ALTHOUGH tulips are essentially outdoor plants, many kinds make delightful temporary house plants. The genus Tulipa includes about ioo true species of bulbous plant, but the showy hybrids are considered best for indoor use. The best of these have small leaves, short flower stalks, and large flowers. The bulbs of most kinds are 1 1/2 inches in diameter, rounded or oval with a pointed end, and covered with a thin, chestnut brown skin, which is easily broken to reveal the cream-colored bulb beneath. An erect flower stalk topped by either a solitary, or several, cup-shaped blooms, rises from the neck of the bulb. Individual flowers may be single (with no more than six petals) or double (with several layers of petals). Flower color is most commonly pink, red, purple, yellow, orange, or white, but these colors are sometimes shaded with green or streaked or striped in any one of a number of combinations.
Tulip leaves are usually few (two to six), fleshy, roughly lance-shaped, 6-10 inches long, and 15-21/2 inches wide. They are produced just above the potting-mixture surface, either directly from the neck of the bulb or borne on the lower part of the flower stalk. Leaves can be almost any shade of green, often with a grayish cast.
The most suitable tulips for indoor use are those that flower in winter. They are commonly divided into two groups: early-flowering single tulips and early-flowering double tulips. Both types grow to a maximum height of about 14 inches and have flowers up to 5 inches across.
Early-flowering singles include the following forms: T. 'Bellona' (golden yellow); T. 'Brilliant Star' (scarlet); T. 'Couleur Cardinal' (orange-red); T. 'Diana' (white); T. 'Pink Beauty' (deep pink, marked with white); and T. 'Van der Neer' (dark purple). Early-flowering doubles include the following forms: T. 'Electra' (carmine-pink, with petals bordered in paler pink); T. 'Madame Testout' (rose-pink); T. 'Marechal Niel' (orange-tinted yellow); T. 'Peach Blossom' (rosy pink); T. 'Scarlet Cardinal' (scarlet) and T. 'Schoonoord' (white).
Plant tulip bulbs in early fall in order to enjoy the flowers indoors in mid-to late winter. Use either waterproof containers or pots or pans with drainage holes. Plant five or six bulbs together not quite touching each other with just the tips of the bulbs rising above the well-moistened potting mixture. Either a peat-based potting mixture or bulb fiber will do. If bulb fiber is used, moisten it thoroughly but squeeze out excess water before planting the bulbs.
Place planted bulbs in a dark position where the temperature will not rise above 50°F nor fall below freezing. Absence of light and warmth is essential for the development of a good root system before the development of top growth. Commercial growers "plunge" their containers in the ground outdoors under a thick layer of moistened peat moss. If this is not possible, enclose each container in a black plastic bag, and stand this on a shaded balcony or window ledge. Water the mixture as often as necessary to keep it moist, but not sodden. No feeding is necessary.
Keep the bulbs in cool darkness until 2-3 inches of leaf have emerged from the bulbs (probably in 8-10 weeks). Thereafter, uncover the containers and gradually expose the plants to medium light and to slightly higher temperatures. Water when necessary, as before, and keep the plants comparatively cool (below 6o°, if possible) until flower stalks are at least 3-4 inches long and flower buds are clear of the foliage. As growth continues, more warmth becomes tolerable, but do not subject tulips to temperatures much higher than 6o°. At 55°-6o° the flowers will remain attractive for three or four weeks. Warmth will cause them to fade quickly.
Tulips cannot be grown a second time indoors. If the bulbs are planted outdoors, they will probably recover and flower in subsequent years.
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