April 17, 2019
Tulips have a history and culture unrivaled by other flowers. Roses may be the biggest sellers, but tulips own a slice of world history that no other flower can rival. For example, “Tulipomania” in the 1600s was the source the first economic bubble in history, where people speculated an entire year’s wages on a single beautiful tulip.
How cut tulips are now available year-round.
Today, tulips are available year-round, even though they are closely associated with spring. How is this possible?
Tulip bulbs are very hardy. They have an amazing life force and are adaptable to countless environments. Tulip growers have developed a system to control the harvest of the cut flowers and control the color mix to track with the seasons and customer demand.
Most of the world’s tulip bulbs come from Holland. The bulbs grow for several seasons in Holland, being planted in fields where they are not picked but, rather, grown to perfect the bulbs. Then the bulbs are dug up and sorted by variety, color and size. They typically arrive in the United States around October.
Tulips make this same journey from New Zealand except on an opposite schedule due to the reversed seasons in the Southern Hemisphere, ensuring year-round availability.
Once the bulbs are received by the growers, they are planted in crates, which get stacked on pallets by variety. Then the ambitious undertaking of putting the tulips through the traditional seasons they would experience in nature takes place.
Sun Valley’s tulip operations being located in Arcata, Calif., is not by happenstance. Arcata has the closest differential in yearly low and high temperatures of any town the United States. Arcata’s average high temperature for the year is 61 F, and the average low temperature is 51 F. These even temperature levels are ideal for growing bulb crops, which do not like big temperature spikes. Arcata is also exceptionally overcast, leading to even light levels, which are also ideal for growing bulb crops.
The process of adjusting when the tulips will bloom is called “forcing,” and this technology is not necessarily new; however, at Sun Valley, years of experience have refined this process dramatically. To stage our tulip harvest, we stagger our processes so that the tulips are ready to be brought into the greenhouse at the appropriate time. This is also how we control our color mix.
Because each tulip bulb is used only once for cut flowers, we can transition the color mix to meet demand. For example, in October and November, consumers demand orange and yellow tulips, but the day after Thanksgiving, they want red and white tulips.
With planning, we begin harvesting our holiday-colored tulips a couple days before Thanksgiving and have them in stores on the Friday after Thanksgiving. To consumers, it is a seamless transition, but we plan for this transition for months, if not a full year, in advance.
When the tulips are pulled out of the cooler and placed in uniform rows in the greenhouse, they grow at an exceptional rate. The tulips are harvested between three and six weeks after coming into the greenhouse. Each row of tulips gets picked three or four times as the tulips reach their perfect bloom stage. Bloom stages vary by variety, but it is usually when the bud is fully formed and just beginning to show color. This leaves the true fireworks of the tulip blooming to happen at the consumers homes.
Having tulips in your floral department year-round is wonderful for your customers, and now you can explain to them how it is possible.
Bill Prescott is the marketing communications specialist for Sun Valley Floral Farms in Arcata, Calif. He has been a contributor to the Huffington Post and many other national publications. Reach him via email at email@example.com.