Moving on up
This bulb flower’s popularity in the United States rises as
year-round production and worldwide markets ensure availability.
By Monica Humbard
Customers prize cut tulips for their beauty and ability to add
style to any room or occasion. Super Floral Retailing talked to
tulip experts to learn about trends in production and when to
get the best prices. And on Page 16, see how long a typical
bunch of tulips lasts, given proper care and handling.
it begins with the bulbs
To understand the cut tulip market, one must first understand
how tulips are grown and the expertise necessary to grow them.
Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb
Information Center in Danby, Vt., the North American information
office of the International Flower Bulb Centre (IFBC), says the
quality starts in the bulbs, which come primarily from Holland.
According to the IFBC, Dutch tulip bulbs are exported from
September through December and account for one-third of the
total export value for bulbs out of Holland. More than 3,000
varieties of tulips are registered, but only around 100 are
cultivated on a commercial basis.
Although high-quality tulip bulbs are essential for cultivating
superior cut tulips, growers also must have the expertise to
recognize when they should harvest cut tulips. If they are cut
too early, their color will be less vibrant and the tulips may
not open. However, if they are cut too late, the tulips may have
more height and more vibrant color but some of the vase life is
Jeff Serafini, general manager of Fischer & Page Ltd. in New
York City, who has spent more than 20 years as a flower
wholesaler and importer, cautions against purchasing cut tulips
that seem to be available at an unusually great price. They
could have been cut too early or too late. If tulips appear to
have exceptional color but are open more than usual, they
probably will fade quickly in a warm home during the winter
months. They could have as little as two days of vase life.
Cut tulips are available year-round, but their peak production
season runs from mid-December through early May, and not all
types are available during the entire time span. Some are
available earlier, but others can be found only later in the
season. Ms. Ferguson says most varieties are available from
January through April and include single, double, parrot and
Mr. Serafini says cut tulips come in two grades. The
less-expensive grade isn’t always available. Its prime season is
mid- to late-spring (March and April). During this peak season,
availability is high and the cost is at its lowest. This grade
is not available in the off season.
The better grade is available year-round. Mr. Serafini says the
price for this grade doesn’t fluctuate much throughout the year.
tulip food and treatments
Suppliers offer flower
foods and treatments designed specifically for bulb flowers.
Here are products that will keep tulips healthy and vibrant.
• Floralife, Inc. offers Floralife® Bulb Fresh-Cut Food, a clear
fresh flower food formulated to hydrate and nourish cut bulb
flowers while helping to prevent premature leaf yellowing.
Specially formulated to work best on tulips, lilies,
Alstroemerias, Irises and Freesias, it also can be used with
mixed bouquets and all flower varieties in all water qualities,
and it remains clear in all water types.
• Chrysal USA offers Clear Bulb Flower Food, which contains
active ingredients for enhanced performance of all cut bulb
flowers and can be used in both mixed and monobotanical
arrangements containing fresh cut bulb flowers. (It causes no
problems with nonbulb flowers.) Available in sachets for
consumer use, it increases the life of bulb flowers such as
tulips, lilies, Irises, Freesias, Gladioli and more while
preventing leaf yellowing and tip burning. All florets open,
foliage stays green and colors remain vivid to the end, and its
clear formulation makes it ideal for crystal vases, keeping vase
water clean, clear and odorless.
• Chrysal USA also offers Chrysal Tulip Food, which helps keep
tulip stems straight and maintain the foliage’s healthy green
appearance. Chrysal Tulip Food comes in sachets for consumer
• Chrysal USA’s Bulb T-Bags are for store display and wet-pack
shipping. They keep the water clear and flowing for five to six
days at room temperature. The bags contain hormones to maximize
vase life, ensure full floret development and keep foliage
• Chrysal USA also offers bulb treatments. Chrysal BVB is a
new-generation grower product that corrects the imbalance of
plant growth regulators in cut tulips, lilies, Irises and
Alstroemerias, preventing premature leaf yellowing and
encouraging bud opening, better flower quality and longer vase
life. Chrysal BVB Plus, for tulips only, prevents elongation in
the off season
The off season for tulips in the United States, Canada and
Holland is from July through November. Ms. Ferguson says the
most difficult time to get cut tulips is June through August.
