How to propagate tulips
How to propagate tulips

Arguably the most colorful of all spring flowering plants, tulip bulbs are also amongst some of the easiest plants to propagate as they do all the hard work themselves. There are generally two ways that you can increase stocks of these stunning plants and that is either by seed collection or by removing the smaller offset bulbs which form at the base of the parent bulb. The advantage of using offset bulbs is that because they are genetically identical, meaning that they will grow true to the parent plant. Unfortunately collecting seed from modern cultivated bulbs will normally result in further hybridisation making plants grown from their seed genetically different to the parent. This is because they are easily pollinated by other closely related cultivars. So for this reason the best way to propagate tulips is by using these natural offsets. Of course with wild species bulbs such as Tulipa tarda and Tulipa sprengeri, seed grown plants will still grow true to the parent plant.

During the tulips annual growth cycle apical buds will develop at the base of the parent bulb. In most cases just one of these buds becomes dominant and will grow on to become next year's flowering bulb.

Unfortunately with tulips, once the parent plant has finished flowering its bulb will begins to die back, transferring it valuable store of carbohydrates and nutrients to it progeny. Eventually the parent bulb will disintegrated, however it will leave behind a replacement, full-sized flowering bulb along with a cluster of smaller bulbs.

In the autumn, carefully lift this tulip ‘family’ and gently detach all the bulbs. Next, plant all the bulbs into a prepared nursery bed of fertile, free draining soil at approximately twice their own depth. Try to choose a site that has an open and sunny location away from excessive damp and strong winds.

Although the new parent bulb will flower next year the smaller bulbs won’t be mature enough to produce flowers until at least the following year. Once they reach flowering size they can be lifted come the following autumn and planted into their final position.
Main image credit - Jina Lee licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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