Tulips are spring-flowering bulbs that need a prolonged period of cold temperature to grow and bloom properly. In most of the United States, this cold period is provided naturally by a winter spent planted outside in the ground. However, those of you in warmer regions of the country, like us here at Menagerie Farm & Flower, likely do not get the cold temperatures tulips need to thrive. That’s where pre-chilling comes into play!
WHAT IS A PRE-CHILLED TULIP BULB?
Pre-chilled or pre-cooled tulips bulbs have been given time to cool at 34-45 degrees for for 6 to 12 weeks before planting. Here at Menagerie, we take care of that step for you using our temperature and humidity controlled coolers. The same bulbs we offer in our pre-chilled tulip collection to our customers are the same varieties we chill and plant here on our farm.
WHY DO TULIP BULBS NEED TO BE PRE-CHILLED?
Deep South, the desert Southwest, and most of California do not get the cold temperature they need because the outdoor ambient temperature and soil temperatures in the winter are warmer than what the tulip bulb requires for proper bud and flower development. We help Mother Nature along a bit by providing a cool environment the bulb needs for success. To reach their proper flowering development, tulips must be given time pre-cooling at (34-45 degrees) by placing in a cooler (not a freezer) for 6 to 12 weeks before planting. This pre-chilling process ensures that a tulip bulb will grow and bloom properly, giving them the best opportunity to thrive.
HOW LONG DO TULIP BULBS NEED TO BE PRE-CHILLED?
The length time needed for pre-chilling varies depending on your location. In general, tulip bulbs should be pre-chilled for 6-12 weeks. The longer, the better! The good news is, you can’t over-chill bulbs. Just make sure you get them in the ground in the fall or early winter at the latest.
WHAT HAPPENS TO TULIP BULBS THAT RECEIVE INSUFFICIENT CHILLING TIME?
In warm climates, bulbs that haven’t been pre-chilled tend to have stunted growth. While they may still bloom, they’ll likely have shorter stems and deformed blooms (aka blind buds), or flowers that open lower down in the leaves.
WHEN IS THE IDEAL TIME TO PLANT PRE-CHILLED TULIP BULBS?
Our bulbs have received the minimum amount of chill time for successful flower development and will be shipped to you at the perfect time for planting! We recommend planting your bulbs immediately upon arriving on your doorstep in late November or early December. If you can’t get them in the ground right away, place your bulbs in a cool, dark, well-ventilated location (34-50 degrees F) for an additional few weeks. We recommend planting no later than January 1st.
WILL PRE-CHILLED BULBS BLOOM AGAIN NEXT YEAR?
We hate to be the bearer of bad news but, generally, no. They will likely not stick around for a second season because they require their “chill” time for proper bud development, making it difficult to perennialize tulips in warmer regions. We recommend harvesting the tulips, bulb and all, for use as cut flowers in your home or enjoy the show in your garden and remove the bulbs at the end of of the season after you have enjoyed the blooms. Plan to plant another round of pre-chilled bulbs again next fall!
We hope this post helps to bring some clarity to the term “pre-chilled.” In warm climates, pre-cooling will help your tulip bulbs perform their best and bring you beautiful blooms to harvest and enjoy come springtime!
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