Another warm winter has the Skagit Valley tulips blooming early

Cheryl Hellam

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. --- A sure sign of spring around here is the annual blooming of the tulips in the Skagit Valley. But for the second straight year, the tulips couldn't wait until spring.

A warm winter has once again brought the tulips to life a bit early.

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival traditionally opens April 1 and runs through April 30. Brent Roozen with RoozenGaard Tulips says in a normal year, the tulips bloom about the first week of April.

But last year, coming off a record-smashing warm winter (warmest February on record by far) the tulips bloomed super early -- like early-mid March! Roozen said it broke their previous record of March 19 by more than a full week.

This winter hasn't been quite as warm -- this February was *only* the 7th warmest on record (I know! With all the rain, it was hard to notice) or about 1.4 degrees cooler than 2015's by average temperature. But judging from some photos posted to our Facebook feed from those who already visited the tulip fields, there were tulips again sprouting up just before the clock struck spring equinox.

I asked Roozen how it was going this year compared to last year's record-early bloom.

"We started seeing color in our tulip fields late last week and the blooms have really come on since," he said. "A haze of color has turned into a full on bloom of color in the early varieties and quite a few more mid blooming types will be in bloom by the weekend (of March 26). Comparing pictures from this year to last, it looks like we are 3-5 days behind last year, which puts us in the category of one of the earliest blooms ever. And had last year not happened this might be right about the earliest ever."

He said he was surprised by the early bloom this year.

"If you had asked me in January, I would have told you it was about as average a year as we could have," he said. "Then mid-February came upon us and the daffodils were forming buds and starting to color just like that. So yeah, the earliness caught me a bit by surprise."

But what about all this rain? Has that had any effect on this year's crop?

"The rain doesn't affect the bloom near as much as actual temperature - both air and ground," he said. "A real dry year might change my thoughts on that, but I can't remember one of those ever happening. Whatever falls always seems to be enough, if not too much. I've never seen many of our fields as wet as they were about a month back, but they've dried quite a bit since then. I always get a good laugh when we fill in some of the field drainage ditches and people walk through our fields thinking they are stepping on quick sand or that the earth might collapse underneath them. The path out to our main field behind RoozenGaarde was a drainage ditch until a week ago. It had a few inches of water in it when we filled it in and so you've got three feet of soil sitting on inches of rain which creates a different type of walking experience."

But overall, he says rainfall is rainfall to the tulips, unless it's too much at one time.

"Real heavy rain is not great for the tulips because you can get some weather spotting on the buds and a lot of mud in the fields. Hail can actually bruise the blooms a bit. But that is more grower-realized than Tulip Festival-visitor realized. A blooming tulip is a blooming tulip to most!"

So what kind of weather is the best weather for tulips?

"I'd say temps in the high 30s at night and either overcast and in the mid 50s or sunny and the 50s during the day. Good for the tulips, good for extending the bloom, and good for anyone living in Washington who wants to see the tulips but hasn't yet learned to love the rain!" Roozen said. "The best weather and the actual weather are almost never the same thing though (although last year was pretty darn close despite the early dates on the calendar), so we will just make sure we have our rain boots ready in case they are needed... and whoever comes out to see the tulips tends to forget about the weather for the day anyway!"

And if you've never been to the festival, I highly recommend it! And to whet your appetite, here is a video shot by local photographer Don Jensen of the gorgeous tulips on display. (This is about 4 years' worth of tulips):

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