Garden Merit from England’s Royal Horticultural Society.
Black Hero – Who wouldn’t love a 20-inch, deep purple tulip with layer upon layer of satiny petals? Black Hero adds drama to any spring garden and this double version of Queen of Night is reliable and long blooming.
Carnaval De Nice – This classic, late-blooming tulip has stood the test of time and captured generations of admirers. Scarlet red stripes adorn the cupped white petals, and on sunny days the petals open wide to reveal a lemon-yellow center.
Order Early for Best Selection
Tulips may be pre-ordered starting in late April, for fall delivery at the proper planting time in your growing zone. Reserving your favorites early is the only way to ensure you will get the varieties you want. To see our complete selection of tulips click HERE.
Be sure to check out our new Planning Guide for Tulips, as well as some of these popular articles on our website: All About Tulips, 7 Tips for Planting Tulips, and What Makes Darwin Hybrid Tulips Special.