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Are tulips annual or perennial?

A bulb that comes back every year, often with more blooms than before, is called a perennial. Great examples are daffodils and crocuses. Bulbs that only grown for one season are called annuals, which means that you have to plant new bulbs every year to get the same effect.

But, if tulips are perennials, like all the books and websites say, then why do they often not come back to show their luster a second or third season? What is going on here?

Perennial, but only in the right places
Well, as regal as tulips are, they are also a bit rebellious. Yes, they are officially perennials, but just not everywhere or for everyone. A tulip will happily come back year after year, but only if your garden happens to be in a village in the foothills of Nepal, or a town on the steppes of Armenia and Northern Iran. These places have very cold winters and hot dry summers, exactly what tulips need to perform at their perennial best.

Dutch soil and Dutch engineering
But… if these places are so great for tulips, then why do all the best tulips come from Holland? This is where ingenuity and engineering come into play. Dutch tulip growers have two things working in their favor: beautiful sandy soil, and a century old tradition of being able to control water and make it do whatever they want.

This combination of soil and savvy means that they can create bulbs that return every year.

But the second part of this tulip trickery is a bit more involved: If you want to sell new bulbs every year, you also want your original bulb to multiply each season.

In order to entice tulip bulbs to do all of that, growers put their bulbs through a complex process of heat and humidity treatments before they plant them in fall, trying to replicate the tulip’s native habitat as perfectly as possible, even when it’s almost 5000 miles away. They make the bulbs believe they have been through a hot, dry summer and an arctic winter. All of this requires expensive climate control systems, as well as serious know-how and experience.

Publication date: 5/31/2018



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