Why Dutch Tulips Are So Easy, And Why They Don’t Last

Ilona Erwin

Tulips grown from bulbs raised in Holland are the easiest way for even ‘brown thumb’ gardeners to get fabulous spring garden color. Those big gorgeous tulip blooms don’t often recur; a realization brought home in the very next year, or two.

This phenomenon of disappearing or poor quality bloom is called “running out”.  It happens because there is a particular growing process that Dutch bulb growers have expertly fine-tuned. To find out how… we tour the history and then the farming methods that the Dutch have perfected.

Native of the Steppes

early tulip botanical illsutration

early tulips

Where did these packets of spring bloom originate and how did they get to Holland in the first place?

Growing from a bulbous stem capable of dormancy through hot summers and cold winters, Tulipa species grew wild in the areas covered by the Persian Empire: Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Seventy-five wild species are found across Eurasia and North Africa. The country of Turkey, where it has the name “Laleh” is the source for today’s flower, pinpointed by many. Transported to Europe sometime in the 1500’s, it became highly sought after.

Long Ago and Far Away

Whether in the Ottoman empire or the courts of Europe, it was a flower associated with wealth and luxury. That led to the financial speculative bubble we know as “Tulipomania”. Within this story that we find the Netherlands rises to prominence as the foremost grower of tulip bulbs.

Holland has a mild climate that is ideal for many plants, but especially spring flowering bulbs. Good drainage comes from land that is reclaimed from the sea, one of the most necessary conditions of good quality bulbs.

A Modern Industry

Grown in vast fields, the tulips are allowed to bloom, inspected, and after culling those with defects the blossoms are cut off (topped) right at the stem. The bulbs are lifted late in the summer using ingenious methods -one utilizing nets that allow efficient and quick harvest.

Dutch Bulb Quicktips

Holland Planting En Masse

Holland bulb fields

Holland bulb fields

Precision Growing

Irrigating, spraying, ‘topping’, and machine precision applications from planting to harvest create an impressive process of growing top notch production of tulips for the world’s gardens.

Even the most attentive gardeners and growers in most other parts of the world would have a hard time competing with the vagaries of Mother Nature. The results that we have each season when we buy Dutch bulbs from this streamlined industry are spectacular.

Our Part, And Limitations

With careful cultivation, with tulips picked for their perennial qualities we can have long lived beauty in our landscape. However, it is nothing on the scale that comes from buying and planting the bulbs each year.

Even my greatest efforts at growing tulips has produced bloom of measurably smaller size than their first season. Probably due to the fact (other than the general growing conditions) that I would never lop off the blooms before they fully produced their spring show!

perennial tulip

Perennial Apeldoorn tulip variety which I have grown for many years.

It is easy to see, once you know a little about the high technology of Hollands bulb industry, the reason that we in the USA cannot get many of the varieties of tulips to grow with top quality blooms for more than a couple seasons.

Not To Despair

… in my experience

Their great beauty, and the fact that I have discovered some particular varieties that have lasted up to twenty years for me, with lovely, if not top size, blooms is good enough for me. I think beds of this garden standout are one of the highlights of springtime.

Don’t despair if your plantings “run out” after a couple seasons. Consider the perspective of the complete picture.

It is the inclusion with other flowers of the season that creates such memorable pictures, and the cost of replacements when needed are usually quite economical. Requiring less work than most annuals, these are important flowers that are worthy of the fall planting ritual.

Hopefully this helps answer why we depend upon the Dutch for our fix of color at the beginning of the gardening year.

Bulb shopping: 10 quick tips
Fall Time Excitement
My big fat bulbs

My big fat bulbs

Now you know how all the work is done for you in the Netherlands. All we gardeners need to do is prepare to plant as many of the bulbs as we might have the time and energy for. It is always exciting for me to purchase a bag or two in the fall. I admit that some years my purchases stretch my capability.

Using the “trench method” of planting simplifies the effort.

Stores are full of the most luscious colors that I cannot resist. With description of height, vivid photos, and growing information all listed with the bulbs, it is easy to plan your spring show. Late September through October are the best times to plant Dutch tulips.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.