Here, "The Tulip Man" Jeroen Koeman explains the difference between organic flowers and their non-organic counterparts and offers helpful tips on how to grow healthy organic tulips.
Q: What distinguishes organic tulips from their non-organic counterparts?
A: Organically grown tulips are grown in healthy soil and tend to be strong and long-lasting.
Toxic and persistent pesticides are not used during the process of growing or storing organic tulips.
Only 0.01% of all tulip bulbs produced are organically grown.
Q: How many varieties of organic tulips are available?
A: There are currently 30 varieties available. As the demand from consumers increases, farmers will grow more organic varieties.
Q: What factors should people consider as they are attempting to decide which variety to plant?
A: There are several factors to consider before you buy bulbs. The most important is the type of gardener you are. Do you prefer to have a big, colorful show that annuals can give, or do you prefer to plant one time and enjoy the fruits of your labor year after year? We advise planting new bulbs every year if a beautiful display garden is desired.
If you enjoy doing the work one time, you are more of a perennial gardener. You choose bulbs that tend to perennialize like Darwin Hybrids or the shorter species tulips. How you plant them is also important. Tulips don’t like to be crowded, so it is important plant to your bulbs deep (12 inches) and space them 6 inches apart. This will give them the best chance of coming back with little work from you.
The next factor is my favorite: designing your garden. Choose varieties that will bloom early, mid and late spring and add weeks of spring color to your garden. That way, as one variety dies back, a new one is ready to bloom. Add depth by mixing shorter tulips with tall ones that compliment one another. This year we planted our shorter and early blooming daffodil Jetfire with a taller mid-blooming purple tulip (Negrita) and finished with a yellow late blooming tulip Friendship. The result was spectacular. Don’t be afraid to try things and have fun with it!
Q: What is the best time of year to plant tulips?
A: The best time to plant is when soil temperature drops below 50 degrees. As a rule, the colder your climate, the earlier you plant. In colder northern climates, the best time to plant is September or October. Here in Virginia, we plant mid- to late November. In warmer climates, you may need to plant bulbs in December (or even later).
Tulips need a “winter sleep” to develop flowers, so keep the bulbs refrigerated after October 15th until planting. If you live in an area where the soil temperature doesn’t drop below 50 degrees, you can pre-chill them in the refrigerator for two months before planting. The biggest mistake we hear from people is that they plant too early. If you plant too early, your tulips will be prone to rot, less hardy and not as tall as they could be, if they come up at all. They can also become tasty treats for squirrels that are more active at that time year. Squirrels are another reason to plant your bulbs deep.
Q: What are your top 5 tips for growing healthy, beautiful organic tulips that last as long as possible?
1. Plant very deep (12 inches) if you don’t want to dig up your bulbs every year. Planting deep results in the growth of one new large bulb versus several small bulbs that won’t bloom and can cause crowding.
2. Use soil that drains well. Tulips don’t like “wet feet” as they say in Holland.
There is no need for synthetic fertilizer during planting. Add compost to your soil when planting your bulbs and apply an organic slow-release bulb fertilizer when the tulips just emerge in February. Tulips don’t like acidic soil; the best is a ph of 7 (neutral). Lime can be added if your soil is acidic.
3. Choose varieties that meet your personal style of gardening. If you are a no-nonsense gardener who wants to plant once and be done, choose tulips that can perennialize. By contrast, if you are a gardener who is willing to dig bulbs up in the summer, separate the bulbs and replant them, give annuals a try.
4. For a long-lasting tulip garden, choose early, mid and late blooming varieties for successive blooming. I also like adding daffodils and grape hyacinth for depth and variety and their deer-resistant qualities.
5. Enjoy gardening! Growing tulips isn’t difficult. Keep in mind that most tulips in the USA are grown as annuals. We love to plant bulbs every Fall and wait all winter long for the amazing Spring Show!
About Jeroen Koeman
Jeroen Koeman, "The Tulip Man", co-founder with wife Keriann of EcoTulips, LLC, was born with a passion for tulips. He comes from a long line of tulip growers in Holland, where six of his father’s eight brothers grow the alluring flower.
Koeman left Holland five years ago to take a job as head grower for a tulip farm in Washington State and later served as a grower in Waynesboro. When he met Keriann, who would become his wife, in Charlottesville, plans to return to the Netherlands were dropped. The couple started EcoTulips, which in 2009 began importing organic bulbs.
In addition to hosting the nation’s only organic tulip festival, EcoTulips is the only company offering organic flower bulbs as part of an eco-friendly fundraiser program. This program has proven to be highly popular among schools, scouting organizations, service clubs, churches, and other non-profits. Wholesale and retail sales of organic tulip, daffodil, crocus, and grape hyacinth bulbs are also available online.
The Koemans' passion for tulips and the environment has led to a shared vision of promoting positive change in the tulip industry by creating a market for organic flower bulbs.
Photo courtesy of Jen Fariello.