Q. I received beautiful tulips this Valentine's Day. The blooms are now gone and I would like to know how to care for the bulbs? When should they be planted? I would love to try to have them bloom again next spring.
A. Tulips are treated or grown as annuals in Florida. We have two problems with successfully growing tulips this far south. First, they do not receive enough cold weather to meet their requirements to bloom. Secondly, it gets hot quick enough in the spring to cause the foliage to die prematurely, which does not allow the tulip plants enough time to store sugars and carbohydrates in the bulb to resume growth the following year. As a result, the bulbs become smaller and weak and flower poorly, if at all, the following year. At best you may get one to three years worth of blooms out of a tulip in our area no matter what you do. Most tulips will only bloom once in our area and then they are spent. Florida doesn’t provide the right kind of weather for tulips. We may have cold weather for a few nights. Then it warms again. This goes on all winter. Tulips need consistently cold weather in order to initiate flower buds.
You can trick the bulbs into "thinking" they’ve been through a consistently cold winter by placing them in a refrigerator for about 8 weeks prior to planting. This requires purchasing the bulbs ahead of time in order to provide this chilling treatment and still have time to plant during late fall to mid winter (late November to mid January). Some nurseries sell pre-chilled bulbs, most don’t. The above treatment will meet their requirements for flowering but does nothing to offset the fact that it gets warm too quickly in the spring for tulips.
The few people that grow tulips in Florida either buy pre-chilled bulbs or place them in the refrigerator, plant them, enjoy their blooms the following spring and then throw them away. They treat them like annuals. Here is a link for a UF/IFAS Extension publication on bulb type plants that do well in Florida. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG02900.pdf
Q. Would you recommend pine straw or mulch in flower beds?
A. Pine straw is a type of mulch. There are many materials that can be used for mulch in plant beds. Personal preference, availability and cost are the main factors dictating which much is used. Here is a link to a UF/IFAS Extension publication on landscape mulch choices. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fr079
Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County, February 29, 2012