Q: I’ve seen the beautiful tulips of Amsterdam and would like to grow some here in North Florida. So I ordered some tulip bulbs. Can I plant these in North Florida?
A: Tulips are treated as annuals in Florida. We have two problems with tulips this far south. First, they do not receive enough cold weather to meet their requirements to bloom. Secondly, it gets hot quick enough in the spring to cause the foliage to die prematurely, which does not allow the tulip plants enough time to store sugars in the bulb to resume growth the following year. As a result, the bulbs become smaller and weak and flower poorly if at all the following year. At best you may get one to three years’ worth of blooms out of a tulip in our area no matter what you do. Most tulips will only bloom once in our area and then they are spent. Florida doesn’t provide the right kind of weather for tulips. We may have cold weather for a few nights. Then it warms again. This goes on all winter. Tulips need consistently cold weather in order to initiate flower buds.
You can provide an “artificial cold winter” by placing the bulbs in a refrigerator for about 8 weeks prior to planting. This requires purchasing the bulbs ahead of time in order to provide this chilling treatment and still have time to plant during late fall to mid-winter (late November to mid-January). Some nurseries sell pre-chilled bulbs, most don’t. The above treatment will meet their requirements for flowering but does nothing to offset the fact that it gets warm too quickly in the spring for tulips.
The few people that grow tulips in Florida either buy pre-chilled bulbs or place them in the refrigerator, plant them, enjoy their blooms the following spring and then throw them away. They treat them like annuals.