Propagating Tulips
Thu, 22 Jun 2006 09:22:11 PDT
On 21 Jun 06, at 20:27, Teevan, Cathy J. wrote:

> I have a friend who desperately wants to learn how to take the seed
> from his mother's tulips (I think this is the problem as I understand
> it at least) and grow new tulips. Yes, I know this is not your average
> gardening activity.

I think you & your friend may have led rather sheltered lives. You'd 
be surprised at the activities that some people think are totally 
normal -- like growing tulips from seed.

> someone out there might possibly have tried GROWING tulips, the way
> this novice gardening friend (who does not know what the "pods" at
> the top of the stems are after it flowers) wants to grow them. 

> Does anyone have any advice about this project?  What conditions
> are needed for Tulip Seed to germinate?  What kind of summer
> conditions do you give the bulb?  

Tulips are liliaceous and like lilies, fritillaries, etc have flat, 
flake-like seeds that are scattered by the wind when they are ripe.

Leave the swelling seedpods on the plants until they turn yellow or 
brown and just start to gape open, then gather them in a *paper* bag 
and let the process finish in that. This prevents the seed from 
getting scattered in the garden and being lost. It's just a few days 
from "gaping open a little" to "ripe and ready to roll".

A lot of the seeds will be sterile, lacking an embryo. Put them on a 
light table and it's easy to see the little dark line that is the 
dormant embryo. Generally fertile tulip seeds are larger and more 
fully developed than sterile ones, but this is not a hard and fast 
rule. Separate the good ones from the bad ones as well as you are 

You want to sow them by early fall. They will germinate next spring; 
the young seedlings look like onion seedlings. You didn't say where 
you are located, so I don't know what kind of winter weather you 
have, but here in Victoria, British Columbia it's been my practice to 
sow bulb seeds in pots and overwinter them in a coldframe. The 
coldframe is mainly to keep excessive winter rain off them and to 
protect them from rodents.

Keep the young seedlings growing as long as you can. When they start 
to yellow, withhold water and dry the pot off. With young seedlings, 
I wouldn't bake the pot in the sun, however -- just park it in a 
shady spot that will keep any rain off.

Around the beginning of August, dump the pot out and paw through the 
soil. You'll find minute tulip bulbs in it. It's been my experience 
that once the young bulb has formed, they reach flowering size faster 
if planted out in the garden, rather than repotted, but it's your 
call which you do.

Tulips take a long time to reach flowering size, five to ten years in 
many cases, so patience is called for.

Unless the tulips are pure species, there's no telling what the 
seedlings' flowers will look like. 

> How does one "chip" (as they call it in the Lily business - I have
> not tried this yet but it is on my list of things to do, does that
> make me a gardener?) a Tulip bulb?  Is this like getting bulblets
> and growing those?  

Unlike lily bulbs, tulip bulbs don't have scales and can't be 
chipped. The best you can do is lift them annually and take off any 
offsets that have formed, then grow these on to flowering size.

Many species tulips form few or no offsets and must be multiplied by 
seed. Others are stoloniferous and will spread willy-nilly away from 
the original planting.

Also be aware that many tulips send down "droppers" to great depths 
and can become almost ineradicable weeds in the wrong place.

Rodger Whitlock
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Maritime Zone 8, a cool Mediterranean climate

on beautiful Vancouver Island

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