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Fooling Mother Nature

By Dr. Bill Barrick, Executive Director

If there is one bulb associated with spring, it would definitely be the tulip. Although the bright blooms make their garden appearance during the spring, the growing, harvesting and forcing process takes almost a full year.

Tulips, unlike daffodils, require a good bit of cold to bloom well, so over the years we have had mixed success with tulips – particularly if we have had a mild winter. Rather than planting tulips in the ground in the late fall, we use a forcing method of production to mimic what occurs in nature. “Forcing” simply means the bulbs are given an artificial chilling of a minimum of 12 to 16 weeks at temperatures around 35 degrees.


Tulips are typically harvested from fields in Holland late summer. The tulips are dug up from the tulip fields, their bulbs are cleaned and packaged and the pre-chilling process begins before they are shipped to the United States in mid-October.

To begin the forcing process, our greenhouse production staff plants four bulbs in each six-inch pot.  In our production range we have a large walk-in cooler where the potted bulbs receive their artificial winter which is reliably cooler than our natural winter on the Gulf Coast.  During this chilling period, bulbs begin to form their roots.

Beginning in late January, we transfer a batch of the potted bulbs from the cooler to our greenhouses. In the greenhouses, it typically takes two weeks for the tulips to sprout and for flower buds to appear. Once the flower buds appear, our gardening staff will plant the pots throughout the Gardens.

Every two weeks, we force another batch and trade them out with the tulips that are planted in the Gardens. This allows us to have tulips blooming in the Gardens over a two month period rather than two weeks if planted directly into the flower beds.

Over the course of 2015’s spring, we will have forced over 2,500 pots of bulbs for planting in the Gardens. Also, for this year’s flower show we are forcing not only tulips but also daffodils and hyacinths for our display. So sometimes “it is good to fool with Mother Nature.”

Tulips can be seen for up to two months in the Gardens because of the forcing process.
Tulips can be seen for up to two months in the Gardens because of the forcing process.