Tulip in Houston?

Lee Poulsen wpoulsen@pacbell.net
Thu, 19 Jul 2012 10:52:56 PDT
On Jul 18, 2012, at 2:28 PM, Jim McKenney wrote:
> I'm pretty sure DFW and Houston don't have much in common climate wise. Houston is down on the coast and has rain throughout the year. I would not call it a Mediterranean climate. And hot wet soil and tulips are not a recipe for success. 
> Sujit, if you try any of the ones so far suggested, please let us know about the results. First year bulbs of the sorts Alberto suggested should bloom the first year. But I'm curious about what will happen down the road. 

None of Texas is in a Mediterranean climate. But for some reason, there are a few mediterranean bulbs or plants that do well there. Especially if they can tolerate occasional thunderstorm-produced rain during the summer dormant season. What really does well are the Argentinean bulbs that go dormant during the summer but are accustomed to summer rainfall, as well as the more humid conditions. I noticed the past 2 years that driving around south of Córdoba, Argentina, the countryside looked extremely similar to driving around central Texas (Austin, San Antonio region). So I'm not surprised that some Argentine natives have naturalized there (such as Rhodophiala bifida and Habranthus).

As for climate, DFW is several hundred miles north of Houston, so when Arctic fronts come through, the coldest annual minima are colder than those in Houston. I'd say on average, DFW is about 3/4 of a USDA zone colder than Houston. And Houston, being near the Gulf of Mexico is more humid on average in the summer. But DFW is fairly humid as well; not as humid as you guys on the East Coast are, but you would be surprised at how uncomfortably humid Dallas is in the summertime. Humidity in Texas is more a function of how far east or west you are. East Texas along the Louisiana border is really humid, while El Paso, almost 1000 miles west is pretty dry (it is also a desert climate). In fact, except along the Gulf Coast, the average annual rainfall lines (isotherms) are pretty much vertical north-south as you go from east to west across Texas. The 30-inch annual rainfall line crosses just to the west of Austin where I grew up. The 10-inch line crosses just to the east of El Paso. I think the 50-inch line goes along the Texas-Louisiana border.

As for tulips, Scott Ogden, in _Garden Bulbs for the South_ says the following do well in Texas (but he lives and gardens in various parts of central Texas, so I don't know how applicable this would be to Houston, which is somewhat wetter, and being so close to the Gulf, the soil may not be as well draining):
T. clusiana (all forms, ssp, and hybrids)
T. saxatilis
T. 'Lilac Wonder'
T. orphanidea
T. acuminata
T. retroflexa
Lily-flowered tulip hybrids, Ogden says, have little need of winter chilling
T. eichleri
T. linifolia

He says all of the above will do especially well in Texas if kept as dry as possible during the summer by growing in sandy/gritty raised beds.

The following two he says don't mind Texas's humidity:
T. sylvestris
T. praecox
This last one is the big surprise because it has much larger, bright red flowers and is naturalized in various places in the South and doesn't seem to mind summer rainfall. I have found it very difficult to track down sources of this one, and even when I have, it is very expensive. But totally worth it. Plus, it does multiply and doesn't need any winter chilling, yet looks very much like the Dutch hybrids.

In _A Gardener's Guide to Growing Bulbs on the Gulf Coast_, written by a Houston gardener Sally McQueen Squire, it only barely mentions T. clusiana and T. 'Tarda'. She spends a big chunk of the Tulip section on describing how to pre-chill the Dutch hybrids and which of the many categories of hybrid tulips and which varieties are the best for doing it with this method in Houston. It's too bad the various clubs she mentions haven't done more experimenting with species Tulips that might do well without pre-chilling.

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena, California, USA - USDA Zone 10a
Latitude 34°N, Altitude 1150 ft/350 m

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