With any project, it’s important to start with good quality materials. If you were going to build a house, for example, you wouldn’t buy substandard lumber. In the same way, it’s important to choose good quality tulip bulbs for your garden. But how can you tell the difference between a good quality bulb and a substandard or even dead bulb? Here are some tips to get you going in the right direction.
• Try to buy bulbs individually. This way you can examine each bulb for defects. Prepackaged bulbs are difficult to inspect and bags can contain many damaged bulbs.
• Bulbs should feel heavy for their size. Remember, there is an entire flower inside that bulb. All the nutrients it needs to grow strong and healthy are there. All you need to add is water.
• Choose bulbs with the papery covering, or tunic, in tact. The tunic protects the delicate scales underneath, and keeps the bulb moist during its dormant period. Never buy bulbs with damaged or missing tunics.
• Bulbs range in color from pale tan to dark brown or even reddish brown. The color of each bulb should be uniform, and not blotchy or stained.
• Check carefully for any scratches or cuts that could allow a dangerous fungus like botrytis blight, or tulip fire, to infect your garden. Unchecked, this fungus can spread to other tulips, and may live for years in the soil. Damaged bulbs are more likely to be infected than firm, unblemished bulbs.
• A little blue or green mold on the bulb is probably okay, but you might want to dust it with a fungicide before planting. A lot of mold indicates improper storage and is likely not a viable bulb.
• It’s normal for tulip bulbs to have a bit of pale bud showing at the tip, but too much may mean the bulbs have been kept too warm. Tulip bulbs need six to eight weeks cold (below 50 degrees Fahrenheit) to bloom properly. Excessive root growth can also indicate improper storage temperatures.
• Generally speaking, the larger the bulb, the larger the bloom will be. Remember, all the energy the tulip needs is stored in that one bulb, and the more energy the tulip has to draw from, the larger and healthier it is likely to be.
• When ordering over the internet, be sure to find out what the site’s return policy is. There are many sites on line which offer a 100% guarantee.
• Store your bulbs in a cool, dry place away from sunlight until you are ready to plant.
A little careful inspection before purchase and again before planting will help ensure you have the best and brightest possible tulip beds this spring.