Growing your own tulips can be a delightful project. Giving a bouquet of cut tulips to a friend or loved one is a way to share your experience, and a vase of tulips on your desk brings a bit of the garden into your work area. Tulips need to be cut at just the right time and handled properly in order to be shown off at their very best.
Tulip plants actively grow and develop during spring. The flower stems continue to live after cutting with all of the normal life functions still taking place. Cut tulips are highly perishable. Temperature is their main enemy. The job of the gardener is to bring cut flowers to an optimal temperature if the flowers will be stored until use.
Low spring temperatures slow the metabolism of tulips growing in a garden. A warm spell increases the plants’ metabolism rate, causing flowers to develop and open rapidly. If left at that warm temperature, cut tulip buds do not hold up well in storage or a vase. Cooling the stems quickly allows the buds to last much better in storage.
It’s best to cut a tulip flower stem with one or two leaves attached to the stem and with about half of the tulip’s color already showing on the bud. A tulip bud that is still green when its stem is cut never develops its full color. Flowers cut later than ideal have a short vase life. After cutting, place the flowers in a refrigerator set at a temperature of 32 to 35 F. Because most refrigerators are somewhat warmer than that, you may need to adjust the thermostat setting.
Tulips that will be used in one or more days may be kept in 8 to10 inches of distilled water. Flowers kept longer must be stored dry. Storing them in water causes fungus to grow and reduces their life. High relative humidity must be maintained during storage; aim for 90 percent or higher humidity. Harvesting tulips with their bulbs attached is another option. Their temperature requirements are the same as cut tulips’ temperature requirements.