To make cut tulips available year-round, growers trick the
plants into believing it is winter by keeping them in a
controlled refrigerated environment until harvest time for the
off season. Growers refer to this practice as “forcing,” and the
flowers that result often are called “ice tulips.”
The tulips tend to be smaller and tighter because they are cut
sooner. Mr. Serafini explains that one day in the distribution
chain during these summer months—with more light and higher
temperatures—is equivalent to two to three days in winter or
spring; therefore, to maintain maximum vase life as the tulips
continue to develop during shipping, they are cut earlier in the
warm off season.
The majority of off-season tulips are a mixture of domestic
product and imports from Holland. Availability is an issue
during the off season because not all types and varieties of
tulips can be forced.
Another option during the off season is cut tulips from the
Southern Hemisphere, primarily New Zealand. The seasons there
are opposite of other tulip markets. Ms. Ferguson says the peak
time for tulips in New Zealand is July through September.
one supplier’s solution
To maintain a good year-round mixture of cut tulips, The Sun
Valley Group in Arcata, Calif., imports bulbs from around the
world. From January through Mother’s Day, it uses Dutch bulbs.
Bruce Brady, the company’s business development manager, says
during this period, both bulb and production costs are at their
lowest, keeping the price of cut tulips to a minimum. During the
summer months, however, when Sun Valley forces Dutch bulbs,
prices tend to rise because of higher bulb and production costs.
In August, Sun Valley uses bulbs from the Southern Hemisphere,
which also come with higher costs. During late November and into
December, Sun Valley imports French bulbs until Dutch bulbs are
in season again.
For maximum vase life, buy
cut bulb flowers when they are in tight bud form with just a
hint of color showing. Unpack flowers from their shipping boxes,
and begin processing them immediately upon arrival.
Step 1 Rinse the flower stems, and recut them to aid in
water and nutrient uptake. Remove any leaves that would fall
below the water line.
Step 2 Place flowers into either a properly prepared
standard flower-food solution or a nutrient solution
specifically formulated for bulb flowers (see “Tulip Food and
Treatments,” Page 15). Solutions should be mixed with
nonfluoridated water. Bulb flowers should be placed into cold
nutrient solutions—either prepared with cold water or made with
warm water and refrigerated ahead of time—to reduce the chance
that flowers will “blow open.”
Step 3 Store the flowers upright in the cooler at a
temperature between 32 F and 35 F. Tulips will bend toward the
light. As long as any light in the cooler is from above, tulips
will extend in that direction. But if light is from another
direction, tulips should be stored in a dark area of the cooler
and shielded from the light. Some care experts recommend leaving
them in their sleeves during storage to help avoid such stem
bending and elongating.
Although most tulip bulbs come from Holland, where growers have
tulip production down to a science, the cut flowers are grown in
several areas around the world, including Holland, the United
States, Canada, France and New Zealand. David Caras, assistant
director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center,
estimates that 90 percent of imported tulips sold in the United
States come from Holland.
But in recent years, cut tulips have become the No. 1 cut flower
crop produced in the United States, according to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture’s Floriculture Crops 2006 Summary.
U.S. producers sold 142.6 million stems of tulips in 2006, the
summary says, compared with 125.4 million in 2005, a 13.7
percent increase. The No. 2 crop in 2006 was Gerberas, followed
closely by lilies.
For the mass market, cut tulips in the United States are grown
primarily on the West Coast, in California and Washington. Most
are grown in greenhouses, but some are grown in fields
Washington. Mr. Serafini says you sometimes can tell if tulips
came from the fields of Washington because they will arrive with
dirt on the leaves from late spring rains.
Although Mr. Serafini recognizes the quality of cut tulips
produced in the United States, he has noticed that the
consistency is often better among cut tulips coming from
Holland. As a result, he says, large event planners often choose
Dutch tulips over domestic ones if they need hundreds of tulips
with the same color and height for multiple centerpieces.
As compared to the U.S. market, Holland also tends to grow more
unusual tulip types. Mr. Serafini explains that tulips are a
cottage industry in Holland, so some growers are willing to put
in a small crop of a specialty item, such as the ‘Black Parrot’,
a deep-purple variety with feathered petals (see photo at left).
You may reach Contributing Editor Monica Humbard by phone at